I don’t know who reads this blog, if there’s anyone who’s been following it for a long time and who has a good idea of my story and where I’ve come from. Since I’ve started trying to cut ties with P, there’s really no one for me to say all these things to any more. The readers of this blog are the only people in the world who will really know me from now on, unless I find another real world friend to confide in. I can say some of these things to people in AA, of course, but I can’t say all of it in its entirety, because there just wouldn’t be the time. I’ve always hoped to get to a point in AA where I have a few sober friends who know everything about me, but I know that kind of relationship takes a long time to build. I think I’m getting there, but there’s still a long journey ahead. I’ve broken from P recently because I’ve known for a long time that he doesn’t get me, even though he knows everything about me and I’ve volunteered all of my private thoughts about things to him in countless e-mails and facebook messages over the years. He doesn’t get me any more and there’s nothing I can do about that, so I’m trying to move on. If there is only one person following this blog with interest who gets what I actually feel and believe in, that would be comforting.
Wednesday was my first proper day on the job at the bank. Unfortunately I had the most stressful work journey ever that morning, thanks to delays and overcrowding on the train. I avoided rush hour during my entire time at the last company by starting work at 8am, but my hours here are 9 – 5.30 and can’t be changed, so I have to put up with feeling like a sardine in the mornings on my way in. Knowing that I could not afford to be late on my first day at any cost, I experienced heart palpitations all the way to town as I tried to squeeze myself into the smallest possible space between one person’s armpit and the back of another person’s head.
I got to the office just on time luckily and I was greeted by my manager in reception. After a quick tour of the large basement office where I’ll be working full time from now on, we had a quick chat about the job in the kitchen area, before I was taken to my seat and left to shadow the girl next to me for the day. I hadn’t been expecting to start learning on the job straight away – I’d been under the impression that there would be at least two more weeks of classroom learning before they’d let me loose on the computers. Apparently it’s only the public facing employees who get the two week training program; I’d be left to get on with things from the first day.
I didn’t spend too much time minding as I had to learn a number of complicated looking tasks from my teammates that day. It was spookily similar to my first day at the last place when I had to do the same thing with my team there. The new team that I’m working with and learning from seem nice; one of them, V, was happy to spend her entire day helping me with tasks, even though she seemed a little stressed out by how much there was to do near the end. After briefly talking me through a couple of things in the morning the other girl, B, had gone back to focusing on her own stuff, so although she’d been perfectly pleasant I didn’t feel able to ask her for help as much as I asked V. Psychologically, V was the first person that I was introduced to, so in my head I naturally trusted her more than I did B, not because of anything B did per se.
J, the manager, kept to herself for most of the day, which is to say that she got on with her job and chatted to colleagues as if I wasn’t there for most of the time. She had been nice when we were talking as well, but like B, I didn’t get the impression that my presence or absence would have made much difference to her. Luckily, the tasks V was showing me how to do got fairly easy after a while, and I could have happily got on with things by myself probably by the afternoon, except that I didn’t have access to some crucial systems yet, so I had to keep going on V’s computer to do them, which was annoying.
Every now and then questions would come up and I would have to be brave and ask one of the others if V was away from her PC. I’ll have to keep doing it: they don’t like people carrying on blind and not asking for help in this organisation.
The office itself is a huge open plan affair with hundreds of people, most of whom I’ll never speak to or know. My small team of four is just a tiny part of the whole. I understand companies nowadays go for open plan because it saves money and space, but it’s not conducive to making friends in my opinion, so all their justifications about how it’s meant to encourage collaboration and socialising doesn’t wash with me. For a start, how are you supposed to remember all those names? I find it cold and impersonal as an environment. They’ve tried to make the kitchen area nice for us, with tables and microwaves and large fridges to store food and a subsidised vending machine, but the corporate colour scheme of red and black is an eyesore and doesn’t make me want to spend any time in there. Plus the whole office is underground with no natural daylight, so it’s never going to be pleasant as far as I’m concerned. You’d think a big profitable business could have done a bit better for its staff, especially one that purports to care about them!
