I came across an online article the other day about loneliness in London. I don’t exactly remember everything it said, but I vaguely recall the gist being that London, with its 8 and a half million inhabitants, is one of the world’s loneliest cities. Because everything’s so expensive, most people can barely afford to go out more than once a month, so instead we sit indoors alone, scrolling through our Facebook timelines and living vicariously through others’ posts. I knew how many lived in London already, but for a moment I did think: wow, there are eight and a half million people living within a fifteen mile radius of me, and I know well only one or two of them. It would seem there are millions of potential friends out there, if probability is to be believed and most of London’s inhabitants are nice and normal people. Where the hell does one start? How do I pick someone and start building a new friendship?
As always I started out at tonight’s meeting with the best of intentions. I was to share, speak to people afterwards, offer myself to the meeting and engage in some fellowship. When I shared I wanted to talk about loneliness, because I didn’t get to share about it last night and it seemed important. I didn’t quite intend to be left emotional and vulnerable, but I had managed to speak from the heart about what has happened in my recovery. I covered how I’ve isolated myself time and time again because it’s a comfortable place for me, and how I’m terrified of pushing myself out of my comfort zone in meetings due to the fear of rejection. In sharing it I did the thing I don’t like doing, I made myself vulnerable, and I secretly hoped that it would result in lots of hugs and handshakes after the meeting. The minute the meeting ended, of course I knew that that wouldn’t happen, because what I secretly expect to happen never does. If I expect to be left alone, I’m not; if I expect to be bombarded with support and friendship, I’m not.
Just one person came up to me, an old timer from America who probably goes up to people all the time. He encouraged me to keep sharing in that way and to keep coming back. I think he may have thought I was a newcomer. When I told him I’m actually nearly nine years sober it was a bit embarrassing. I had to qualify it by saying that in many ways it feels like I’m beginning recovery again at the moment.
Even imagining myself going up to someone who is struggling in a meeting like that is difficult. Twenty, thirty years down the line, perhaps. At the moment, every week at this and the Friday meeting feels like groundhog day. I walk in, sit down quietly, smile at a couple of people, listen to the sharing, share back if I’m feeling confident enough, go home at the end having left little or no mark on anyone. Even when something different or surprising happens it’s still ultimately the same because I’m still skating close to the edge of things all the time.
When it becomes clear at the end of the meeting that no one is going to approach me, I tend to storm out quickly, hoping that someone will notice and care. It’s always my hope that my sudden departure will mean something to anyone apart from me, but the hard truth I’ve discovered is that it doesn’t. Were the meeting full of close friends who are used to me sticking around, then it would mean something, but in the meetings I go to people just don’t know me all that well, haven’t known me for a long time. My attempt to punish them is weightless; it can bear no fruit other than compounding my loneliness and isolation.
I hate to write another long, brooding lament about how difficult everything is. But I really don’t know how I’m going to get past this.
The other disappointing thing about tonight is that I had stupidly expected to be going for coffee with the group afterwards, for the first time in many years. A new friend I made recently through Facebook, M, had said he would take me because he always goes. I’ve never gone because – and this is probably going to sound stupid on paper – I don’t understand how they do the post-meeting coffee there. I imagine at some point someone leads a band of sociable dawdlers to a nearby cafe, but I’ve never been one of that band because I don’t like waiting around and I don’t know who the people are that generally take charge of it. M didn’t turn up tonight – I later discovered he had a cold and simply couldn’t make it. So my silent storming out at the end was extra resentful for that reason.
If I had a sponsor, or anyone wiser than me in AA who I contact regularly, they’d undoubtedly have told me to force myself to wait and go with the coffee group that eventually formed. Indeed, I managed to master this major social challenge easily when I was new to AA nine years ago. How can I have just forgotten what to do? Cruel, capricious time has intervened, and despite my best efforts to remember what the hell I used to do in 2007, my memory won’t provide me with any clues.
My attachment to M, the only person at the meeting I normally talk to, meant that I couldn’t go to coffee without him. I had no prior agreement to tag along with someone else, and I didn’t have it in me to form that bond with anyone else so quickly.
If I’m not to see this week as yet another failure I suppose I must remember the positives. I shared, and maybe someone got something from what I said. Maybe it will help someone else to find the guts to share about what they’re going through. I’m working so hard at the moment to actually recover, to not sit back on my laurels any more and coast through AA, and I’m finding that I have to get real about so many things. It’s so bloody difficult, getting real and facing who I am, what my faults are, exposing them to people week after week, courting vulnerability. In my early days I thought recovery at nine years sober would mean dream fulfilment and constant happiness, but it isn’t. It’s daily hard work.
My recent fear of time passing quickly and running out has forced me to start sharing the really challenging stuff, to push myself through this, because it’s too important not to. I don’t want to still feel alone in twenty years’ time, I really don’t.
G sent me that invite to his party on Facebook this morning. I replied to the invitation with a firm “yes”, though I don’t honestly know if I’m going to go or not. Hand on heart, I want to go, but I don’t know anyone on the guest list that well. Actually it’s not as simple as that. I know nearly everyone on the guest list, thanks to my time in AA, but I haven’t known any of them that well in the past few years. If I decide to go to the party you can guarantee the journey there on the day will be the journey from hell. I’ll be dreading facing these people, many of whom may potentially feel as awkward with me as I feel with them because of all the time and distance that’s elapsed between us. I can’t take it if I go and hate the thing. G lives all the way on the other side of the city, so it’ll be a long way there and a long way back. I want to go and make friends, announce myself as being back in AA for good, have a nice sober time; I can’t bear to leap that far out of my comfort zone and not have a massively successful experience. I can’t bear the inevitable struggle with small talk, the initial moments of having to find my bearings and decide who I’m going to attempt to mingle with first, the dread of someone I’ve managed to bond with suddenly leaving me, the time when I have to go myself and figure out how to say goodbye to everyone. Just thinking about it for a few minutes on the morning of the event could prove too much and ruin it before it’s started. I want to know how I’m supposed to achieve my dreams when I keep getting in my own way.