Unexpected things

I start every day now with at least ten minutes of silent meditation followed by prayer. I can’t tell you how long it’s taken me to fit my morning routine comfortably around this – and I wouldn’t be without it now. Yesterday I decided to add another component to the spiritual routine: ten minutes reading of something spiritual. This I do after the prayer and before I start my day proper. Since I started work with my sponsor he has recommended so many spiritual-based titles to me that I wouldn’t have time to read otherwise, because I already spend most of my afternoons and evenings when I’m not at meetings reading ordinary fiction or non-fiction. On Goodreads I have a list of about 150 must-read books which have been there for ages, which I’m currently working my way through. Setting ten minutes aside after the morning prayer to read something completely different that’s related to my recovery seemed like the most natural option. I’m not expecting to do it every day now for the rest of my life – with any adjustment to my routine there are always odd days in the beginning where I forget to do it, or where I don’t want to do it, and there can be weeks where I lose the momentum with it and think I won’t do it any more. However, having done the morning reading for the past couple of days I’ve found it helpful for starting the day in an even more pleasant way. The book I’m reading at the moment is “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening” by Cynthia Bourgeault, which is basically a practical guide to finding God through silent prayer.

I don’t have much free time left before I start work, so I’ve used the past couple of days to focus in on my French studying (once the morning’s spiritual practise has been done). I still want to take this learning seriously – I want to be fluent in the next couple of years and start working as a private French tutor. It’s no easier now than it was before to fit a bunch of new grammatical rules into my crowded head. When I’m trying really hard with French it can feel like I’m stretching my brain; I half expect to start hearing a loud fan blowing in my ear, like the fan on a computer that cools the overworked hard drive down.

*****

I went to yesterday’s step meeting in town expecting it to be fairly ordinary; I’d sit down, feel slightly awkward for a while, say hello and hug a few people that I feel safe with, maybe share, maybe keep quiet, go home. It turned out to be anything but ordinary from the start when a face from the past walked in. M, a guy I used to share a flat with, who I’d never seen in an AA meeting before and who I never expected to see in one, entered and sat at the back. He looked to be in a state and I knew immediately what he was going through. Fear, confusion, anger, desperation to get better. When the meeting started he announced that this was his first AA meeting. It felt very odd being in an AA meeting with someone I used to know so well when they were a practising alcoholic. I knew all the time that I lived with him that he was an alcoholic, though I never said anything to him, as I didn’t feel it was my place. Evidently he’d made up his own mind to come to a meeting now, all these years later, which was encouraging, although, knowing him so well, I could guess that he didn’t really want to be there, that all the talk about the steps and God would be confusing and off-putting to him. On the only occasion when we talked about my sobriety, his reaction was one of “that’s nice, but I’d rather not be involved”. The reaction of someone who isn’t ready to give sobriety and another way of living a thought, who may never be ready.

Apart from not being able to stop thinking about what he must be thinking in the meeting, I couldn’t help but wonder at the collision of two separate worlds: that of AA and that of my past. There isn’t much more to say about it, other than it felt like a strange and unexpected collision. It’s the first time I’ve ever known someone prior to them coming into the rooms.

I couldn’t share in the meeting because I was too busy listening intently to everyone else, hoping they’d share things that would prove relevant and helpful to M. At the end, I knew I’d have to go and speak to him, play the role of wise old timer again. I had no choice. I didn’t know what to say to him initially, so I politely just asked him how he was, which was probably a silly question as he immediately said “well, what do you think?” We went outside and talked about his decision to come to AA: he’d been thinking about it for a while, and felt that his drinking was coming to an end. He was in no way happy about this: he looked like someone who was grieving. He didn’t seem to know anything about the AA program, the steps, sponsorship – all that he’d heard in the meeting had been slightly bewildering and was half forgotten already. I encouraged him to get a list of the meetings and to get himself to as many as possible in the near future. As for drinking, he hasn’t officially stopped yet. He said that he will stop when he’s ready, which could be any time, or never. Someone said that it would be better to carry on going to meetings anyway, even if he continues drinking for a while, since it’s better for a true alcoholic to be in the rooms than out of them. It’s a valid point I guess, although I kind of wanted to reiterate the idea that stopping drinking is the whole point of AA. Yesterday M was clearly wavering at that halfway point between drinking and not drinking, a point we all reached before coming into the rooms, and he could have gone either way. A nudge towards sobriety from a friend could have done him good. But I decided not to intervene so openly in the end, because I didn’t know if I’d be able to say the right words. I just repeated the point about getting to as many meetings as possible. I mentioned to him the Tuesday night newcomers group (my home group) as one he should definitely try out; he provisionally agreed to come with me tonight, but would confirm by text message in the day.