There are some small comforts in it all, such as the area where the office is based, where there is no shortage of places to eat. Sadly they’re all bloody expensive and just in three days I spent a total of almost £20 on lunch. I’ll probably have to succumb to getting cheap sandwiches at the supermarket soon and eating at my desk, like I did for years in the last job, just to save money, even though it’ll mean being underground for nearly eight continuous hours every day. The need to save money is getting pretty urgent. I just don’t earn enough to be able to afford restaurant lunches every day of the week, much as I’d like to. I wish the office wasn’t underground, it seems almost inhumane to me.
By the end of the first day, I felt pleased with myself for having survived anyway and for learning all my tasks with ease. I’m not really sure if there’s enough work to go around in the team – once I’m up to speed with everything, V will probably have half as much to do as she normally does. I suppose it’s down to a policy of over-recruiting that the company has adopted for some reason. Given they had 65 new starters across the company on Monday, it must lead to over-staffing in some areas at some point.
I continue to doubt whether this is really the job I want to be doing. I don’t believe in the company’s vision now any more than I did on Monday. My fear of asking for help and of talking to people outside my team might play some part in that, I don’t know. I guess it’s true that I’m yet to find a place there. I don’t know the way everything works yet, and I was never going to feel fully comfortable there as a stranger on the first day with no friends. I know that feeling of being the newbie has to pass eventually, gradually, because it did at the last place. But it’s hard to believe that it will be exactly the same here. My disease can’t believe that I’m in exactly the same situation again.
On Wednesday I believed that I was willing to give it a go, despite my doubts. I’d only been in the job for one day, I couldn’t make any rash decisions yet. For the first time I could see how complacent I was about my place in the last company. Being there for so long, I got so comfortable and so used to knowing how to do my job. I really want to get to that stage here – I wish I could get there overnight. Everyone probably wishes that. Sadly if I am going to stick it out I have to go through this stage of learning, making mistakes and finding my feet, which just makes me want to groan right now. I know everyone in the world goes through this when they start a new job, but I have a disease which always tells me I’m the only one, no one else could possibly feel what I feel.
So many things about the job remind me of my last one, yet so many things about it are different. They had a strong brand and culture at the last company too, they had a charismatic CEO that everyone was supposed to idolise. But no one was forced to do things that they weren’t comfortable with there; they wouldn’t sack anybody for not worshipping the brand or the CEO. It was all encouraged but it wasn’t shoved down your throat. Here, it’s like we’re in North Korea.
While I’m trying to deal with how seriously my new employer takes itself I’m also trying to get used to responsibility and a five day working week again. I’ve only been out of work for six months yet it feels like six years! It’s hard to imagine I was in lovely places such as Venice just a few months ago, spending all that money, deciding how to spend my own time, where to go and what to do with my days. I got to that place by working hard in my last job, sticking it out and waiting through all the difficult and seemingly impossible times. If I can do it once I can do it again, but I’m older now and the sense of time running out weighs more heavily on me these days. Just the idea of having to go through another six years of hell for future rewards is heartbreaking, considering I’ll be nearly forty when it’s over and I’ll probably still be on a crappy wage. I’ve already waved goodbye to the idea of ever getting a mortgage; what else am I going to have to sacrifice to work my way up this ladder?
As the week dragged on my doubts and fears grew palpably, so that my morning meditations were becoming distracted and restless when previously they’d brought a measure of serenity. On Thursday and Friday morning I committed the cardinal sin of cutting the meditation short to ten minutes instead of the usual fifteen. I just couldn’t sit still for fifteen minutes any more, and I really wanted to get out of the door as soon as possible to give myself enough time to avoid the worst of the rush hour.
On Thursday my fears mainly centred around not having access to the systems that I needed to do my job. J had put through a request for me to have access, but so far IT weren’t responding and it didn’t look like it would be resolved any time soon. I was reminded of all the times I had to wait for access to things in the last job, how angry I used to get at IT there for appearing to want to make my life more difficult. I guess this kind of thing comes with the territory in office jobs that rely on multiple fragmented systems, so I didn’t get too angry about it on Thursday. From worrying about that my head moved on to worrying about the fact that I wasn’t talking to anyone outside my team yet. In an office of two hundred people there should be some who I could connect with, but by the end of the week I hadn’t said more than two words to anyone apart from my boss and my immediate team members. Sometimes I can look at it objectively and know that people won’t hate me for being shy – realistically, no one’s going to care one way or the other – but in the depths of anxiety I can believe that they must all think I’m rude, or weird, and that this will make them want to interact with me even less. I’ve felt the same way in countless situations over the years – at work, in AA, at University, college, school – the same old tape has replayed itself over and over again throughout my life and still I listen to it, still I let it overwhelm me to the point where I can’t begin to make the slightest effort with anyone for fear that I will be instantly judged.
