Clearly I need to stop spending so much time looking at my phone. Facebook and the Guardian news app have virtually taken over my spare time. In the new series of Black Mirror on Netflix most of the episodes feature the theme of addiction to smart phones – it predicts a dark future where we are all glued to those small screens, to the point where it’s killing us. I want to get off facebook and news apps because I find them mentally exhausting, especially at midnight when I’m supposed to be sleeping. I need to free up the time I’m wasting on them so I can get back to the things I really enjoy, like learning French and writing my book. My new job can be used as a weak excuse for why I haven’t had much time to spare recently. But in spite of that I’m still managing to spend at least an hour on my phone every day. For months I’ve been trying to figure out what I get out of social media and the news, and I haven’t come up with anything. So that’s an hour wasted every day. Of course everyone in the world now spends a lot of time on their phones and it doesn’t do everyone harm. But I seem to be so tired all the time at the moment, my brain feels like it can’t take any more internet. I need to learn to put the phone down, but how? Colin, my disease, keeps telling me I need it.
Yesterday’s counselling class was the most difficult yet. Last week had been ok. I felt I’d made some progress with the group, and interactions with them were easier and more natural than before. This week I felt tired and distracted throughout the lesson, and I couldn’t have engaged properly with people even if I’d wanted to. I felt that people were being fake; everything that was said in the weekly counselling skills exercise (where one person acts as counsellor and one acts as client) seemed very much on the surface, as opposed to particularly profound. In short, I didn’t want to be there. I was so disappointed with myself for feeling so disengaged, which made it much harder to come out of the funk I was in. I’m left wondering how I will cope if I progress to the next level of training, where I have to attend a six hour class every Saturday for half a year. Part of me is so drawn to carrying on, because it’s what I always wanted to do and it seems like the only career I’ll find real fulfilment in. I’ve always found groups of strangers difficult, and I knew a counselling class would be no exception, but I guess I was hoping that I’d have settled in more by now. While others are able to build friendships and have friendly chats with each other before the start of the lesson, I still feel like a stranger in the group, not safe to expose myself to anyone. The more I think about it the harder the problem seems to overcome, so clearly thinking about it isn’t the answer. But as soon as I tell myself to stop thinking about it, I’m just thinking about it even more. I’m in a classic catch 22 situation.
I’ve continued going to the gay Friday night meeting even though for the past few weeks I’ve been saying I’ll try a different meeting out. I was thinking about maybe alternating it with another meeting so that I could break up the routine; but still every week my feet are taking me there. It’s like they know something I don’t. My feelings towards this meeting over all remain ambivalent. It’s so familiar to me I’m hesitant to interfere with the routine at all, but the truth is in spite of the familiarity I still go there every week not knowing if I will talk to anyone. Those few weeks earlier in the summer where I was hanging out with the crowd afterwards are just a fond memory now. It’s pretty much back to how it was a few years ago, when I felt uncomfortable with anything more than a “hello”. I’m still stung by the irony that I used to know some of the regular attendees well enough to go to their homes a few times. Two of them have even been my sponsor. Yet in this one meeting every week I sit in the middle or near the back for an hour and a half without leaving any trace that I was there.
AA meetings are supposed to be a safe space, so why do I never feel safe there? I have to ask why I keep going to this meeting, when after nine years it’s like I’ve only been going for a couple of weeks. Unlike other meetings it can get very busy and there tends to be a lot of what I like to call ‘loud frivolous chatter’ at the beginning and end. I’m not keen on noisy crowds at the best of times. Often it’s like being in a gay club, except that the lights are bright and no one is drinking. I’ve moaned about this meeting so much over the years, anyone who’s been following probably wonders why the hell I can’t keep away from it. It’s the glimmer of hope that things will change, I guess. The hope that one day it will be like how it was earlier in the year again, when I could approach people and go for meals with the gang at the end. At the time there was no mystery to it, but now, a few months on I’m completely mystified by how I ever managed it so easily.
Part of what kept me back the past few weeks from engaging properly is the suspicion that certain people there don’t like me. I get this to an extent in the counselling group as well. I may not have said hello to someone one week, so the next week I automatically feel awkward around them, whether I have any evidence to suggest they’re annoyed with me or not. I’ve always done this, it had always led to unfounded suspicion and awkwardness that the other person probably doesn’t have a clue about, and it makes being present exceptionally difficult. In my head it’s like I’m in a soap opera, where a funny look can carry all the meaning in the world and grudges can develop at the drop of a hat. I forget that I’m not in a soap opera, I don’t have to be best pals with everyone all the time, and my sobriety’s too important to be worrying about others’ opinions. I need to spend a lot more time remembering these things. I may never believe that I haven’t offended anyone at the meeting, but whether I’ve offended them or not, the AA saying comes to mind that “what others think of me is none of my business.”
