Meeting night (pts. 1 & 2)

Fridays and Saturdays are my regular meeting nights now, so as always there’s a lot to talk about this week. If there ever comes a time when I don’t have a lot to say about the two meetings, I’ll be happy, but until then, I guess I’ll have to keep getting it off my chest. Last night on my way into the Friday group I felt the usual mixture of fear, resentment and the desire to hide on my way across the threshold. I was more aware than ever of how important it is to work at eroding the belief that I don’t deserve to be there – so in being aware of that maybe I am slowly managing to erode it. The intense sensation of not wanting to be there only lasted a couple of minutes or so, and by the time the meeting started I had briefly chatted to one person like a normal member of the group, and smiled and greeted a few more.

Whenever a negative feeling or belief abates I need to be careful about thinking that it’s gone forever. It’s certainly not the case that my resentment, fear, isolating tendencies etc. have disappeared (in early sobriety I always hoped there would come a point when I could put them behind me: I’ve realised that this just won’t be the case). The best I can do is learn to live with these things and, maybe one day, ignore them when I really need to. Last night although I didn’t find it quite so difficult to take my seat in the meeting and look other alcoholics in the eye, I got carried away a few times with the old belief that the people who were sharing were so much better, so much braver than me. Also, M, the meeting regular who I was chatting to and developing a sort of sober friendship with before Christmas, had seemed less than thrilled about saying “hello” to me when he sat behind me earlier on. I’ve picked up on a distance between us in recent weeks which I don’t like, because I had made extra effort to talk to him last year on a couple of occasions when I wasn’t feeling like it. What I had to try and do last night was be logical about it, accept that maybe it isn’t all about me and he could just be having a difficult time, or something. The truth is I just don’t know what’s going on for him, and making up reasons isn’t going to help. But accepting that something may not be all about me is one of the most challenging things I have to do.

The meeting was its usual bustling self, there were few gaps in the sharing and so I didn’t get the opportunity to share this week. I didn’t beat myself up because, well, it serves no purpose. I said goodbye to a few people on the way out and tried to be glad that I’d done that. Later on I saw on Facebook some pictures that some of the group had posted, from a restaurant in the area, where they’d had a good time and shared in some spiritual post-meeting fellowship without me. I wanted to tell myself that my instant angry reaction was justified, that I should just be automatically invited to these things now without any effort – but I know I can’t afford to feel affronted at this type of thing today. I’ve done it throughout my recovery, whenever anyone has done anything without me, and it always puts me back in that position of isolation. It has no effect on anyone other than me. And with this particular group on Friday night, it’s not as if I know any of them well enough to have an automatic place at the dinner table. I vaguely knew about half of the people in the photo; none of them have ever been close friends. Not being there just brings up this same old sadness in me because I’m reminded of another wonderful social opportunity having passed me by. I know deep down I haven’t done enough in AA yet to be part of a friendship group and all the excuses in the world no longer hide the fact that I have to work much, much harder.

*****

It’s naturally easier to walk into the Saturday meeting nowadays because I’m friends with the greeter there, M, so I know I get a cuddle from the first person I see there every week (as long as he’s there). Luckily he was there this week so I did get my hug on the doorstep, and his first question to me concerned whether I would be coming for coffee later with the group. I instinctively dithered, saying that I was tired and that I’d have to see how I felt after the meeting. My heart wanted me to go for that coffee, but I couldn’t fully commit myself to it just yet, because I would have to see who was at the meeting first, and who would be going for coffee with us. I didn’t feel safe just throwing myself into it and saying “yes, why not?” like I perhaps ought to have done.

As soon as I sat down the belief about not being good enough to be there tried to rise up in me; I had to forcefully ignore it until it had gone. Now that I know it will always come up and I’ll have to learn how to ignore it forever, it’s a bit easier to handle. At times it will be really easy to get carried away with it – I’ve trusted it all my life, after all – but my experience of being out of AA has taught me well that I can’t afford to follow those thoughts any more.

It was another busy meeting with little opportunity for jumping in to share. For a while in the middle of the meeting I listened to a story in my head about how I couldn’t really identify with any of it, how they’re really all better alcoholics than me and their stories are all so much more powerful than mine. This led to thoughts of how I didn’t belong and how none of them really wanted me there – before long I was doubting whether I’d go for this long awaited coffee after the meeting at all.

By the end of the meeting I hadn’t managed to share; and the voice of sobriety knew I could only make up for it by going for coffee with the group. That’s not to say that there are rules in recovery, and that we have to make up for the things we don’t do. But for me, it’s just been so long since I did the post-meeting fellowship, when an opportunity is there in front of me I don’t think I can afford to pass up on it.