I left him with many anxious and uncertain thoughts in my head. Now that he’s on this journey, how pushy should I be with him? Should I advise him to get to daily meetings, or leave him to it? Should I meet him for coffee and tell him all about the program, or should I let him find his own way? I want him to get better and I want to tell him all of the things that I learnt which have kept me sober over the years, but I know it’s a program of attraction rather than promotion, and he has to want it for himself. If he really wants it, he’ll get the message eventually, with or without me. Nothing I can say will keep him sober anyway, if he decides to drink again. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went straight home and drank last night. If he did, it’s not in my control. All I can do is offer advice and support when he asks for it. So I haven’t gone overboard and sent him countless messages today. When he messaged me this afternoon to say that he’d changed his mind about the newcomer meeting, because he was tired and a bit apprehensive about going to another one so soon after the last, I was disappointed, but I didn’t show it. I recommended some other good meetings for later in the week and told him to let me know if he wants me to take him to another one. I wasn’t entirely surprised to get his message today. Very few people in the world get this program at their very first meeting. The vast majority need to go to several meetings before they can work out what they want to do. It took me three years after my very first meeting to get it. I hope it doesn’t take M that long, but if it does, that’s his journey, not mine.

If I’m totally honest, I was a tiny bit relieved to get his message today, which I know sounds really bad, because it meant that I wouldn’t have to spend the evening being the wise and experienced spiritual guide. I’d be able to be my normal imperfect self in the meeting, isolate if I want to. Don’t get me wrong, I had been totally willing to meet M and be that helpful and supportive old timer – he would have got everything he needed from me had he decided to come. Without him there I guiltily allowed myself to relax and isolate at the back of the room where I almost always sit.

I didn’t get much time to myself as C, my secret AA crush, walked in and shockingly sat in the seat next to me. It was a prayer answered, especially as he proceeded to talk to me like someone that wants to become a friend. He asked me about my day and I let slip that I’d been studying French; he started talking French, and I immediately fell for him a little more. Seriously, this guy can do no wrong. I tried to reply in French, but of course I got tongue tied like I always do; switching back to English didn’t help because I was already embarrassed by my weak effort at French conversation, so the general state of being tongue-tied continued until the beginning of the meeting. C didn’t seem to mind; he made a few funny comments about the state of the room and the dangerously tempting chocolate cake that they were giving out at the tea station, which may have been intended to make me laugh, though I didn’t like to just presume. I spent most of the meeting in emotional agony, with this gorgeous guy inches away who would fulfil all my dreams if I could just be normal and attractive like other people manage to be in these situations. As soon as I begin to imagine being ‘normal and attractive’ I’m reminded with some certainty by my disease that I can never be those things, so I might as well give up thinking about it now.

The chair in the meeting was nothing short of amazing this week. He essentially told my story, one of binge drinking at university and at work, fuelled by victimhood and that curious superiority / inferiority complex we all seem to have. His eloquence and charisma were stunning, so much so I could barely stop myself from comparing it to my own profound lack of such things, which I knew meant I had to share in the meeting just to shut my disease up. Unfortunately the meeting was busier than it had been in years and everyone in the room wanted to share, so I let the opportunity pass me by.

That meeting is my sponsor’s home group so normally I wouldn’t go straight home afterwards without talking to him for a while, but he’s away this week, so I could conveniently slip away at the end, barely noticed by anyone. As I did so I knew I was betraying myself; the shame I felt as I walked alone to the bus stop was like a knife twisting in my gut. Leaving meetings without saying goodbye was my curse for so many years; every time I do it now I regret it more and more. I should have stopped myself from doing it before it happened, but I couldn’t. I was upset about not sharing and I was upset about C, who will never know how much he appeals to me, because I can never tell him, because I’m too damaged and would be risking too much.