I would like to think I could start going into the office every day and making a little effort to overcome these fears. I could just say “hello” to someone new every day: that would be enough. By doing that I know I’d slowly build up enough good will around me to get into a conversation with someone at some point. I know it would happen because it happened to me in AA last year. Results were slow to come at first, but bit by bit magic began to happen and recently I found myself comfortably in the centre of things again. I know exactly what I’d have to do to repeat that at work, but my disease tells me it’s different there because they’re not alcoholics and they don’t have my best interests at heart, and I feel like I’d be fighting against the huge weight of colleagues’ potential judgement every day.
Again, I go back to how good I had it when I left the last job. How much easier life could have been last year had I realised what I really had there! How nice it would be to go into an office now and know everyone and not feel like I have to impress anyone! I just didn’t know that I’d spent years working hard to get to that point. I took it for granted, complained and moaned about it constantly while taking advantage of its benefits. I still believe I made the right decision to leave them in September, don’t get me wrong – but by God can I appreciate how lucky I was to have that time there now.
Maybe the secret is just time. I spent a fifth of my life in the last job – a fifth! – so it’s no wonder things eventually changed and got better for me. As I got to know my job better with the months and years I naturally felt more confident about it; that reflected outwards and people who wouldn’t have given me the time of day when I began were unconsciously attracted to me. I was never aware of it at the time and I won’t be aware of it as it happens at the bank either; nor will I be able to control it. I can’t just snap my fingers and make it happen.
Despite all that, I still had big doubts looming on the horizon when I left work for the weekend. I know I can do the job itself, it’s easy, I’m intelligent and I could probably expand into a bigger and more complicated role if I waited long enough. It’s all the crap around it that I don’t think I can take. I’m talking about the culture, the brand, the insistence on loving and worshipping it all. I don’t pretend to understand it.
It’s really ironic that I should be missing my last job now. Well, I’m missing aspects of it: the nice office, the permission to wear my own comfortable clothes every day and not a corporate uniform, the free breakfast, the relaxed and informal, sometimes casual home-like atmosphere. This place claims to be an exciting start up but it hasn’t captured any of the exciting atmosphere of a real start up, like my last employer. All the start ups I know respect their staff enough to allow them to come into work in their own clothes whenever they want and do a good job. Here they enforce so many strict rules about everything, including words you can and can’t say, as if we’re school children. It’s ridiculous!
So I know that small things like not being able to talk to people outside my team yet are not a reason to leave. The big things like the leader worship and the rules would make me leave. Should some miracle occur and get me to stay, I would obviously talk to people eventually, it would just require daily small efforts. As much as my disease tells me I can’t make those efforts because people will judge me, experience has shown me I can. Today it was someone’s birthday and there was cake going round, one of the girls in a neighbouring team came over and offered me some. Barely more than two words were said, but at least she approached me, showing there are some human beings there.
If it weren’t a basement, if I could wear comfortable clothes to work, if all the people there were as nice as that girl who offered me the cake, it might actually be nice to work there. The company ethos (leader worship, enforced participation in company events) might prove to be a deal breaker for me in the long run. I get the need to have some kind of culture in a company nowadays, but the things that this place claims make it special aren’t all that special to me so far. It’s a bank, at the end of the day. It’s not going to change the world!
I wonder if this is really what human evolution has brought us to, this corporatised, cultish pretence at happiness that surrounds big brands. Do we as a society have to worship entrepreneurs to the point that it sucks the humanity out of us? At the induction they told us that we should never view this as just a job. Well, who really believes that working for a bank isn’t just a job? Why should I think of it as anything but a job? Sorry, but I’m not going to pretend that a bank is so important to me I’d give my life for it. This week I have seen people behaving like it’s saved their life. How can you trust people like that? How can you relate to them?
