On the edge

I didn’t go to sleep with confident feelings about the future last night, and it showed in my dreams. I experienced a traumatic, restless night, full of dreams about school and death and humiliation, many of which I woke from gasping and in tears. Demons chased me through the night, the culmination of a month of anxiety which had all but driven me mad. This morning I found little comfort, thanks to an e-mail from HR, telling me they couldn’t complete my background checks because they were having trouble getting hold of someone at my old university who could provide an academic reference for me. This was all I needed, and it wasn’t entirely a surprise as I knew three weeks ago they’d probably have trouble with this reference. I left University eight years ago, most of the lecturers who taught me have likely since left the faculty, not that any of them knew me that well when I was there.

It was up to me sort the issue out, just as it was in 2009 when my former employer encountered the same problem – inability to get hold of anyone helpful who could provide an academic reference – a couple of days before I was due to start there. History was repeating itself ironically, but I failed to see the funny side this morning as I frantically called up the company doing the background checks and the University to try and bridge the gap and find resolution. It turned out that everyone at the University is on Easter holidays at the moment, and no one would be back until next week, by which time the reference is supposed to be complete as my start date in the job is Monday. Panic really began to set in, and I wondered if accepting this job had been a mistake. There I was in my pyjamas, trying to fix a seemingly impossible problem before I’d had breakfast or meditated, because I couldn’t bear to do anything until it was all sorted. I felt crazy, tearing my hair out before 11 in the morning. Why was I even bothering? I was going to say “no” to them originally; ever since I said “yes” I’ve been having doubts about the job and the company, and now here I had my higher power stopping me and saying “are you really sure you want to go through with this?”

A chance to back out at the last minute, an hurdle that I could willingly fail to jump over. I could play it cool, ignore HR’s email and let them wait until it’s clear they have to withdraw my offer of employment due to failure to complete all checks. It would have felt reckless, far too brave for me, so I did everything I absolutely could to make sure I’d still have a job to go to, even though I didn’t want to and it was driving me crazy doing it. I managed to find someone at the University who could confirm my place there and passed their contact details onto the background check company, and then I asked HR if it would delay my start date if the process wasn’t complete by Monday.

Whilst waiting for their reply I spent the next few hours in mental agony, knowing there was nothing further I could do, dreading what they were going to say. If the academic reference wasn’t important they wouldn’t have included it as part of their background checks, so surely this would postpone my start date, meaning I might have to wait another month until their next staff induction. The prospect of another month of dread and anxiety was torture. I’d told everyone that I was starting on Monday; how embarrassing it would be to have to tell them it wasn’t happening after all. They’d all be so disappointed, my mother especially, who would worry about it endlessly and keep asking me what was going on.

I sat down and attempted to get on with my morning meditation, but it was no good, I was in too much of a state. Once the fifteen minutes were up I climbed back into bed and stayed there until 2pm. After that, I had to force myself to get up, get dressed and have something resembling a breakfast. I was in full blown panic attack mode, there’s no doubt about it. Eating food, cleaning my teeth, putting clothes on all took much longer than they normally would. Trying to do anything normal, to take care of myself was terrifying in case it tempted fate and brought the sky crashing down on me.

At 3pm I had to go out. I couldn’t take any more of feeling suffocated inside. I walked into town where I’d fix on coffee and reading until it was time for a meeting. On the way, HR’s reply finally came, cheerfully telling me it didn’t matter if the academic reference couldn’t be completed now because I’d passed the criminal record check. I was still going to start on Monday.

When I’m in panic something fundamental in me changes. I am another person. Life becomes dark and hopeless, walls close in around me and I don’t know how to snap out of it. As soon as I’d read their email I bounced back to myself. The switch in mood was quicker and bigger than I would have expected. I put my headphones on and began to listen to one of my pop playlists, the hits of 1985, at high volume. I felt like singing and dancing down the street. I still had a job! Everything was going to be OK!

Considering just a few hours earlier I’d been thinking I didn’t want the job that badly, that I might even tell them to stuff their job if they didn’t believe that I’d gone to University, this was a huge turnaround. I used to have big mood swings like that years ago but it’s plainly unusual these days. I felt a bit bipolar today. Gradually the euphoria wore off and I was pretty much back to normal by the time of the meeting. Looking forward to some aspects of starting the job and dreading others.

I met M beforehand and accompanied him to another meeting he’d not attended before, a new one in town. I recently started attending it and like the atmosphere of positivity there, and I thought it would be good for M to experience. It was an incredibly busy meeting tonight, with people standing at the back, and there was tons of positivity, lots of talk about AA miracles. If there was ever a better advert for recovery I can’t think of one.

Going to meetings with M makes me realise how many people I actually know in AA. Loads of people said hello to me at the start of the meeting, asking me how things are and how I’m feeling about next week. Everyone knows me and my situation, whereas M is yet to connect with anyone apart from me, and it reminds me how lucky I am to have been in AA for as long as I have.

If M doesn’t start to make other friends soon he may start to rely on me too much, something I don’t want to happen because I alone can’t help him to recover. He needs to be able to walk into meetings and know lots of people; I won’t always be there. I’ve encouraged him to share and to talk to people as much as possible. Until he does it I can’t force him to, much as I wish I could.

He clearly gets the AA message now, as today was his first full day of sobriety. He seems to be taking the idea of AA and sobriety seriously, and he says he likes all the meetings he’s been to. The main reason I think he’d benefit from talking to more people is that it will help him find a sponsor, something we all need urgently when we’re new. I question whether I should just offer to sponsor him myself, which would mean I could be more forceful in making suggestions. In some ways I guess I am sponsoring him at the moment, by taking him to meetings, offering support and advice, answering all his questions. But the truth is I don’t think I can sponsor him properly, partly because I’m still working through the steps with my own sponsor, and partly because I could see myself remaining the only person he talks to in AA. I haven’t exactly been persuasive yet in getting him to make other friends; someone else with more experience of sponsorship I’m sure would be much better at encouraging him in that area. Plus it would be one more person that he knows in AA, one more person to offer support.

I’m probably worrying about this too much. Like I said the other day, at some point I will just need to leave him to it because he needs to find his own path. I pray that he will.


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