I was terrified about the future last week, and I still am because some of it won’t have my mother in it. For about the past five years I’ve felt an increasing dread of losing her. It’s a fact that we’re all going to die eventually, a fact that has played on my mind increasingly these five years or so because I don’t know what kind of life I could have without her. She’ll be sixty this year, and though she remains fit and healthy and able to work full time, there are times when she seems so fragile in comparison to how strong she was when I was a child. Death is the one certainty in life, therefore there is nothing I can do about it and that’s the worst thing. Whenever I’ve tried to take my mind off it, to remember that I can make things better by enjoying the time we have left, I naturally end up sinking back into the certainty that this won’t be forever.
It’s such a morbid thing to think about, I hate to even write about it, but it’s been on my mind more than usual recently, probably because I’ve been spending a lot of time with her whilst I’ve been decorating my room at home. Of course, everyone in this world is special and no one deserves to live more than anyone else, but the innocent needy child in me thinks that she deserves to die less than anyone in the world. There is something so sweet and harmless about her, so innocent, and she just can’t go. She has dedicated her entire life to me. She doesn’t have any other family, no other friends. She lives for me, and I find that heartbreaking sometimes, as well as beautiful.
She’s always been happier when I’ve lived with her, and I suppose she’s extra happy at the moment because I’ve been home so much thanks to the decorating. The part of me that worries about ending up alone in the future probably exists because it’s what’s happened to her. But she isn’t truly alone, since she has me. As long as she lives I’ll always be with her. Who will I ever have like that when I get old? No one I could ever trust that much.
When I was a child and teenager, we used to argue so much sometimes, probably because we were in each other’s pockets day in and day out. It’s nothing like that now, I guess because I have my routines that keep me out of here just enough, and she doesn’t have anything like the temper that she used to have. She’s grown placid as she’s aged, and it’s such a relief, although if I think too much about it it becomes just another thing to get sad about, because it could be another sign of getting old.
She hasn’t gotten completely docile. She can still feel able to poke at me occasionally, such as tonight when she looked at my stomach and pointed out that I had put on weight again. It’s true, I have gained weight since I stopped going to the gym last year, and it’s really bloody annoying. If she hadn’t mentioned it I probably would have been able to ignore it for months and not want to do anything about it, so maybe it’s a good thing I have her to remind me of these things in the long run, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a little hurtful in the moment. Still, we used to have a lot more of these awkward moments years ago, and she actually apologised to me ten minutes later tonight after saying it. Essentially, our relationship may not be the text book definition of “healthy” but it’s a darn sight healthier than it’s ever been.
I had a busy day on Saturday. It was perhaps the first day in years when I could feel truly popular – I had four planned engagements in a row. Like buses, you wait and wait for one to come along, and then…
The day began in my spiritual home, the large coffee shop in the centre of town, where I was meeting M for a quick coffee. The night before he had been at the meeting, where he had smiled and waved at me, and after getting home and thinking about the state of my recovery for a while, I decided to text and ask if he’d be free for coffee some time. He replied straight away saying he was free the next day for an hour. As we arranged a time and place I didn’t think about the mini-resentment I had against him last year, when I was sure it was him I kept seeing outside my gym and who kept ignoring me. The charming, interested friend I was arranging coffee with did not seem to be someone who a few months ago had ignored me several times in the street. It hadn’t come up in conversation at all, didn’t seem like it would at any point either; I could only assume I’d been mistaken and, rather embarrassingly, had waved at a complete stranger in the street all those times.
We had a nice chat over our coffee. As with everyone who knows me in recovery at the moment, I told him about my recent “radio silence” phase where I didn’t engage with meetings, and the slow journey back that I have embarked on. Like everyone else, he encouraged me to keep going, and to get a commitment and a sponsor as soon as I can. I don’t know if what I’ve been doing could be called actively looking for a commitment and a sponsor, but the willingness is there. I’m not going round asking for service positions or potential sponsors, put it that way, but should one or the other appear fortuitously in front of me at a meeting then I don’t plan to say no to it.
After M had gone I had to make my way over to the French speaker’s gathering that I’d crazily said yes to earlier in the week. I started to dread it as soon as I began the journey there. In the great scheme of things, a bunch of gay French speakers who’ve gathered to eat galettes (in keeping with the annual French tradition) is not a dreaded life event. It doesn’t compare to being sent to prison, let’s say. But as I approached the cafe I think I felt exactly as one would if they were facing incarceration. I felt the same way in the lead up to the same event this time last year. The cafe was going to be full of sociable young Londoners who could probably speak better French than me, and who would probably all look great too. What was I doing there?
