I went to the party. I don’t want to write about all the reasons why it wasn’t perfect. I don’t want to complain about how I was anxious from start to finish, how I could only make myself stay for two hours, or how I was fixed in place for most of the time needing people to start conversations with me. I don’t want to see any part of it as a failure. I want to celebrate the fact that I went even though I was nervous. I want to be glad that I stayed for two hours, and that I managed to talk to lots of people. Yes, most of them had to do the hard work in coming over to me, but at least they wanted to talk to me. I talked to people I hadn’t met before and people I had met but never properly connected with. I had a lovely long conversation with my old flatmate S, who I didn’t know was friends with R. We reminisced about happier times when we shared a flat in earlier sobriety, and then we revelled in the happy coincidence of M, one of the flat’s current occupiers, showing up.
M moved into the flat immediately after S left in 2011; two years later I moved out, leaving M there; this year M came into recovery, and became friends with R through the Tuesday meeting that I brought him to. For half an hour the three of us stood in a busy hallway in R’s flat gushing over how great our old flat was, and the funny way that it has become involved in all of our recoveries. It really made S’s night, being introduced to M and finding out how it was all going at the flat now. We both really miss the flat – some of the happiest times in my life were spent there, and I’m sure it’s the same for S, who now wishes he could move back. It was a strange and delightful collision of several worlds. I had cause to think of the role serendipity had played in my life. Later I realised that if it weren’t for AA, none of us would have had those happy years in that flat (nor would we have been speaking about it at a party in 2016).
I left after 9pm, having managed two hours, as I was starting to feel tired, and it was getting too crowded to move around properly. I hadn’t spoken much to R at all, but I couldn’t begrudge him for being busy with the other thirty guests. As I said goodbye he said he was glad I’d come. I was glad I’d come. Later on some of them would be going clubbing at one of London’s biggest gay clubs which I used to frequent sometimes with fellow AA’s in early sobriety. I wasn’t the slightest bit tempted to go last night. I’ve come to realise that nightclubs just aren’t my thing any more. I’d had my night out. I expect it will be quite some time before I go to another sober house party. I remain somewhat on the edge of the circles that these things happen in. Had I been in a worse mood last night I could have believed I was on the edge of everything and therefore not really welcome. It was hard work keeping all those conversations going.
The thing I’ve never liked about parties is how people move around all the time and never stick to one spot, so when the person you’re talking to has to go to the loo or to the kitchen for a drink, you’re left standing, waiting for the next person to come along, as the person who’s left you will nearly always get sidetracked on their way back and start talking to someone else. Predictably I experienced a few of those shaky moments where I was left on my own. But some unexpected determination not to let those moments last arose in me. Although I couldn’t quite make myself go up to people and start those conversations, I could stand and smile and look approachable. So by 9pm I’d had a pretty good time, and it felt like the right time to go, even though the sky was still light outside, the party was still in full swing and people were still turning up. Could I have stayed longer if I’d had to? Yes, probably. But I’d still talked to a lot of people, I’d had the good time I came for and I could genuinely say that was enough. It’s certainly the first party I’ve mostly enjoyed in many years.
Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable without alcohol; back then there was always a darkness around parties, because I could know that things were usually going to end up messy or humiliating. A lot of my anxiety around parties now probably comes from that, even though it’s different now. Yesterday I did it, in spite of the anxiety, without having to push myself too much. Now I’m going to say something I very rarely say: I’m grateful. There, that wasn’t so bad.
Note: I’d like to think I’ll have equally positive things to say about my return to work tomorrow – that after successfully socialising in one tricky situation yesterday I’ll have renewed confidence in talking to the people at work who scare me. At the moment I can’t see it happening. Work challenges me in so many more ways than a party full of supportive, sober gay men. Oh well.