I didn’t want to go to the meeting on Friday. My vow to go every week until some kind of “miracle” happens no longer seemed so important, as it was a beautiful sunny evening and I fancied a walk through the park before going home. I walked to the park near work and started in the favoured direction of the lake, from where I could hop across to a nearby station and get the quick train home. I’d done the walk a lot in the past, it was the perfect day for it and I had just the right playlist on Spotify that I could compliment it with. When I got to the park entrance, I remembered that I wouldn’t be able to go to that night’s meeting for another three weeks as I would be on holiday in France from next week. I tried to get it out of my mind, but I couldn’t. A sober conscience, a higher power, I don’t know what, turned me in the direction of the centre of town and I began to walk towards the meeting. I’ll be able to go to meetings in France, and I’ll probably enjoy them a lot more than I enjoy meetings here because I won’t know anyone there. But with this meeting I made a vow; the more I go and struggle socially there, the more I feel this strange need to persevere with it.
I got there and sat down in the middle as usual. I knew nearly everyone, and spoke to no one. The chair was being given by R, a kind hearted man who I’d almost become friends with in my early days. I thought he wasn’t going to acknowledge me, but a minute before the meeting started he came over to give me a hug. I assumed he’d been on his way to greet someone else, was just being polite in passing, but when he’d hugged me he returned straight to his seat, indicating he’d only gotten up for me. I couldn’t quite believe it, that maybe I’d been meant to come to this meeting.
His share was brilliant, and the room was half empty, as it had been for the past few weeks, so there would be plenty of opportunity for me to share back. At a lot of points it would have been very easy for me to jump in. There were some long gaps and from across the room I saw C, the guy I accidentally confided in about some dark thoughts I was having weeks ago after the meeting, looking at me meaningfully. But I couldn’t do it. Those insurmountable thoughts were still in my head: what if what I have to say doesn’t resonate with the room? What if it comes out wrong? What if it annoys someone? Of all the things to fear in life, annoying someone may seem pretty trivial, but in AA I have become obsessed with it. I’ve spent so many weeks piling the pressure on myself to come out with something powerful, funny and memorable, I could never live up to the standards in my head. Being aware that it is all in my head doesn’t make it any easier. While other people are sharing I can think of things that I’d like to say, to identify myself with the chair and with the room, but as soon as a gap appears in the sharing it all begins to seem irrelevant and stupid, and my mouth won’t open.
Why is sharing in a meeting so important? I’ve made it into such a critical thing when there are other ways I could connect with a meeting. Lots of people don’t share in meetings and they seem to get by OK. Well, it may not be that important in the great scheme of things, but since I have spent so much time thinking about it, I can’t help wondering why it is so difficult for me, and why I can’t just jump into the silence like other people do with all sorts of crap on a weekly basis. It’s just speaking, something I do every day. Some people use the opportunity to say grandiose things about sobriety and spirituality; others use it to tell jokes and make people like them; others use it like therapy, while others still just talk about their day as if they’re talking to a friend at the shop. I can do all of those things, I’ve done them in meetings before loads of times. No, nothing bad would happen to me if I were never to share in my life again. But the fact that I am coming up against this wall again and again is a fact that I don’t like.
On Fridays it’s not just sharing that I’m struggling with anyway, it’s the whole social aspect of the meeting. I’ve gone nearly every week this year and still I can’t instigate a spontaneous conversation with someone there. Someone would have to come up to me for anything to happen. I go every week and I sit with this self consciousness, imagining I must have pissed so many people off with my standoffishness over the weeks, and I don’t want to be there but logically I know it’s in my head and so I keep returning, waiting for it to pass. This too shall pass, right?
I went swimming with P as normal yesterday afternoon. Later on we’d arranged to go and see Jurassic World at the cinema. In between swimming and the cinema I had a few hours to kill because he had to go and get some stuff at the shops. I could have gone with him, but I didn’t want to do that and I thought I’d be getting in the way. I went to sit in a favourite café, to while away a few hours with my book.
By half 5 I was getting a bit uncomfortable in my seat, it was getting quite busy and I knew other people would probably want to sit down. I remembered a nearby newcomers meeting which I used to go to last year. I might not know anyone there, which made it more appealing yesterday as I could just go and listen to some good sharing then go to meet P for dinner and cinema.
Once in the room I immediately walked to a seat near the back, passing on my way M, the guy who I was exchanging text messages with and going for coffee with until I went away for work and lost contact with him. Since I got back I’ve seen a person that looks extraordinarily like him in the street near my gym a few times, and I’ve tried to wave, but he’s never waved back, leading me to believe it may not be him. But the last time I saw the person I was almost certain it was him – unless he’s got a twin, which I doubt – he gave me a funny look but he didn’t wave or smile, he just hurried past, not in the way that a stranger would but more the way someone you know who doesn’t want to talk to you would. I know that walk, I’ve done it myself to people over the years.
Realising this must be my payback for all the people I’ve ignored out of fear over the years, I didn’t attempt to say hello to M yesterday before the meeting started. I could only find a free seat in the row behind him; he must have seen me come in, and so in the remaining ten minutes prior to the meeting there was a chance he might turn around and shake my hand or say something, but he didn’t.
The chair was being given by J, someone else I’ve known and liked throughout my sobriety but who I haven’t been able to connect with for months. He didn’t turn and smile at me either yesterday. I tried to make myself catch his eye, so that he would have to acknowledge me, but I couldn’t do it. I fear eye contact above all things in life.
His chair was great, and I could have shared back but I didn’t. I couldn’t think of anything to say that would somehow impress him, impress the room and make him my friend again at the same time. As the hour wore on I wondered what I was doing there. If I were to just walk out at the end without saying something to either of them, it would have been a wasted hour. The longer I go through this in AA the clearer it becomes to me that I will have to take the bull by the horns at some point. The days of people coming over to me and making my sobriety easy are over. I’m a big boy now. The kind of fellowship I want in AA, the kind I envy people like J and M for having, can only come about from my actions.
When the meeting was over the end of the row was blocked by M and someone else having an in depth discussion. I could have avoided them by going out the other way, but I determined not to. I willingly risked opprobrium as I experimented by putting a hand on his shoulder to get his attention. Let’s see if this legendary AA kindness that he just shared about still extends to me, I thought. “It’s good to see you!” he turned and pulled me into a bear hug. I was so shocked the friendly smile I’d hastily plastered on fell off my face.
It was clear to me I wasn’t being invited to participate in a conversation. He turned straight back to his friend and I was left to exit the room alone. I couldn’t see J as I walked out, and I couldn’t have gone through that experience again anyway. I’d used up all the guts I had for the day.
My friendship with M may or may not have been rescued, but at least I had done something risky. At least I’d tried. If I am to get somewhere in AA, I think it’s going to be through these baby steps. I’m not just going to walk into a meeting and suddenly be everyone’s friend, not this decade. I can do baby steps; it’s a hard, long path, but it’s better than doing nothing.