As soon as I sat down I didn’t feel like I deserved my place there. I tried to make some effort with the people at the same table as me, a seemingly pleasant couple from down the road who had about the same level of French skill as me. But I couldn’t help noticing that every other table was much busier and livelier than ours, and that every new person who came in stayed away from our table. Maybe people weren’t deliberately avoiding us, but you couldn’t guarantee that there weren’t some subconscious process at work, driving the pretty young things to the better, more interesting looking tables.
The organiser of the whole thing announced after half an hour that we were to leave the people we’d been talking to and find strangers to group up with, for the galette eating. Why we couldn’t stay with the friends we’d already made, I don’t know. Presumably the intention is to increase the number of friends you make at the event, but this kind of enforced mingling never works for me. I was so unsettled at being made to find another group of friendly looking strangers, once I’d stumbled on one I could barely talk properly. Speaking proper French suddenly became a huge challenge. I made the mistake of trying to talk to my immediate neighbour, a native French speaker, and immediately I began to notice my errors, and it quickly turned into an awkward and embarrassing situation. I have no idea if he thought I was annoying and difficult or if he found me charming; he was one of those people who gives nothing away in their expression. We got through an hour of galette eating followed by a team quiz type activity, in which we had to answer questions about France in French. I contributed the bare minimum to my group’s performance. Once it was over, I politely got up and left, though there was still officially an hour left of the whole event.
If I hadn’t left then I wouldn’t have got to the Saturday meeting for six, so I had a reasonable excuse to disappear early. But there’s a bit of a tragedy in the fact that it was so unsuccessful an afternoon. I might as well have not gone – my presence added little to anyone’s day, and I’m sure I wasn’t missed when I left. I know I have a good level of French, and if I had a group of trusted friends who I could speak it with, I’d probably be able to carry quite a conversation. When I feel pressured or when I don’t know the people I’m speaking to, the syntax and grammar get jumbled and embarrassment starts to get in the way. Whether I’ll go to the event again next year is undecided. I think the organiser could probably make it a bit easier for those of us who consider ourselves shy. I don’t know what he could do though – I’m not an event organiser. It would be nice not to have to walk in and just find someone to sit with, for a start.
As soon as I’d left I couldn’t wait to get to the meeting. Any insecurity I had previously felt about my place in AA was temporarily gone. Give me an AA meeting any day compared to that! The chair at the meeting talked about the struggle of growing up gay in a homophobic world – something I’ve heard in many chairs before, but this one was particularly powerful, and I wasn’t scared to open my mouth and share back early in the meeting. Yes, alcoholism isn’t unique to gay people, but there’s a pain that runs through gay culture that can’t be ignored, and gay AA is the only place I know of where we can open up about it.
At the end of the meeting I went to meet P in town. We’d be having dinner and then going to the cinema to watch Star Wars. As previously mentioned, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to yet another Saturday night with P. But we both wanted to see the movie, and we both had nothing else to do. I must have been buzzing from the meeting, because I was more talkative with P in the restaurant than I had been in years. Not for the first time, we chatted about friendship and what it means as you get older; how easy it is to lose friends and how hard it is to make new ones as time passes. I’m sure it’s a popular subject with many people once they get to the stage I seem to have reached in life, where time begins to feel like a precious commodity rather than something that can be taken for granted.
When such a busy day comes along it can seem thrilling because it’s so rare, but it’s also scary in a way. Because I know I’m not going to have that much to do on a Saturday again for a long time, if ever. So much social activity in itself is tiring for an introvert like me, as we already knew; once I’ve endured two or three engagements the thought of another can produce an inner groan. Life when it’s like that is draining, but afterwards once it’s all over, I realise that I’ve felt more alive in the midst of it all.
I didn’t think decorating my room would turn into a full time job but it has. This week I’ve barely been outdoors; really I want to get this done as quickly as possible so I can return to looking for work. The room’s coming on nicely; all the old 70’s wallpaper has finally come off, the white undercoat is done and now I’m applying the bright white top coat. A new, much improved bedroom is emerging. In my opinion I’ve chosen a beautiful shade of white: not a boring colour at all. It’s hard to believe the walls were ever covered in an awful, dark, kitschy flower pattern.
The evenings have been full of aches and pains thanks to all the bending and kneeling I have to do to paint certain corners. By today I felt about seventy years old. It ought to be good exercise for me, but clearly it isn’t as my mother can testify. Despite the pain and exhaustion I’ve enjoyed the methodical, solitary work in the days and the evenings spent in front of the TV with mum, unwinding. It couldn’t be more different from a normal 9 to 5 job in an office.
