Change in the brain

This entry should come with a self-pity warning: I’m about to feel very sorry for myself.

At the meeting on Saturday I was treated to glamorous tales of Brighton Pride by some friends who had just got back from. The group I’ve been going for coffee with after the meeting every week for months had been to Brighton and back that day for the country’s biggest Pride event after London, and they’d gone without me. I determined not to think about or be brought down by it as I listened to them share all the gossip on what they’d gotten up to. They are a group of friends that regularly does these day trips; I just wasn’t present for the discussion when it was being arranged; I had to be happy for them. It wouldn’t have been an issue at all, except that I knew I probably would have been part of the discussion if I’d never told R that I didn’t want a relationship with him. Since then, although we’ve been getting on very well, I haven’t been invited to anything outside of the weekly coffee. And we all only go to that out of habit. Often I hear of them sticking around after the coffee for a meal, which I’m never at because it’s always arranged out of my earshot. R said weeks ago that there were no hard feelings between us, and I had every reason to believe him. But the effect of what happened seems to have been more subtle and slow to emerge than we could have known.

An old, nasty feeling consumed me at the cafe on Saturday night, as they smiled and cracked racy jokes about their day out together. Inside me a lonely, hurt child wanted to know why I had been excluded. The hurt twists and burns when I’m in it; I can count so many occasions in my life where I’ve experienced the same feeling. Always the one who’s left out, always the forgotten one. On Saturday it didn’t matter that I vowed never to go to Brighton Pride again many years ago, and it didn’t matter that I’d had a perfectly nice day with myself anyway. As soon as I found out that they’d all done this thing together without me I was fighting not to get dragged into a quagmire of resentment.

It’s nice being included in things once in a while, isn’t it? Though I have long known that simply expecting to be included in things doesn’t work, it remains my lifelong dream to experience that. For the past year I have tried so hard to find a group – I don’t just mean an AA group that I can relate to in meetings, I mean a real group that I do things with outside of meetings. It may not appear that I’m trying all that hard sometimes, but I am.

As I tumbled further into the self-pity I began to momentarily wonder if I had made a mistake in telling R that I wasn’t interested. And then I thought: no, I’m better than that. Maybe he didn’t really fancy me and I was reading all the signals wrong at the time, but I thought I was doing the right thing, and I’m worth more than the idea of retracting what I said just to be included again. If sticking to my morals means I’m going to be subtly excluded, I should bloody well keep sticking to them because the alternative isn’t worth considering. It’s so, so hard to envision what it will take to find myself part of that group I’ve dreamed of for so long, one that respects me and lets me in without any compromises on my part. It would be so much easier to forget what I said to R and start the flirting again, because I’ve done it before and it’s worked. But I know deep down I can never do that. It wouldn’t just be inauthentic and cheap, it would be the opposite of sober behaviour.

My routine of three to four meetings a week is pretty solid now, and as previously discussed at length, this routine is giving me plenty of opportunity to practise the new set of social skills that I’ve been trying to acquire for the first time at the age of thirty-three. It still isn’t exactly easy to say hello and talk to everyone I meet, but perhaps an encouraging sign of progress is that I no longer blindly assume that people don’t want to talk to me. My instincts haven’t stopped telling me that people don’t want to talk to me, but I’m questioning them more and more now. The duality in my experience of life is thus increasingly apparent with each passing day: on the one hand there’s the old instincts, on the other hand there’s my behaviour, increasingly contrary to my instincts, carrying on as it does over and above them. It’s almost like two films showing on the same TV screen. In the same way, when I’m walking down the street, I’ve begun to try not to give into paranoia when I’m passing groups of teenagers and young people. I’ve always done this, since school or perhaps earlier, this thing where I shrivel and try to make myself appear invisible when I have to pass a group of threatening looking youths. This week I’ve attempted to play a new script in these situations, telling myself that they’re not out to get me, they’re just ordinary human beings with no passing interest in me whatsoever. My gut instincts aren’t fully following the script yet, but it’s a start.

I don’t expect to share at every meeting I go to, I only set out each week hoping to share in one or two. At the moment a lot of my sharing’s taken up with the career change that I’m setting in motion. Instinct naturally tells me that people don’t want to hear about this, because it involves describing my anxieties and I’m sure people are beyond bored of listening to me describe my anxieties for the past nine years. Despite that I’m still sharing it because I realised a while ago that sharing is the key into the fellowship, and I spend far too little time telling people what’s going on in my life as it is. The most common reaction from people to my sharing at the moment is curiosity. As soon as you say that you’re planning to change career, people want to know exactly what it is you’re planning to do. When I tell them I’m going into counselling they’re all lovely and supportive; nearly every time at least one person will say they think I’d make a good counsellor. Underneath these conversations I’m thinking that I’m a fraud and they don’t really mean it – which makes me realise I have to fight all the harder to ignore that script and keep going in the direction I’ve started on. Next time I share I should probably talk about that.

I’ve started reading an interesting book about the new science of neuroplasticity, titled “The Brain That Changes Itself”. It’s a bit like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat”, only a little more optimistic as it talks about people with strange and debilitating neurological conditions who managed to overcome them through apparent rewiring of the brain. I’ve come across the concept of AA and the steps rewiring the brain a few times; I’d like to think that everything I’m doing is rewiring the faulty connections in my old brain as we speak. The efforts I’m making, while they can often feel exhausting and without gain, start to take on a more positive appearance when I step back and look at how things have and are changing, gradually. It’s all gradual; never, ever instant.

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