On Saturday I woke up stressed out about everything. Sadly I didn’t feel much better when I got to the meeting in the evening. So the old feeling of isolation came over me as I sat down near the back on my own. I didn’t want to say hello to anybody, didn’t want to talk about how my day had been or what was wrong. I knew I must look unapproachable, and I felt bad about that, but I didn’t have the energy to do anything about it. In the middle of the meeting, somehow I managed to share about what was going on. It’s becoming more automatic now: when I’m in that state I always feel the urge to share it, get it out there and take its power away. At the end lots of friends came up to me and expressed genuine concern. A said he had noticed me giving off a ‘vibe’ at the beginning. I guess that’s what I always wanted in AA: to have friends who know when there’s something up without me having to say anything. I don’t mind that A waited until the end of the meeting to comfort me, I know people won’t always respond to my needs instantly. At least I didn’t have to go home that night feeling alone.
We went for coffee in the usual place nearby. It was just the core group this week: me and a few others. Like me they’ve all come to rely on this weekly get together after the meeting. Each week it’s more and more like a little family. I guess it’s weird feeling that way after going to it for just a few months, but it was the highlight of the week, I can tell you. When it was over I felt sadder than I should have done at another happy moment passing. With just over a day left until I had to return to work, time was passing too quickly for me. I had to comfort myself with the sure knowledge that there would alway be next week.
On Sunday I went to church for the first time in several years with my sponsor. He had suggested that I could do some step 6 and 7 work with him there; I was to bring a letter that I’d written to my higher power, offering up all of my character defects, which I would read quietly in the pew before an evening mass. It turned into an unexpectedly emotional experience. My sponsor had picked a lovely church for us to meet at, a large parish church in the centre of town with gloriously ornate interior decoration. A sense of calm came over me as we walked into the place, and I was willing to forget all hostility I may have once had towards the church. It was strange – reason tells me that if there has to be a God it’s the whole universe, not a man with a beard on a cloud listening only to prayers that are said in a specific way in a Catholic church. And yet I only had to allow myself to feel the serene calmness, the love that must have gone into building such a beautiful sanctuary, and it occurred to me this is perhaps one of many valid ways that people have found of communicating with whatever God is. I knelt and took out my letter, read it out silently, handed over each and every one of the character defects that seem to have dragged me back in recovery. My fear of people; my instinct to dislike people because I believe they all naturally dislike me; my fear of the future; my need to control the future. I don’t think that I was able to let go of these things forever on Sunday – no one ever can – but something happened. I allowed all the love and silence to wash over me, with my sponsor right next to me. Just to know there was someone there who knew me and who really supported me, was magical.
We stayed for the mass as there was to be a special gathering of LGBT church goers afterwards that my sponsor wanted me to go to. All the prayers and psalms and hymns weren’t totally foreign to me – distant memories of words came back to me from school throughout the hour. Whether this is a reawakening of Christianity in my life or just a nice one off experience, is still to be decided. I didn’t intend to become religious again before Sunday, but who’s to say what the future holds? I’ve known others in AA who have gone back to religion in sobriety, because of something that it clearly offers them. And, strangely enough, in recent meditations where I have tried to place a loving higher power in my darkest memories of school, I have kept seeing a Jesus figure, maybe because a spiritual book that my sponsor gave me and which I’m reading at the moment keeps mentioning Jesus, I don’t know. Am I discovering a Catholic faith for the first time in my life, decades after I left a Catholic education? It’s not something I can decide on tonight.
Every other Sunday this church that we went to welcomes an LGBT Catholic group, which hosts a little social gathering in the neighbouring church hall afterward. My sponsor took me along and encouraged me to mingle; when I wouldn’t mingle he actively introduced me to people and left me to them with a smile on his face. I didn’t have time to be angry with him because people were being so nice to me. I’m glad he did what he did. I signed up to the group’s mailing list and it’s quite likely I’ll be going again in a couple of weeks. I already decided I wasn’t going to make a decision on this right now, but my God, it’s so weird to think about going to church again and being part of all those rituals. I feel one can’t just go to the post-mass social gathering, one has to be part of the whole faith because it’s a social group for practising Catholics who happen to be L, G, B or T (nearly everyone there on Sunday was G as far as I could tell). I think it’s wonderful that there are LGBT Catholic groups out there, spreading a message of inclusion and support, and I think it’s also wonderful that there are churches in this country that officially sanction them. On the macro level the church powers may still rely on a vengeful, gay-hating man on a cloud to try and exclude us, but even that rigid view I feel may soon begin to dissipate thanks in part to a new kind of pope.
What is true and real is that I went home on Sunday night feeling calm and happier, much more so than I ought to have done the night before returning to work.
Sadly when morning came, the fears were back and I didn’t just want to avoid work for the day, I wanted to quit. I kept thinking about how meaningless it all was, how boring my day was going to be, how I probably wasn’t going to have an interesting conversation with anyone, and how much I still hate the company’s values. I only managed to get dressed and go out on time thanks to the strong urge to meet my commitments, instilled in me by AA. That’s the real difference between me today and me ten years ago: I’ve spent so long not running away from things I can’t really do it any more, even when I want to.
