On Friday I had to wonder what was going on – I appeared to be having a good day at work. It could be mainly attributed to the fact that it was Friday, of course, but I think there may have been something more to it. I wasn’t completely consumed by fear as I went in that morning (OK, there was some anxiety about the customer calls I was going to have to make that day, because I hadn’t done any yet during the week, but even as I was experiencing the anxiety I knew they’d go ok. What’s the worst that can happen with a phone call? And in the end, they did go ok.)
I had my first formal appraisal with my boss to look forward to in the afternoon. I’d been getting on better with her in the latter half of the week; she’d told me that I was doing much better with the customer forms since our chat. Before the appraisal we had a fun team quiz in the kitchen, something that’s become a weekly occurrence in the spirit of cheering everyone up for Friday. I sensed that I’d do well thanks to there being a pop music round. Ultimately I won, for the third time in a row. My general knowledge just beats that of all those twenty somethings. M, technically part of our team, was in the quiz and sitting next to me throughout. Every time he looked at me or began to say anything I timidly looked away, went invisible. I secretly hoped he’d congratulate me at the end with the others, but he didn’t – he’d wanted to win. I was non-existent to him again.
My meeting with the boss went better than expected, since she didn’t have any real complaints to make about my performance. On the topic of the mistakes I’d been making, she assured me that I was learning from them in her eyes, and that I had impressed her with my recent efforts to improve. I wanted to believe that she was so impressed with me she’d begun to like me as a person, but that wasn’t coming across yet. When I tried to introduce the topic of self confidence, get some advice from her on how to reach out to other people in the business and make friends, she had very little to say. Immediately I felt the gap between us widen again. I remembered that I am a thirty-three year old man with a lifetime of anxiety issues, while she is a twenty-three year old recently promoted manager in her first real job.
I made a substantial effort not to let the lack of budding friendship between us spoil the rest of the day. I think it paid off. Whenever I caught her and B whispering with each other at their desks, I managed to remind myself quite quickly that they probably weren’t whispering about me. I also reminded myself that they can’t hate me because they have no cause to hate me.
When the day was over I left in a superb mood. I’d survived seven weeks; 34 days (one less than 35 because of the bank holiday); maybe now I’d reached the point where things would start to go uphill and keep going. I remember approaching forty days in the last job and thinking that it was the turning point. Could this be the same point? So much other history seems to be repeating itself at the moment.
I was raring to go at the meeting when I got there. I knew most of the people in the room; I’d had conversations with more than half of them at one point or another. The atmosphere in the meeting was electric – no other way to describe it. We were all so happy to be there, safe and alive on a Friday night. I wanted to savour it, because it’s become so important to savour Friday nights now, what with them being the start of the weekend and freedom.
I find the chair at the Friday meeting is always good, and so it was this week. He talked about the importance of waiting. For the storm to pass, for the miracle to happen, for the emotions to subside. It seems that we have to do a lot of waiting in recovery. After a good run at work I’m now waiting for the next emotional crisis to strike. When that happens, I’ll be waiting for normality to resume once more. If I don’t wait out my extreme emotions, attempt to have some objectivity on the sidelines as they play out, I can only get involved in them and lose myself. Sobriety, the steps, has shown me that.
At the end of the meeting I waited to chat to G, who rarely goes to that meeting. Since I don’t often see him any more I was hoping to have a bit of a chat. Basically I was taking his presence as a sign that I ought to be sociable, which I was only too happy to be that evening. If he were to suggest going for coffee or dinner, making a night of it, I’d say yes, even though late nights aren’t exactly my thing any more. Outside as we talked, others from the meeting gathered around us and livened up proceedings with friendly chatter. A perky European girl called P suggested going for coffee somewhere, which we all promptly did. The nearest coffee house was too busy for us to find a table in, so since it was a warm night G suggested that we take our drinks and sit in the middle of a nearby square.
I was far from being my normal self in all of this: my normal self would have gone home by then. Instead I allowed the night to lead me on where it would, somewhat like during my drinking days. I didn’t know anyone in the group apart from G that well, but I was quickly and easily getting to know them, giving myself away naturally as if I was truly one of them. When I was drinking I would have expected this to happen. In the square we found a spot amongst hordes of drinkers and smokers, and we chatted comfortably about serious things for an hour. I got to know P quite well. I told her about my recently changed views on AA and why I take the principle of a minimum three meetings a week seriously now. I was talking in a way that I can only describe as normal: there was no hesitation, no doubt, no attempt to censor myself or come across a certain way. I was having one of those exceedingly rare evenings where I like the company so much I want to share all of myself with them. This was beyond the level of honesty I’d adopt even in an AA meeting. As well as talking non-stop I was smiling and laughing, like all the people around me. I was part of something.
Later on I found myself pondering on whether that had really been me, or whether I’d just been putting on another facade without realising it. Let’s face it, it’s so rare for me to be that open with anyone, maybe it wasn’t entirely real. Maybe I was exaggerating myself to impress them, or maybe I was getting carried away? Later still, I decided that it was actually me, and not a front, because it felt real at the time. My memory of the night now is already turning into one of those glossy films I look back on to remind me of good times. It was indeed like a film. A beautiful, unexpected evening in London with friends.
Yesterday’s meeting got off to an awkward start thanks to the fact that R was the first person I saw, and straight away we were off with the over-familiar jokes and cuddles. As he’s the greeter there most weeks he will often be the first person I see. Until now I was determined not to let it bother me, but it did bother me yesterday. For months I’ve relied on the Saturday meeting as my main social event of the week. When I don’t enjoy it, that’s another opportunity to connect with people gone for another week. For quite some time I’ve sat in the same seat at the back near R, since before all the awkwardness happened. This week I could have used the opportunity to move away, find somewhere else that might be safer, but I couldn’t make the change. I could only think about the questions he’d have in his mind, and it bothered me so much I stayed where I was.
The chair was confident and funny, full of entertaining anecdotes about things that would make a non-alcoholic’s stomach turn. As I listened I could only think about how I’d never have the personality to pull off such a chair. It’s disappointing that just twenty-four hours after such a nice event I was mired in this negativity, but there you go. I could clearly see myself descending into resentment again, going the very same way that I went four or five years ago, down that slippery slope. Today luckily it’s not so easy for me to let myself completely go there. I can stop myself now because I’m older, and I know I have to. At the end I stayed and went for coffee with the usual group, which included R. One week I will have to make myself go with the other group that does dinner in a restaurant (I can’t help thinking of them as the “cool” group.) Yesterday I wasn’t quite ready to break with my little gang yet.
Coffee was fine. Despite R’s constant cries for attention I managed to have some engaging conversations with others. I even managed to be ‘myself’ again for a while. I understand that this situation with R will change. Nothing lasts forever, right? Even if it changes by me just ignoring him week after week until he finally gets the message, it will change. I’d like to be able to brush the jokes aside with grace like the others do, but I’m still a bit too sensitive for that, and I think I always will be. Whenever R says something that’s supposed to be funny to me, whenever he playfully begs me to defend him from the others in the group who are “picking on” him, I can only think of the secret motives that he must have, and in contrast to six weeks ago when I got a little thrill out of them, I hate them now. I wish I’d never encouraged him.