Party time

It was indeed party time yesterday. On the way to G’s fellowship and food gathering, I was more nervous than I thought I could be at this stage. It was like going to a new job. I kept an internal debate going about whether I would show up or not all the way to the door of the flat. When I got there I had trouble ringing the doorbell. I still couldn’t decide whether I was really committed to attending the party or not. Eventually I pressed it, with something telling me that it would be silly not to. I’d probably risk bumping into and facing questions from other sober party goers if I were to turn back, anyway.

G seemed happy to see me when I walked through his door, which was initially comforting. But he had barely time to talk to me as he was busy preparing food for fifty people, and there were only two other people in the room, both of whom I didn’t know. I’d have to push myself into polite small talk with these strangers until other people that I knew better showed up.

I’d gotten there early because I thought I had to (someone at the meeting the night before had commented that G liked people showing up on time). In the end it turned out to be just like every other party: people would show up in their own time, which could be one to two hours after the official start. I could have gotten there when it was much later and much busier, and it wouldn’t have mattered to anyone, and I could have found friends instantly instead of having to wait patiently with a plastic cup of juice in my hand. As time dragged by and familiar faces gradually started to arrive, I smiled as much as I could and talked to people when they talked to me, about various satellite subjects of recovery. Really all I wanted to do was stare out of the window at the sweeping view of the river that G’s flat afforded, but social convention was on my mind, so I kept talking.

It was definitely awkward, but for the first hour or so I think I performed well. I managed to find someone else who was generally uncomfortable with this kind of situation, an older guy called S who I’d seen in the background of meetings over the years. He doesn’t seem to remember but he was one of the people who gave me their number in my first ever AA meeting in 2004, three years before I finally got sober. I’ve not spoken to him much since because, like me, he tends to be more of an observer than a talker in meetings, and there hasn’t been any attempt at connecting since 2004. It was a small surprise to find myself spending so much time talking to him yesterday, and I realised that we probably could always have been friends if there’d been more effort.

I’d gone to the party yesterday for this very reason: to connect with like minded people and possibly make new friends. With everyone there being in recovery and everyone knowing how hard it is to reach out in the world, the event should have thrown up many such opportunities to find spiritual soul mates. By the time it got really busy, after 3pm, I’d been there for an hour already and my energy was beginning to flag. And people were doing what people always do: finding their friends and sticking with them. It’s such an easy thing to do, I should have been less surprised. When S found one of his friends, I was left standing in a corner, as I was at many parties in my childhood, before I had alcohol to keep me company. It seems that standing in a corner comes naturally to me.

I knew nearly all of the faces at the party, but as yet there were none that I could easily walk up to and just rely on for conversation. I’ve not been back in AA long enough to have any really close friends there. My reservations about going to the party in the first place had come about mainly from studying the guest list on facebook, which didn’t have anyone that I could really trust on it. In AA you’re supposed to trust people. But this wasn’t an AA meeting, this was a party, with no rules, no traditions, no guidelines. Initially I hoped people would be more like they are in meetings, but in a challenging situation I guess we all revert to form.

When A (a friend from the Saturday meeting) showed up after 3 it was a blessed relief. Finally someone I knew well enough to approach was there. I was tired of the feeling of being on thin ice that standing in a corner had brought about. I rushed over to A and clung to him for company for the next hour. When he moved about the room I moved with him. I knew he would have had the same doubts about the event as me, he didn’t even have to say it. This made me feel I could just trust him. He didn’t seem put out by my constant company. When he had to go to the toilet it induced a moment of panic in me: I’d be left alone again. It was like being a five year old at an adult’s party.

I knew there had to be others there finding it difficult, it couldn’t just be me. But no one was showing the slightest sign of strain. Over the years in meetings I have (perhaps unfairly) complained of other alcoholics appearing to find social intercourse much easier than me. But yesterday, more than ever before, they really seemed to be finding it a doddle in comparison to me. Apart from the moment much earlier on when S had been sitting on his own looking slightly lost, I hadn’t seen one person’s social mask slip for a minute. Everyone was engaged deep in conversation, everyone was smiling, everyone was having fun. It was the school playground all over again, where every kid apart from me had this secret guide book telling them how to socialise.

If someone had looked in my direction at some random point in the afternoon, I wonder if they would have thought that I was finding it easy. It’s possible to be rational about this and assume that over all, I had more good moments than bad yesterday, therefore on average anyone looking at me during the afternoon would have seen me finding it easy. No one can see what’s going on underneath my skin, so it’s quite possible that anyone who saw me would have had no idea what a struggle it was. From that, one could extrapolate that many people there, if not all of them, were going through an internal struggle whilst appearing light and jovial on the surface.

Despite the rationalisations my negative side still kept reminding me of the moments when I had been forced to stand on my own, with no one to rescue me. At the end I still felt like I’d had more such ‘loner’ moments than anyone else there, probably because those moments had felt much longer than the good ones where I was talking.

At 4pm I could see it was starting to get dark outside and I remembered that I could give myself permission to leave. I’d managed two hours, and since I’d have a long journey home, I had an excuse to go. I was pleased when A said he wanted to leave with me: at least I wouldn’t be the only one!

On the way to the train station we tried to convince ourselves that it had been a success. Now that I’m home, I think it certainly wasn’t a failure. I hadn’t just talked to one person that I knew well all afternoon, I’d managed to talk to a couple of new people. I’d lasted two hours, gone home at a reasonable time and said goodbye to people (instead of just running out the door like I wanted to). Importantly, I’d gone in the first place when half the cells in my body wanted me to stay at home.

I hear that G does these things often. I don’t think I can do it again for a long time. I would need an ally there from the start, someone I could always rely on, someone I wouldn’t have to worry whether I’m boring them or cramping their style. It pains me to say it, but I need someone like P in AA! There’s A I suppose, but he might not always want to do these things. I need more allies. Time will tell if I can get them.

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