Monday did turn out to be a rather uninspiring day as predicted, as there was hardly anything to do. Feeling bored and underworked on a Monday morning is never a good sign, and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the week. I managed to chat to B and V again throughout the day, but no one else in our surrounding area. I wasn’t introduced to anyone outside our team last week, and as time passes my ego feels that there is less and less reason to introduce myself to them. It makes for a strange situation. I can chat naturally to B and V, who I’m getting to know quite well, but to anyone else I might as well be invisible. I know I should be long past caring what anyone at work thinks of me, but whenever I see my teammates talking to the others in our vicinity I feel a sense of guilt, like I should be making the same effort as B and V and I’m not.
Hopefully with time I’ll manage to care less and less anyway. It seems uncertain that I’ll be there for more than a year at the moment. On Monday I just wanted to get out as soon as I reasonably could. I was very glad when the day was over. I went straight to the step meeting near the river and listened to good recovery. I was tired and I thought I wouldn’t have the energy to share, but somehow right at the end I found the energy and spoke very honestly about work. Afterwards R and a couple of others were going for fish and chips round the corner. I shouldn’t have gone, I should have been saving money after an expensive week of eating out nearly every day, but I guess I wanted to put going home off a little longer (so that I could put Tuesday off a little longer).
R was in a flirtatious mood; I played along with it for what I thought were innocent, humorous reasons. I’ve known him from the meetings for a few months now. He’s always been very friendly and supportive, and we’ve gone for coffee quite a few times after the Saturday meeting. He’s a lot older than me – by twenty years at least – and he’s a formerly married ex-con. To anyone on the outside we would not match up at all, but because of his friendly manner and because of how straight-acting he is, he could easily fall into the category of sexy father figure that I used to go for exclusively. Knowing this, I felt I should have had a boundary on Monday, but I didn’t. We joked about fancying each other and getting engaged. He started to remind me of my ex, M. We hugged and kissed each other on the cheek when saying goodbye. We’re meeting up for coffee near where he lives after work tomorrow – I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Tuesday got off to a terrible start, with absolutely nothing to do in the office. We’d done everything important on Monday, which wasn’t very much. The suffocating feeling of being trapped in a basement with hundreds of hostile strangers came to weigh on me that morning. I was on the verge of getting up and walking out, in spite of the consequences, when J finally came up with some different stuff for us to do, and then I was too busy to leave for the rest of the day. I absolutely need to keep busy in this job: I can’t afford to sit there and let myself think. When I’m busy I still don’t enjoy the job or the atmosphere that much, but at least I can feel important for a while, and it gives me much less time to brood. When I’m not busy, time comes to a virtual standstill, like it did at the last place when I was going through bad times there last year.
One of the interesting tasks I was given in the afternoon was to listen in on phonecalls that one of our neighbouring teams was taking from business customers. When I applied for this job, I assumed I’d be on the phones, but I’m not, I’m just carrying out very specific admin tasks that have nothing to do with talking to customers. As long as I’m in my team I’ll probably never have to pick up a phone, but on Tuesday with nothing else to do J thought it would be a good idea for me to listen in on what kind of calls the other team get, to broaden my knowledge of the business. As soon as I sat down it was like being back on the helpdesk at my old company. They weren’t just getting one type of query, all kinds of questions and complaints were coming in, which made for some very interesting investigative work on the system. I saw a whole other side to the system for the first time, things I never knew one could do. During the two hours that I was there I strangely enjoyed myself. I couldn’t help with the investigation in any way, my colleagues had to explain everything that they were doing, but I came away with some new knowledge. It was a wrench getting up and going back to my desk when the time was up. I knew I could join the phones team eventually, if I stay around long enough for a vacancy to come up. It might be good for me to wait.
As I was about to go back to my desk a birthday cake came out and people started singing “happy birthday” to someone in the near vicinity. It was the third time I’d seen this happen since starting there. With nearly 200 people in our office, there will be birthday cakes nearly every day of the year, so it seems. My colleague who I’d been shadowing on the phone kindly got me some cake and chatted to me like a person during a short cake break. I was able to laugh at some joke that someone cracked. For a minute I felt like part of a team, like a person.
Oh I know it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of me there, whether I make friends there or not. But God, it’s so nice when people are being nice to you. I can see that I have to give this time and figure out how to change teams, if that’s what I really want. I need to give time time.
When I got back to my desk, strangely I was feeling much better about things, talking more to B and J than I had done all week. And I noticed that there is some daylight that comes into the basement, from a set of windows hidden behind pillars on the other side. It’s not much, but it’s more than I thought there was. For lunch breaks I’ve found a nice place to sit and eat when the weather permits, in a nearby famous public square. It makes all the difference having it.
