I needed a meeting tonight, more than I’ve needed one in quite a long time, but that didn’t mean I was happy about going to one. I chose the Soho meeting, one I rarely go to, because I couldn’t think of anywhere else. I knew when I got there I’d be faced with the Soho crowd – a harem of glamorous young gays who can always be found with coffees and cigarettes on Old Compton Street, when not in a meeting. I tend to avoid the Soho meetings because they’re always there, hogging the sharing. Tonight I had to not care. Of course, when I got there, the first person I saw was L, who I had been feeling guilty about all day. Oh for goodness sake, just smile and say hello to him! my head was telling me. Could I do it? No, absolutely not. He didn’t acknowledge me so I walked straight past him and up the stairs to the meeting, feeling like a criminal.
A certain teenage heaviness settled on me as I sat in the meeting room, and I couldn’t speak to or look at anyone as they came in and sat around me. It’s not an easy meeting to hide in: the chairs form a circle around the edge of the small room, so you’re visible wherever you sit. Another reason I don’t normally go there. It reminded me of how I felt in AA all the time a couple of years ago, when I couldn’t walk into any meeting without wanting to hide.
Just like that, I’m back to that place again. The irony is that I didn’t see this coming at all. Last week I was so happy in AA and in life. I honestly thought I’d never consider leaving AA again. Today the shadow of a desire to quit and do things alone again crossed my mind, because it always does when things are difficult and I’m faced with the consequences of my behaviour.
I know all long timers in AA go through this and I shouldn’t have expected this to never happen to me again. Obviously, I need to be more vigilant. Tonight there were plenty of chances to share in the meeting. A long silence near the end was telling me to open my mouth and speak. I could have said anything and I’m sure someone would have appreciated it. But everyone else who’d shared simply sounded so much cleverer than me. Anything I thought I might say just wasn’t going to be good enough. Plus, L was there, potentially judging me, so it was easier to stay silent.
No matter how many times I go through this in AA it never gets easier to understand or push through. Feeling crushed by the potential opinions of everyone in the room, I walked out at the end of the meeting, as anonymous as I had been at the start, and went for a long walk. Usually a long walk in London can help with a mood swing, especially at night time when the streets are quiet. I felt a bit better by the time I got home, but I’m left wondering how this happened again in the first place.
It’s Friday, so in normal circumstances I’d be going to the big gay meeting. At the moment I don’t know how I’m going to face it. It will be full of the same Soho crowd as tonight, and L will probably be there, so if I’m still not on top form it’s bound to be another painful experience. I really wish I could just not go, but I’ve known for a long time that I don’t have a choice with this. I have literally nowhere else to go. There’s always the option of going to a different meeting where no one knows me – people are always saying how there are over 600 meetings a week in London – but if I do that it would just be out of fear, and it wouldn’t help.
The last thing I want to do right now is follow suggestions and call someone about this. Whoever I decided to speak to, I know exactly what they’d say. It’s the same thing that people have always said any time anyone is feeling this way in recovery. The answer’s in the steps – it has always been in the steps. I can’t ever escape from that or pretend I don’t know it. There will never be a different answer.
I have to talk to someone in recovery as soon as possible. Either by calling my sponsor or getting to a meeting tomorrow and opening my mouth. And I probably owe L an amends. Not saying ‘hello’ to someone in the street isn’t the worst crime anyone ever committed, but it’s clearly touched a nerve and I don’t want this hanging over me for another day. Knowing that I probably owe him an amends doesn’t mean I’m going to do it. I have no idea when I next see him if I’ll be able to smash through that fear and say something to him. He’s one of those people who’s good at putting barriers up – like me – when they’re up, it doesn’t fill you with confidence about approaching him. The most sober thing for me to do would be to approach him knowing all of that and say a sincere ‘sorry’ anyway. At nine years sober I should be able to go ahead and do it. Fuck, what’s he going to do, bite my head off?
In my head I just can’t see myself doing it. I wish I could but it feels too difficult. Jumping into a cage with sharks would be easier. This abject fear I have of offending people, which is always exacerbated when I happen not to say ‘hello’ to them one time, it all sounds so trivial on paper. Yet it’s become one of the hardest things in life that I have to overcome.
I still see that homeless guy outside my tube station every day. Most times he waves to me now, and when I’ve been in a good mood I’ve waved back, though it always bothers me that I’ve never given him any money or helped him in any way. Who knows, maybe I help him just by waving at him, acknowledging him as a person. Although I’ve passed him and waved countless times this year, every time I come out of the tube station I still face the dilemma of whether I should wave or not. I still don’t know if waving is an insult when I don’t give him any money or stop to talk to him, find out who he is. This daily dilemma has become so inconvenient I’ve started to change my routines and use another station further down the road instead, when I have the energy to walk another ten minutes. Instead of just doing what any normal person would do, walk out of the station and wave at him, maybe stop to talk to him sometimes, I am instinctively driven to go out of my way to avoid him. He’s always there in the same spot, and so for me he is a constant daily reminder of what’s wrong with me. I can’t just say ‘hello’ to another human being – first I have to weigh up and assess the risks. If it seems too risky based on old, child like reasoning, I ignore and avoid, causing potential offence which then exacerbates the drive to ignore and avoid.
I’ve been brought to my knees by this illness again. As always, I can choose to run and hope it will go away, or I can go back to AA and face it. I’m cornered. Now would be a good time for some help, HP!