Things came to a bit of a head last weekend when I shouted at mum. She was still waiting for her passport to come in the post and it was stressing me out. It should have been here by 1pm on Saturday, but at 12.59 it still wasn’t here and I flipped. The whole thing was my fault – if when helping her with the passport form I hadn’t ticked the box telling them to send the package by secure delivery, we wouldn’t have had to wait in last weekend, the postman would have just popped it through the letterbox. I was so angry with myself for causing unnecessary stress, and when I found out that mum had been sitting there all morning with her phone switched off, I flipped. She should have kept her phone on, the courier might have been trying to find our address and couldn’t because he couldn’t get in touch with her. Now we’d have to spend another week waiting for this identity document, another week in which it could get lost and end up in the hands of an identity fraud.
With mum being here to open the door to the courier one might wonder why I had to wait in all day as well. Well I wanted to be here when it arrived, desperately, since I felt that it was my problem as well, having filled the form out for her and caused this mess in the first place.
After whinging at her for a few minutes I stormed back to my bedroom and slammed the door, like a teenager again. Ten minutes later, there was a knock on the front door. The courier was here with her passport. Well, no one in the world could have felt sillier than I at that moment. Embarrassed, I quickly went to apologise to her because I knew it was the right thing to do. Just as she always had, she accepted my apology gracefully. I think she was just glad to have her passport, and so was I. Now no one could steal her identity.
Most of the time mum and I get along fine now. All of our interactions are on the surface, nothing deep ever goes on. It’s only on rare occasions when we’re both involved in something stressful that this impatient anger can burst out of nowhere, and our relationship becomes like a machine that’s suddenly malfunctioned. I suppose it comes from a lack of authenticity in the relationship – if we could ever relate to each other honestly then perhaps things wouldn’t blow up every now and then. I accepted a long time ago that we don’t have that kind of relationship, but now that I’m more focused on it, if you will, thanks to the counselling course, I question how I can bring any authentic calm to it. It’s the same with P, with the Friday meeting, with the counselling group, with work, with everything. I crave more authenticity in my life because I fear I will never meet Carl Rogers’ core condition of ‘congruence’ as a therapist if I don’t.
It’s been nearly three weeks since I last used on porn. That’s the longest I’ve ever gone without using since I first discovered it seven years ago. Despite that I’m not claiming any confidence to have cracked this thing. I’m literally having to take it one minute at a time at the moment. When I’m out and about on trains and buses I’m still catching sight of sexy men all the time, and it’s still driving me crazy. To be clear, I’m not trying to stop myself from looking at men altogether, that would be impossible and unnecessary. I’m trying to stop my thoughts from getting carried away when I see an attractive man in public. I’m trying to give up the fantasy.
Breaking this habit seems much like trying to derail a train with my bare hands. The train doesn’t want to come off the track. It’s been thundering down the same track for years. I’m glad I’ve made it to three weeks, and I want to continue abstaining, not because I see a bright future of love and relationships if I can overcome this thing, but because I just want to get clean. I said it a few weeks ago: I don’t want to be addicted to anything any more. The temptation to relapse remains strong most of the time, I can only remain vigilant and hope the HP will help me out a bit.
As well as facebook and news apps and websites I’m trying to avoid fretting about work during my free time. OK, so I thought the job was going to be perfect to begin with and it’s turning out to be anything but. There’s nothing I can do about it, and it clearly isn’t the worst job in the world. The things that are worrying me – not knowing my place in the company, being tasked with unexpected odd jobs – these are a normal part of working life for a lot of people. I didn’t know it but when I arrived at the charity I immediately fell into the trap of comparing it to RG. It seemed to combine all the things I liked about my job at RG, with none of the things I didn’t like, so I thought it was safe to assume that I would love the job forever. Obviously I don’t love everything about the job, now that I’ve been there a month and experienced all aspects of it. Who does love going into work every day? I mustn’t forget that it took me years to grow to love my job at RG, and even then, I still didn’t like everything about it.