On the approach to the Friday meeting in town I faced the same creeping anxiety that I have faced every time I’ve gone there during the past nine years. The fear of facing people which subsides but never fades completely. I didn’t want to get there and endure another awkward ninety minutes of isolation in the middle of the room, not again. So I tried to soak up the happy carefree atmosphere on the streets as I walked there, in another evening of glorious sunshine that we were enjoying. When I got to the meeting I felt ok – the anxiety was there but it wasn’t overpowering. I thought I was doing pretty well for once, following a program and engaging with people by smiling at them and looking them in the eye, something I usually dread.
Just before the meeting started a face from the past walked in, one I’d never expected to see again in a meeting, and my spirits plunged. It was G, the guy I met for coffee once in 2009 and immediately developed an enormous crush on. He came back into my life initially earlier this year, poking me on facebook and engaging me in lewd conversations via whatsapp. For a brief period I thought the excitement of my twenties could be repeated, but I soon realised that it was going nowhere, he wasn’t interested in meeting up or taking things further than whatsapp. So I abruptly cut all contact, blocked him on whatsapp and social media, because the interaction was beginning to bore me.
During all the time we were in contact I understood he wasn’t going to AA any more, had stopped going a long time ago, because he preferred managing his own sobriety. To see him in the meeting on Friday then was understandably a shock. Why the hell was he there? I desperately wanted to know. But I daren’t go over to him or acknowledge him. He sat on the opposite side of the room to me, about as far from my seat as the room would allow, which was a small mercy. Still I couldn’t stop myself from feeling immensely self conscious and like I didn’t want to be there. He must have seen me, must have seen my face drop into an awkward grimace. His opinion of me became significantly more important than it had been in years. All the while I knew what was going on, knew it was silly to care about the opinion of someone who meant so little to me, but I couldn’t control my reaction. The whole experience was so much like something that would happen during my drinking, when I walked into bars and clubs and saw people I didn’t want to see all the time. As soon as I recognised that, I thought I was going to have to leave the meeting as soon as possible. Not until it was officially over, perhaps, but the minute they announced the end I would have to dart straight out of the door, like in the old days, without saying goodbye to anyone. I’d just have to.
The chair was given by X, an old friend who I don’t see or speak to much these days, and it was amazing. It was one of those rare chairs where I hear my story. He talked about experiences at school and I could identify so much that I wanted to share back in the meeting. Normally I don’t share at that meeting – it’s often so busy and so full of people with impressive oratorical skills that I don’t blame myself for shying away most weeks. And with G there in the room, surely it would be even more difficult. But when it came to it, I just had to think “fuck it” and speak. What I had to say was too important. I thanked X for being so supportive of me in the past, and for taking me out in drag that one time in 2008 (God, what a fun night that was!) People laughed at the story, and I imagine a few of them were quite curious to know I’d ever done such a thing. Looking back on it now, I’m curious about how I managed it. I didn’t feel awkward when I was speaking, despite the fact I was sharing personal things that I’d never say outside a meeting. I suppose that’s the beauty of AA, that we can say anything in a meeting and be supported and listened to. At the end of the share, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and fondness for X, I actually said “I love you”, and it didn’t feel cheesy or disingenuous – it came out exactly the way I meant it to come out, which is that I love him as a sober brother.
By then I didn’t want to leave the meeting without saying goodbye to anyone, and I didn’t have to. G stayed away from me, thank God, as we all gathered outside in the alleyway and chatted about our plans for the weekend ahead. It was a lovely few moments, as I was able to engage with the group just as if nothing untoward had ever happened, and I hadn’t seen a face from the past. I laughed at jokes and entertaining comments, and as I did so I noticed that my laugh has changed recently. No longer is it a high pitched, screechy sucking in of air like I’m some teenage girl, it’s become more of a deep belly laugh in which I actually force air out and sound like myself.
Friday was undoubtedly one of the best meetings I’ve been to all year. Just when I was thinking I’d never share at that meeting again, I managed to! Hooray! And in spite of all that I mustn’t forget that I’m still an alcoholic and there will be challenging weeks again in the future!