I can see that the meeting was spoiled from the start. And I have to be careful with these feelings – basically, they can’t happen. I can’t fall for someone in AA; it’s bad enough falling for someone outside the rooms. When I allow these feelings to develop they are toxic to me. I’ve spent the last few years adjusting to celibacy because I’ve found that there is no way for me to safely develop feelings for anyone. I always get too attached in the beginning, and I always end up hurting myself. Even if in some ideal world I was able to say something to C, and find that he was equally attracted to me, it would never work out because my feelings would either smother us both, or they would die away after a while, leaving ashes in their wake. It’s happened too many times in the past, and I saw it starting again tonight and I just don’t need that to happen again.

God, if I’d met him ten years ago in a pub, how easy it would have been to chat him up and make things happen. To think! Well, of course it’s best that things don’t happen that way any more. Alcohol isn’t part of our lives now and I’m far better off without the collateral damage it causes.

The way things are today, it seems that nothing will ever happen with a man again. This is why I try not to think about it too much now, because it’s a dead end. There is no solution. I mean, I understand what people are getting at when they say I need to learn to love myself before any guy, and once I can love myself, then friendships and romance may be able to blossom. I get that the important thing is to love myself and not expect romance because that isn’t something I can make a goal anyway. If it happens, it’s a bonus prize. I get all that, but the problem is I don’t have a clue how to love myself, and nor does anyone else it seems. People talk vaguely about the AA program helping them to love themselves, but they never say exactly how they did it, what steps and actions they took, what it really means.

I guess I shall have to keep going inward with my daily meditation. Maybe that’s the only answer. I wish I could have shared about this tonight – I wanted to – but of course I couldn’t.

*****

Tomorrow I am off to Norwich for a short break until Sunday. Yay! It will be nice. I’m looking forward to it. I went to University in Norwich fifteen years ago and I like to revisit old haunts every now and then. The last time I went was with my last short term boyfriend in 2013. God, whatever happened to him? I’ll be up there on my own for a couple of days then P is joining me on Friday. It will be his first visit there. I can’t wait to show him all the sights. More people should go to Norwich – it’s a fine city. I still have my problems with P, but I’m going to try and put them to the back of my mind this weekend because when he arrives we’ll be sharing a room (to save on costs) and I can’t deal with any negativity at the moment.

*****

I’m about 50% nervous and 50% excited about my impending job at the bank. I’m excited about the job part of it – I know I can do it, I’m looking forward to finding out all about what it will involve, what the working environment will be like and what my colleagues will be like. I’m nervous about the ‘extras’ – the unpaid overtime that is mentioned in the contract as something they expect, these ‘special’ event days that all staff apparently have to attend. I hope to find out as soon as I can how regularly people are expected to work extra hours, and how often they have to go to these events. I need to put my mind at rest.

I’m most nervous about the first day. Will I know where to go? What to say? What to wear? How to interact with people? Obviously these are things that most people will undoubtedly be worried about, so I suppose it’s an encouraging sign that they are my main worries at the moment. The thing I’ll be spending most of my time doing there is the job, and that part I’m excited about, so I must be doing well. I’m not spending all my time worrying about the other things at the moment, it’s only when I think about them too much and I try and resist the anxiety by looking for solutions and answers. When I approach it spiritually, by welcoming the fear and letting it wash over me without seeking answers, it seems to go after a while. You may have guessed that this is a new approach to fear, one that would have been completely alien to me seven years ago when I started my last job. I’m hopeful that it will stick, and that I can go to work on the morning of my first day feeling semi-normal, as opposed to feeling like a prisoner on his way to being shot. I certainly intend to do my meditation, prayer and reading that morning before I go out – I sense it will be more important than ever to do it that day, and not just drop it because I’ve gotten out of bed too late and not given myself enough time. The alarm will be set early and I will have to get out of bed when it goes off. That spiritual practise will be like air to me in the coming weeks. Only through doing it can I hope to find my higher power and have her guide me through that first day.

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