Anyone who’s seen The Office would know it pokes fun at that whole “love your boss” culture. David Brent / Michael Scott are representative of this stupid idea that a boss can be your friend and pay your wages at the same time. I don’t want to be my boss’s friend, but while I’m working there I have to act as if I’d be willing to worship the ground he walks on. For fuck’s sake! Surely everyone in their 20’s and 30’s has seen The Office, yet where I’m working now they don’t seem to have made the connection yet.
I hate the fact that I’m here again, starting at the bottom of a horrible company. Yes, I’m wallowing in self pity. On the way to the meeting tonight I thought for a few minutes about quitting. I could just not go in on Monday, no one would miss me, I could just go back to my situation before, when I was surviving ok on my savings, wait until something better comes along, which it’s bound to eventually. But a quick reality check showed me I can’t just leave. Truthfully, it wouldn’t be fair on the team I’ve just joined, and I don’t know if mum’s going to keep her job yet or not. If we were both out of work, who’d pay the rent? I’d have to because I’d have just quit a job voluntarily, so the government wouldn’t be helping us out.
When I was thinking about quitting earlier I wanted to do it so badly. But then I remembered all the surprises that happened during my time at RG, and I paused to think. There is often this duality in my head: the one side that wants to give in and run away versus the side that wants to give things a chance. Tonight I struggled to decide between the two. If I ever needed a sign of what to do from my higher power, it’s now!
I can’t believe that the people I’m working with will turn out to be innately good like everyone else in the world. I’ve become convinced that it’s like the school playground and they all will hate me. I was watching the clock all afternoon, waiting for 5.30 to come so I could just leave. I’ve been thinking about nicer times in my life, periods like 2007 when I was a kid in AA discovering the joys of living for the first time. How I wish for that simplicity again.
I always do this, don’t I? I keep going back to times which were in reality miserable, convince myself they weren’t all that bad compared to today. It’s a classic alcoholic symptom, yet I never see it when I’m doing it. Tonight I can’t ever see myself reminiscing fondly about the spring of 2016, and yet if you look at how I’ve romanticised the unhappiest years of my life, you’d think it was quite likely that in five or ten years from now I’ll be looking back on this month and wishing I could go through it again.
Following this theme of how bad things are at the moment I’ve been tracing it back to 2014 again, back to the week I found out they were making all my friends redundant at the last company. My disease has had me dwelling on that tonight as well, wishing I could go back and somehow do everything better so that I wouldn’t start making the string of bad choices that led me here. My disease doesn’t think I’ve really been happy since 2014, which may be true in some ways – it’s certainly been a stressful eighteen months. But if there hadn’t been the redundancy, I’d never have made all those friends in Bulgaria later on, I’d never have gone to Venice, and so on. There is absolutely no point in regretting the past because I can never change it, nor is there any point regretting the present because I chose to be here, and we’ve established I can’t just go back on my decisions without facing the consequences. I want to live in regret when I should just be grateful for everything I do have. Regret leads me to so many dark places yet I keep being attracted back to it. And that fact itself is regretful, but I have to accept it because this is my illness and there is no cure.
Nonetheless, when I got to the meeting I experienced that duality again as I went from having a head like a pressure cooker to feeling relatively normal the moment I sat down. I didn’t share in the meeting but I managed to stick around at the end and talk to loads of people about what was going on. So, in spite of what I was saying earlier about how there’s really no one that knows my full story, I was able to let people know most of it tonight as I engaged in multiple sober conversations. All I have to do is stick around at the end of a meeting and look open, and people will talk to me.
It’s easy to say that I can only do that in AA because people are friendlier there, we’re all there to support each other having been through the illness of alcoholism. I can forget that people at work are human beings too, with their own problems and personalities and needs. They may not be like the people in AA, but they are people. I have to believe that, otherwise I’ll keep wanting to run away forever. It’s the hardest thing to do, having faith that they’re people just like me and that at some point I’ll break through an invisible barrier around me and engage with them like I engage in AA, like I engaged with workmates at the last place.
Someone tonight said to me that I needed to give time time. As soon as he said it I knew he was right. Time is the answer: time is what my higher power needs. I have to give it time.