I’m returning to Eastern Europe next week for work purposes, to a part of the world where there are no English speaking AA meetings. I’ll be there for three weeks. I didn’t have to agree to go, but they asked me nicely and I couldn’t think of a good reason not to. They trust me enough to go out there on my own and do a tough job, so why can’t I trust myself?
Panic has gripped my mind since I found out on Wednesday and it refuses to let go. I’ve tried mindfully meditating; forcefully applying logic to the situation; remembering how much I wanted this kind of opportunity at work last year; reminding myself how much I used to love flying, when I wasn’t so used to it (I hate flying today). Tragically nothing has been able to free me from the fear yet. I’ve felt like I’m living on a knife edge for the past three days, and there’s a growing certainty that I’ll continue to feel like that until I arrive safely on Monday night. I still can’t work out what I’m more anxious about: the flight on Monday or the work I have to do from Tuesday on. On the surface I may appear calm, after a lifetime of perfecting the skill, but inside my days are filled with a raging turmoil.
There’s a sense that my bosses have got the wrong person – I have no idea how I ended up doing this. It’s like another person applied for the job last year, went through the interview process and impressed my superiors. Privately I’m going through this a scared, lost little boy.
The meeting last night was good but not as good as it could have been. My closest friend there was chatting to someone else when I arrived and didn’t see me going in, and I didn’t feel up to interrupting him. The rest of the meeting sort of went like that, full of missed chances to connect. The chair was really powerful and believe me I wanted to share back when the time came, but a strong fear gagged me throughout the hour and a half. Many times I experienced the gag almost physically, feeling it tighten round my mouth every time I came close to opening it. It’s happened the majority of times that I’ve been to the meeting in these eight years; pulling the gag off and speaking remained a mystery to me as I left the meeting on my own and travelled home.
Today’s meeting went much better. That is the seeming irony of my recovery at the moment: one good day follows a bad day follows a good day, and so on. I identified with almost every word of the chair, so much so I felt compelled to be the first one to share back when it was time. Sharing from the heart wasn’t a mystery today; I didn’t stumble or hold back or stop short at the most vulnerable points. I knew I had no choice but to be honest and share about my great fears of the moment, because I won’t get to share them anywhere else. For the first time in years I took up the full five minutes that were allocated to me; and I said some things I won’t forget, such as the fact I feel like I’m failing at life all the time, even when other people see me progressing and being strong.
Later I wanted so badly to connect with someone that I made myself linger and look people in the eye as they were leaving the meeting. One person came up to me and said they had found my share an inspiration. A few others told me that AA will be with me in my travels, even if I can’t go to a meeting. I will take phone numbers with me and I will be in people’s thoughts.
Every share is a liberating experience. For the first time in nearly eight years I feel like I’m sharing properly. I may not have all the friends and all the dinner invitations, but I’m doing what’s important for my recovery. It’s still really hard to accept that this is where I am after nearly eight years, learning to be honest and vulnerable for the first time. If I’d submitted fully to the program eight years ago I wouldn’t be here now, but I can’t change the past. This is where I am and I must accept and go through it. I’m going out of my comfort zone every day, doing all the things I avoided when I was younger, feeling my way ahead almost blind. Not really knowing if this is the right direction to go in, but still I go on because somewhere deep inside I know. Winston Churchill famously said “when you’re going through hell, keep going.” Today, I believe him.