My name is…and I’m an introvert

2016 is already a week old! I can’t believe it! I find time passes so quickly now it scares me. Whenever it comes up in conversation with someone I invariably wonder out loud where 2015 went. I mean, how has it already been a week since I was in Manchester “celebrating” the new year in that bar with those drunk lesbians? How has it already been a month since my birthday? And how has it nearly been four months since I left my job?

The trouble with time flying by so fast is that I tend to be sensitive to how little of it there is left to make things good again. I dwell on the story of how transient happiness is, and how if I don’t find some of it again soon I’ll probably die alone and unhappy. This is nothing new. I’m sure I’ve always done it, but it feels like a big problem at the moment because my disease has me convinced that times really were better at the end of the last decade than they are now. I’ve been thinking about the AA-related trips I used to go on: AA conventions in Sweden, holidays in New York when I was able to stay with an AA friend and go to wonderful meetings where people offered to take me for dinner as a welcome to the US. I’m finding it really hard to remember the bad times during that period of my life. It’s become dangerously easy to think that I was never anxious or depressed back then, that this problem is something emergent in the latter part of the decade because I have recently “gone wrong” somewhere. I know I have always been prone to anxiety and depression, I know that things weren’t all rosy six, seven years ago; but the disease narrative keeps telling me that they were my halcyon days and I can’t repeat them because they were just too good.

Of course there are things going on at the moment that weren’t an issue in 2010: I don’t have a lot of friends, and I’m in between jobs and anxious about my career because I haven’t a clue what I want to do. Half a decade ago many things were converging to make it an undoubtedly sunny period; today several things have converged to cause uncertainty. With me, uncertainty always without fail leads to anxiety. Without much to do, I have a lot of time to think about that anxiety and I’m spiralling into doom and gloom every day. I’m not seeing the opportunities in this transition period any more, like I was four months ago at the beginning of the adventure.

Opportunity? What opportunity? – says the disease.

It wants to keep seeing the past as so much better than today; the future as inevitably so much worse. Five years ago I had a career, a group of sober friends, I could even go to New York and stay with one of them. I was thin! My acne hadn’t come back yet! I could enjoy sex sometimes! Ahead of me, I see a lifetime of going to meetings and struggling to share or connect with anyone. I see a string of unfulfilling jobs in customer service, none with a salary above what I earned before. I might get a mortgage, my lifelong materialistic dream, but I don’t see a group of reliable sober friends coming round to the housewarming. I don’t see a boyfriend on the horizon. I’ll spend the rest of my life worrying about all those things, and meanwhile my mother will get older, and frailer, and eventually she’ll go, and then I’ll really be alone. That knowledge will always taint my life, and I may never be able to enjoy it fully again.

Maybe everyone worries about these things all the time. Maybe I’m not alone in this. It’s so hard to know one way or the other, because I never get close enough to anyone to see the proof. I can hear people talking about it in meetings but that isn’t complete proof to me. I need to know someone going through it. I need to talk to them about it for hours on end. Oh it’s been so long since I’ve had that kind of conversation in a coffee shop, where I could empathise with a fellow addict! Part of me obviously must hold out hope that I’ll find that connection again eventually because I keep going to meetings looking for it. But it clearly isn’t going to happen with things the way they are, while I remained blocked from actually reaching out and showing any vulnerability in meetings.

At tonight’s meeting the chair identified themselves as an introvert, as did about half the meeting subsequently. My inner cynic wanted to laugh at all these candid admissions.

– He’s an introvert? Really? She’s an introvert? Could’ve fooled me!

When I was at school I found it hard to believe anyone else in the world could be as shy as me, and so did the bullies, who made a daily point of reminding me that I really was unusual. Today when anyone says they are shy, introverted or whatever my instinct is to scoff because they clearly don’t know what it really means. How can they be introverted and still manage to share and crack jokes in a busy London meeting? How can they still manage to look happy and be “part of the group”? If they are introverts, then I must be something more than an introvert. A super-introvert, perhaps.

As soon as the chair mentioned being an introvert I began planning what I was going to share back in my head. Of course, the words never came out of my mouth because half the room jumped in first and said everything that was in my head much more eloquently and entertainingly than I ever could. So, yet again the meeting wasn’t all it could have been for me, as I spent most of it tormenting myself over what I so desperately needed to say and yet couldn’t. The thing is even if you don’t share in a meeting you can still connect with it by talking to people before or afterwards, but of course I can’t do that either, especially when I’ve spent ninety minutes tormenting myself over my inability to jump in and be part of things.