So when the meeting closed I awkwardly stood by the door and waited for M to show me what to do. I felt silly just standing there without talking to anybody, whilst M chatted and said goodbye to other people. I briefly had nightmare visions of being forced to stand and wait there all night, until A, one of the old timers who’s always been nice to me, passed me and said a few nice things to me. She wanted to know if I’d left my job yet and if I’d got the money from the company – apparently she remembered all the sharing that I did about it last year and had been rooting for me in my desperation to be free of it. When I answered that yes I had left and yes I had received the money, she seemed genuinely thrilled. She also said it was nice to still see me around and that we could go for coffee some time if I liked. We swapped numbers – the first time I’ve done that in AA with anyone in years. She wasn’t going for coffee with the group tonight as she had to dash off somewhere; hopefully I’ll remember to text her in the week so we can meet up.

After she left M was still chatting to other people, so I felt an urge to go over to him and see what was going on. He was just saying goodbye to a friend; for a second it looked like he might at last be heading to the coffee shop but then he wanted to go and give his number to a newcomer in the corner of the room. This newcomer had shared powerfully at the end of the meeting about the recent carnage in his life and the very recent realisation of how good AA is for him. Even I had been moved by it. I’d have loved just to be able to talk to him and share my identification with what he’d said, but doing that without prompting seemed totally impossible. Before M could go and talk to him someone else came over to distract him, leaving the newcomer alone in their corner. The guy was getting ready to leave; something in my head said “it’s now or never,” so I went over to him and introduced myself.

I can’t remember ever approaching a stranger by myself before, not just in AA but in my whole life. I must have done it at some point, but if I have it was so long ago, I can’t recall anything about it. It’s certainly the first time I’ve gone up to a newcomer in AA and offered my help. I told him it was good to hear him, that his inspiring words had helped me, and I gave him my phone number and said we could go for coffee some time if he liked. I said all the things that any old timer would say to any newcomer; in doing so my inner critic told me I was being a fake and a fraud, that I was out of my depth. Hopefully my inner doubts about my own ability to help a newcomer didn’t show, and that on the surface it had the intended effect. He seemed happy to take my number and to chat to me. A minute later M came over and appeared about ten times as confident as I had; he said a bunch of helpful things that I hadn’t even thought to say. I beat myself up about that for a few minutes until I started to tell myself that at least I tried. My words to the newcomer may not have been the most original, the most blindingly insightful words he’ll ever hear; he might have forgotten about me instantly once I left him. But then again it might have helped him in a small way. In my early days when people were coming over to me and offering me their phone numbers, I was touched by every one of them, including the shyer ones who seemed to find approaching me difficult.

Seconds later, M was finally ready to go to coffee. I could see a group was forming and beginning to make its way; we joined it and minutes later, I was in a dream. For years I’ve wistfully remembered the days of going for post-meeting coffee, sure that they were over for me. All the time, apparently, a group has gone to the same coffee house every week after this meeting. Judging by how easy it was for me to join that group tonight, I could have gone any time in the last several years, but until now it just seemed closed to me. That hurdle of waiting at the end of the meeting, of sticking around and reaching out to someone instead of running away hiding, always stopped me. Even last week, I thought I’d never get over it. Tonight, I took the leap and I ended up getting what I wanted.

I sat with a group of about ten people and split my attention between another newcomer in the group, and with M and a couple of other friendly regulars of the meeting. M’s putting on a show in a few weeks and the group were talking about going to it; I was included in the group as if I’d always been part of it, and now I have another AA social event for my diary. When I turned my attentions to the newcomer, we shared our experience of fear in meetings, fear of sharing, of being vulnerable, of wanting to isolate and run away; we ended up talking about all this stuff until long after everyone else had gone home for the night.

When I talk to newcomers I’m aware I ought to at least try and present strong sobriety, to offer advice and guidance rather than ask it of them. But it’s still so recently that I was on the edge of AA, and the role of “old-timer” is still rather alien to me. I tried tonight; and I mostly succeeded. This newcomer, like the other one I’d spoken to earlier at the meeting, seemed to take a few things from our chat and to be grateful for it. But when our conversation came onto sponsorship, I embarrassingly had to admit to not having one and not knowing how to find one. This guy, who I think had only been around for two or three months, had to remind me that it’s just a case of asking someone whose sobriety I like!

When it was time to go home I experienced a high that I haven’t experienced in years. I thought it could never happen to me again; that it should happen by me finally doing what is suggested in AA is stunning in its irony. For so long I missed the place that the meeting used to be held in west London, because everyone always used to go to the cafe around the corner there, and the years when I went to that cafe every Saturday night were among the happiest in my life. After it moved to the south it seemed there were no late opening cafes in the area that could match up to the one in before. So for a long time I’ve just assumed that happiness was over. Finding out that there is another place for the group after all, is so precious, and it’s so obvious that I need to be doing this for my recovery all my time because I’m happiest when I am with other alcoholics talking about what’s going on.

I faced some fears tonight. I never thought I could help a single newcomer in AA but, well, maybe I was wrong about that too. Now that I’ve approached someone by myself once, I know I can do it again, though it’s bound to be just as hard next time. Perhaps next time, I’ll manage to approach the person I’ve been meaning to approach for weeks about becoming my sponsor..

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