The work starts here

I start work tomorrow. I’m feeling much calmer than I normally would in this situation. I’ve given up trying to intellectualise my fears and answer them with logic and reason. That doesn’t work. My fear is a feeling, in a different place in my body to my thoughts, so I can only counter it with feelings. I have to feel that everything will be all right in my gut. I guess that’s where I’ve been going wrong all these years.

With the encouragement of my sponsor and the spiritual reading that I’ve been doing recently, I’ve spent my morning meditation the past couple of days back at school. I’ve imagined myself back in those thoroughfares and corridors, those stuffy rooms, that cavernous gymnasium and swimming pool. I’ve consciously tried to re-enter that dream which has come and gone regularly during the past seventeen years. Instead of going by myself I’ve brought my higher power with me. With my HP walking beside me, the hope is that it will cure me of that fear once and for all. The fear I experience in my daily life now comes from those corridors and those rooms; I never felt this way before I went to that school. So I’m changing the script, putting my HP in those memories and convincing myself that I was never as alone as I thought I was. It’s been remarkably easy so far. My memory of the school building and its surroundings is better than you’d expect after all these years. I suppose the recurring dream that I’ve had about it ever since I left must have burned it into my memory. I can walk around the building and the playground again almost as if I were really there, and I can picture the vague form of my HP next to me at all times, comforting and supporting me through it. For years, the thought of having to go back to that place has cast mortal fear into me; now, it doesn’t.

I may be practising a form of trauma therapy on myself. For some years I’ve thought that I needed to. Whether it will be successful or not remains to be seen – I haven’t started work yet. But on my final day of freedom I certainly feel remarkably calm, considering the state I was in the other day. Just picturing a loving higher power with me in that playground has taken an edge away from the trauma. It’s like I’m giving it to my HP for the first time, allowing my HP to process it for the first time. I don’t know if this is the processing of trauma that I never did but always should have done, or if it’s just another temporary fix, like trying to find logical answers was. I never thought that these feelings could be processed, if I’m honest. This is the first time I’ve ever wilfully imagined myself back in the school environment. I’ve never dared look at it before.

Before I started at my last job in 2009 I was encouraged by a cognitive behavioural therapist to do a similar thing, which was to imagine a loving parent walking beside me, the scared inner child, as I made my way to work. I must have talked to that therapist about my experiences at school – in fact I know I’ve talked to many people about them over the years. But I never got that deep into the emotions, and so the ‘loving parent’ solution I was given only worked temporarily. I still had to put up with daily dread on my way to work for months until I’d gotten used to the job and was a respected part of the team.

I didn’t need to imagine the loving parent / higher power holding my hand at work, I needed to imagine it in the school situation, because that was where the trauma originated. I need to see my HP in the playground on the morning when MC spitefully told everyone I was a gay pervert; I need to see my HP in the lunch canteen when AK sang George Michael’s ‘Outside’ at me and teasingly blew kisses at me in front of everyone; I need to have my HP there in the swimming pool on the morning in 1996 when I was so scared of the thought of being made to dive in the deep end, I threw up. I’d been bullied by my classmates before that day, but that experience was particularly humiliating and the bullying got much worse after it. I was forever known as the boy who puked in the swimming pool from that day on. In that memory I was always alone, isolated from my classmates and teachers, an alien. To them I looked very strange indeed – I had apparently been fine up to that point, but suddenly I was doing something disgusting for no discernible reason. I couldn’t tell them that it was the fear of drowning in ten metre deep water which brought my morning’s breakfast up, I didn’t even know why I was doing it myself at the time. I was as disgusted with myself as everyone else, as a shocked and annoyed PE teacher dragged me to a toilet where I could bring the rest of my breakfast up more privately. All through those moments I would have had eyes burning into the back of my head, the eyes of my peers as they decided once and for all that I was no good. Any chance I might have had of connecting with them in friendship was gone from then on.

On its own, puking in a swimming pool isn’t a crime. It’s what it represents in my life that’s significant. It was the end of happiness for me, the end of believing in myself, the end of innocence in my peers. Today as I envision a loving higher power there with me in that pool, stroking the back of my neck, cuddling me, I realise maybe for the first time that I wasn’t completely alone. If a higher power could be present in my life eleven years later when I’m giving up alcohol, it could be present on a cold Tuesday morning in February 1996. I don’t see it as a man or a woman sitting next to me, at the moment I just see it as a pair of arms encircling me. And it’s working now, I’m feeling ok today.

I don’t have to feel alone when I go to work tomorrow. I know my HP will be with me, and I know my sponsor and all my AA friends who I’ve told about the anxiety would be with me if they could. I’m sure they would have been with me in the late 90’s when I was going through all those things at school too if they could – they were all alive then. It’s weird to think, because back then all my AA friends that I’m thinking of would have been kids like me or out there drinking, so perhaps not capable of giving real support. But I know they would have if they could have, and that’s enough.

On Friday I went to see my sponsor at his home again and we finished our Big Book study. We reached the chapter “Working with others” which details step twelve. We won’t continue with the subsequent chapters, “To wives” etc. because we’ve covered the steps, and I already know how the rest of it works. It was nice to spend the day there again. He lives in such a peaceful place. The weather was spring like for the first time all year so we tried to sit outside in the garden for a while, but it became a bit too chilly so we went back into his conservatory, where the chairs are extraordinarily comfortable and it’s easy to doze off because it’s so peaceful. I managed to spend some time chatting to one of his fellow priests, M, who is also a trained counsellor. I found out about training courses I could do and where it’s good to study. I’m not going to become a counsellor straight away – that’s still a few years away, if it happens – but it was good to get the lay of the land, so to speak.

My sponsor and I headed to the meeting in town that evening, and it was a spectacular meeting. My old friend B, who now lives in California with my former sponsor, was giving the chair. You could tell from the start it was going to be good. He talked of everything that is important; of loving oneself, making peace with our families, believing that we never need to drink again. The meeting was unusually busy, and people were so quick to share back that I couldn’t get a chance to jump in. I wasn’t too bothered for once, because I’d shared a lot recently anyway, and it was just nice to be there. In that meeting I knew AA would be part of my life for the rest of my life. AA is my life – I can say today that it’s saved me.

I agreed with my sponsor that I wouldn’t see P this weekend, and I’ve kept to that vow. I knew he’d stress me out unnecessarily if I tried to spend another afternoon with him. I knew I didn’t need to hear all the platitudes about how this week is going to be ok and how I’ll end up loving my job at the bank, so I put up a boundary and told P I would be busy with AA yesterday and today. I will see P again in the future, no doubt. I may not end up cutting ties with him completely. But I certainly have to keep boundaries with him now. I spent far too much time with him last year; it’s AA I need to be spending my time with now.


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