Today I was seven years sober. Obviously I’m glad about it. This one has crept up on me: I haven’t thought about my anniversary this year as much as I used to. Safe to say I’ve been sober a long time, and the numbers don’t matter so much like they did when I was one week, one month, one year. But I like being able to say it’s been seven years since my last drink. God, what a seven years it’s been.
By coincidence I had my first session of counselling this evening near home. As I was going there I realised it would by first time seeing a therapist since I got this job. Five years ago I did so well in CBT that it seemed I wouldn’t need any more professional help; this year’s proved that if there is a cure for my mental illness, I haven’t found it yet. We spent the standard 50 minutes going through my life story. I was there to focus on the trauma of school, and after half an hour we weren’t talking so much about childhood and my parents, more about the years between 1998 – 2000, when it was really bad. I told her about the suicide attempts, the endless days of isolation and deliberate social exclusion. For the first time ever I spoke about the dreams which have haunted me in the years since, where I’m forced to go back and complete my education there even though I’m in my 30’s now and I actually completed my education elsewhere.
Yesterday it occurred to me (I don’t know why things are still occurring to me, now after all this experience I’ve had – does life never stop being one big learning curve?) that mentally part of me is stuck in 1999, in that time when I was at my lowest ebb following years of abuse. I am stuck in that nightmare: part of me must really believe that the last fifteen years haven’t happened, that it’s all been a lovely dream and I’m still just sixteen years old and I must go back and finish my A-Levels at that school otherwise I can never move on. I said this to the counsellor this evening and as I was saying the words it actually sunk in: I have never fully moved on. All these years I have suffered from a form of PTSD, I have this disease which tells me I can never escape that place until I go back and finish the sentence.
If I hadn’t left in 1999, if I had stayed another two years and finished my A-Levels there like everyone else, would I not have had this recurring nightmare? Would my head not have snapped in the way it did? Would I be able to feel secure in the knowledge that my life since then has been real and not just borrowed, that I never actually have to go back? It’s like I escaped from prison when I was sixteen. Whilst everyone expected me to stay on until eighteen I took control of my life for the very first time and walked out. I’d had enough. And the logical truth is that I had every right to walk out: staying there was no longer compulsory for me, no one tried to stop me or advise me against it. Only in my head have I suffered for that decision, why I don’t know. Even now I sometimes wake up in cold sweats after the same dream, in which I’ve been told I have to go back to that place and do my A-Levels. My subconscious mind remains in that prison, and I still know exactly what the place looked like back then. I still know what the classrooms and corridors looked and smelled like, how the area near the school gates felt like a forbidden realm that I desperately wanted to walk through but never could until it was 3.30 in the afternoon.
In fact I think in many of these dreams I am spending a lot of time standing near those gates, waiting for 3.30 to come, only it never seems to. I experience this desperate craving to just cast caution to the wind and walk out, no matter what the time is, because I’m 31 now and I should have left school years ago, but logic doesn’t help me. I remain burdened by the rules that they made, which tell me I must stay until the end. On and on it goes, 3.30pm permanently eludes me, like it’s years away in the future rather than just hours.
So I realised today that I am a rat trapped in a box, and the stress I keep experiencing is brought about by the disconnect between reality and what I feel in my head. Seven years of sobriety, yet I remain frightened to death by the prospect of there being one little crack which causes my nice current life to crumble around me. I still avoid the difficult parts of life as much as I can, in case they make the crack which sets the disaster off.
I have seven sessions of counselling left. They are to run fortnightly for the rest of the year, which is handy as it means I’m not going to lose all my Tuesday evenings this summer. Seven sessions in which to untie this psychic knot. If knowing the problem were the cure, I suppose I’d be cured by now. I know better than ever what my disease is: how to move past it and find real happiness remains a total mystery.