How I am to start talking to my silent nearby neighbours remained a complete mystery for most of the week, like a Rubik’s Cube. I worked out that I’d only managed it with the phone team because I had a reason to talk to them. I couldn’t have figured out what they were doing without talking to them. The people who sit around my team don’t have to talk to me. There doesn’t seem to be any crossover between our jobs, and there’s no urgent reason for conversation. Saying anything to any of them would have to be done spontaneously, which feels like a huge risk to me. I imagine it would feel like a risk to them as well. The problem is that they all existed safely in their little group before I came along. They know each other and they’re friends with each other already. V, B and J can talk to them spontaneously, despite the lack of any work-related reason for talk, because they don’t have my issues.
On Tuesday morning I was closer than ever to leaving the job; by the afternoon I was willing to give it another go. I could see that I am putting too much pressure on the situation when I sit there waiting for things to change. I never did that when I started at the last place, because I had no idea things could change. This time round I’m cursed by hindsight: I know things changed and got much better for me before, and I’m expecting it to happen here any minute. Because it’s not happening quickly enough I’m panicking about it.
I am back in that old nightmare, the one where I have to move the tables around the school gymnasium by myself, and I can’t because I believe I’m too weak and incapable for the responsibility. As soon as I woke from that dream I knew what it meant – I had to learn to take responsibility for my life and rearrange some old beliefs. Obviously, I didn’t do enough rearranging during my time at the last company, so now I have to do it. My higher power has always put the most important lessons in front of me, so I have to believe that I can face it, that I am strong enough.
Today I woke up with a cold and sore throat. Hooray, I’ve caught my first company cold! I was dreading the day ahead because I was booked into a training day at head office. They had invited some of us who started at the bank last week to attend a day of presentations from people around head office, which would explain to us in more depth what each of the departments does. Despite the fact we were there for two whole days last week we didn’t get that much insight into what the various departments actually do, so it would be good to find out now. This morning I was mainly dreading getting into head office and finding my way to the training room. Even though I had been given detailed instructions on where to go, my ego found it hard to accept that nothing would go wrong and it wouldn’t end up in embarrassment. I’d never walked into head office and found my way around alone before. It’s a big, corporate head office with lots of security – I really didn’t want to get lost or, God forbid, be late for training.
When I got there I was surprised to find that the special electronic pass they’d given me actually worked on the barriers. I was more surprised when I managed to get in a lift, ascend to the second floor and find my way easily to the training room where a group of people I recognised from last week’s induction workshop were sitting. After a good start, the day went really well. It was nice to see those people again – I managed to chat quite easily to some of them – and it was interesting to learn all about how the bank works behind the scenes. I had a reason to talk to the people around me today: we all started as strangers together last week, so there was that unspoken bond giving us some security in each other’s company. A few of them work in my office, though not anywhere near to me. I’ll have to try and look out for them in the kitchen when I get back there.
What was really nice was when the day finished at 3.30 and we could all go home early; we didn’t have to go to our respective offices and make up the remaining two hours. It was a warm, sunny afternoon and I celebrated my freedom by walking to one of my favourite coffee shops in town, near the very centre. As I walked there I knew how lucky I was to work for a company based where it is, so close to everything. For a couple of hours I felt like I did when I was out of work: free to do as I pleased. It was so nice to experience that today.
After coffee before going home I had to stop off at the shops to buy some work shirts because the ones I had weren’t fitting me very well. I’ve spent so much on clothes this month it’s insane! All I seem to buy at the moment is work clothes. Hopefully I have enough now.
I suppose, then, I’ll be sticking with the job as there are no better options for me at the moment. I’m going to have to be extremely patient, whether I choose to work my way up in this organisation or some other. If I leave the bank I’ll have to start at the bottom in some other company, and go through all of this again no doubt, so staying may indeed be my best option. After today’s brief education in banking I feel that a career in the banking world could be interesting to pursue (if counselling never works out). It will take years to go anywhere and get a wage that could be called decent, but this is the reality. I had to wait years for anything exciting to happen at the last place, so maybe I’ll just have to wait until my forties to feel that secure again. I don’t think I have much choice.
Tonight when I got back I sent an email to P telling him I can’t see him for a while because I want to “focus on recovery”. If I’d been really honest I would have said I can’t bear to see him at the moment because he stresses me out, but I knew honesty would do no good whatsoever in this case and so I didn’t say it. He replied pretty quickly saying he understands. I don’t think he does understand, though, because he also asked if I’d be free in a couple of weeks for a country walk with him and N on the holiday weekend. I didn’t reply to the suggestion, simply rolled my eyes at it because, if it actually happens (which doesn’t seem that likely given how unreliable N is) it’s going to be the least fun day out ever. I can’t believe P still doesn’t realise this. He hates N – why the hell is he still trying to arrange things with him? Anyway, P’s going to have to get used to not seeing me for some time, whether he understands my reasoning or not. I’m past feeling guilty over whether it’s cruel to abandon an old friend or not. I need this space, and if that’s cruel, so be it.