Since I’ve had another bad week where I wasn’t feeling part of things, the disease is bound to question whether it’s worth bothering any more. Well, I absolutely know I can’t go down the non-AA road again. Every time I say “AA isn’t working for me therefore I won’t go any more” it hurts too much. The real nub of what torments me is how easy it would be to turn all of this around – I would literally just have to go up to someone at the end of a meeting and start an honest conversation. Anyone who has good sobriety would want to help. But, fucking hell, I can’t do it!

Part of my rose-tinted perspective on the past comes from the dim recollection of my early meetings, when I never had to approach people myself because they were always coming up to me to offer support. They were only doing that because I was a newcomer and really needed the help back then. For years I’ve nurtured this resentment against AA for not extending the same kind of support to people who are not newcomers, I’ve tormented myself over it to the point where it’s driven me out, and still it is the way it is. No one is going to just come over to me and take care of me now because everyone knows I’ve been around for nearly nine years. If I were to reach out and admit to going through a hard time, then they probably would. But I don’t reach out because I’m scared of rejection and I still expect the world to do the difficult work for me. It’s that simple. I can’t torture myself with this old resentment any more because it doesn’t do anything, doesn’t solve anything.

When they were all outing themselves as introverts earlier it aroused that old resentment again, because they were using a label that I feel precious about reserving for myself. I compared myself to every person that used the label and came away with the conclusion that they were probably all lying or exaggerating.

Just look at them, said the disease. That one doesn’t seem shy at all. He’s far too witty and funny; people in the room obviously like him. I bet he’s going for dinner with some of them after the meeting. No, he can’t be a real introvert like me. Never.

In comparing myself to them I saw all the things that seemed to mark them out as AA successes and at the same time all the things that make me a failure. He’s eloquent and funny, I’m inarticulate and dull. He’s popular, I’m invisible. He’s one of the crowd, I’m alone and separate. No, it’s a terrible thing to compare oneself to others especially when feeling isolated and vulnerable. But the fact remains that they were all doing something right and I wasn’t.

*****

I talk about my failures every week in AA but this pattern can definitely be applied to life in general. I’m struggling to find my place in life, not just in AA. I’m concerned about friendships outside of AA as well as in. I’m due to see P tomorrow evening, just a couple of days since I last saw him, because we nearly always see each other on Saturday and not to would be strange. God, I wish I was doing something else tomorrow night. I actually have plans with other people earlier in the day, for once, but come the evening it will just be me and P, as usual, going for dinner before a trip to the cinema to see the new Star Wars film.

I briefly entertained the thought of cancelling on him earlier, but the fact is I have no good reason to and it would be cruel. He’d be left with nothing else to do, and one of the most important things in his life is always having something to do on Saturday night.

In the days this week I’ve been decorating my room (something I should have done years ago), and during long hours spent stripping the old 70’s wallpaper off the walls this conundrum has been going round and round in my head. What to do about P? My thoughts keep settling on things he’s done recently to annoy me, so much so I’ve virtually forgotten why we’re still friends. I can’t fathom why this should be taking up so much space in my mind at the moment, unless there is some deeper issue going on. Is it simply that I’m growing as a person and life is trying to tell me to ditch him? Or is it trying to tell me the opposite? We’ve already established that the annoying things he does are things I can be accused of at times too, so if I were to ditch him for those crimes I’d have to ditch myself too.

I only know that it’s toxic for me to carry such a potent resentment around like I have been. I don’t know what to do and it makes me want to cry!

One of the plans I have tomorrow early on is an annual get together with a gay Francophone group in a cafe in town. They’ll be serving galettes as part of the French festive tradition, there’ll be games and discussions and lots of potential new friends. I’m not exactly nervous yet but I know I will be when I’m on the way there. I went to it last year and it was good fun; when I got the email invite this year I knew it would probably be worth going again.

At such a time when I’m anxious and bordering on depressed, I might not find it as easy to be open and friendly at this kind of event as others. But since it only happens once a year, and since I’ll never get fluent in French if I don’t start meeting other French speakers, I’ve had to say to hell with it and mark myself down on the guest list. Whether I have a good time or not will all depend on my attitude when I get there. I’ll probably have to make a great effort tomorrow, and it will be tiring. Meeting and talking to strangers always is: that is the true struggle of the introvert.

I can keep calling myself an introvert forever and use it as an excuse to fade into the background at these things. An interesting question to pose would be: what am I other than an introvert? Am I someone who could enjoy events for people who are trying to learn French in London? Could I explore the possibility of reaching out more in life, of leaving this cage that I’ve created sometimes?

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