I took myself to the Friday meeting tonight in spite of neck cramps because it’s a part of my life now, like this blog, like walking, like eating. The theme in this week’s sharing was loneliness, something that is profoundly relevant to me. Every meeting I go to now seems to have something profoundly relevant for me. It could be coincidence, or it could be my HP at work – one will never know. As always I felt the dread walking in, and initially there was the same inability to relax and be part of things like everyone else. It’s been so long since I was able to properly relax in a meeting, I can barely remember what’s it like now, or if I ever did experience such a thing.
Despite the usual inauspicious start I think I can detect slightly more willingness in me these days to be part of it; slightly more awareness that it’s my disease making me judge and envy everyone around me and not truth or facts. I’ve intellectually understood the phrase “nothing changes if nothing changes” and I have tried to take it to heart by going back to this meeting week after week. I don’t want to believe that people are privately judging me any more; I don’t want to believe that it’s all as cynical and false as my head says it is any more.
I can’t give this week a perfect score out of ten because I didn’t share. Just like the last few weeks, I wanted to share, I had so much planned in my head that would have sounded so good, and it wasn’t to be. Maybe I ought to remember that sharing isn’t the only important thing about meetings. Of course it’s one of the important things because it gives people a cue to talk to you afterwards. But the other important things include being present and taking my place there properly; accepting 100% that I belong there; smiling at people, approaching people, being of service to the meeting. I still struggle with all of these things because I still don’t believe deep down that I deserve my place there. I desperately need to start believing it.
After all, people always say that AA is a safe supportive space and everyone is welcome. I hope one day I can go into a meeting without even questioning that idea. I hope one day I can sit in a meeting without feeling like people are judging my every move, whether I share or don’t share, say hello to them or don’t say hello.
Occasionally a meeting like the one tonight will throw up a surprise, and tonight didn’t disappoint. I was about to go home and chalk it up as yet another below average week, when someone I don’t often speak to turned around and invited me to a party at his flat that’s taking place in a few weeks. When X asked me a few weeks ago if I fancied another drag night out with him it was a shock, and this was no less of a shock. Instead of being able to say yes I asked the guy what the party was for – it would have to be some big massive thing that he’s inviting everyone to, including people like me that he doesn’t know too well. He just said it will be a recovery get together because why not? I still couldn’t say yes, so I tried to get out of by saying it had been about five years since I’d been to any AA get together (which is true) and I’m probably out of practise now – all said with a smile on my face. His response, also said with a smile, was that it’s about time I get back into the practise.
Funny thing is, this guy was the host of the last AA do I went to five years ago (I don’t think he even knows this now). He was throwing a sober New Year’s Eve party at his flat and everyone from the Thursday night meeting seemed to be going. This was back in the days when I used to go to things with AA people, so I naturally ended up there, even though I didn’t know him all that well at the time. It was probably the nicest New Year’s Eve I’ve ever spent, just because it was sober and it meant something.
He told me to add him on Facebook tonight so that he could send me the details of this year’s party (we weren’t linked on FB before). I dutifully added him as soon as the meeting was over and he accepted me pretty quickly, but I still haven’t had any details of the party yet. Oh well. Maybe he’s forgotten. I don’t know whether I’d be more upset having to actually go or not being able to go because I don’t know any of the details. I could nudge him when I next see him, but that would involve being a normal person and I don’t know if I’m ready for our relationship to move to that stage just yet!
If I do somehow go to the party it will be a really hard thing to do, undoubtedly. I probably won’t know many of the people there that well, I’ll have to make a superhuman effort to ignore the cynical script in my head all night. The basic AA program says of course I should go without any reservations, but here’s the thing, what if I get there and I can’t ignore my disease and it ends up being a disaster? Like the worst most isolating meeting I’ve ever been to?
It’s really tiring facing these challenges all the time. It may be negative and clichéd to say so but it’s God’s truth.
Maybe I should just take heart from the appearance of some progress in my life, finally. I wasn’t being invited to parties in AA last year, that’s for sure. Now that I’ve achieved that I can look to the next thing I haven’t got in my life. Boyfriends, dream jobs, my own home…the chair tonight made us all feel rather emotional by saying how lucky he felt to have all those things. It would be so easy to listen to someone at the front of the room talk about their amazing family and their beautiful home and feel a burning resentment develop. It’s still impossible for me to think that I could ever have those kinds of things in my life: my disease tells me I’m not worthy of it and I just can’t ignore that. Since I can’t ignore it the only way for me not to be eaten up by jealousy and resentment is to accept that I am where I’m meant to be, I have all the things I need and recovery isn’t about getting a husband anyway. And the dream of ending up with a loving husband may not be as strong as it used to be anyway – accepting that it’s probably impossible makes the dream harder to sustain – though it’s still something nice to think about sometimes.