Working it

There were a few slips sadly on porn at the beginning of this week. I am back to three days clean and sober, therefore. It has underlined a disappointing and anxious feel to the week. If I wasn’t sure before of how sticky the addiction is, I am now. When you slip once, you want to slip again, and the feeling grows with every slip. I haven’t been able to stop staring at hot guys on trains and buses since Tuesday. It’s worse than ever.

I guess the bottom line is that when I’m experiencing temptation, I need to learn to trust that I’ll be ok by not giving into it. After all this time it feels unsafe not giving in to the urges when I’m on my own in my room. I need to believe that there is a reason for getting clean. It’s hard when I don’t exactly know what the reason is, other than I will be leading a healthier life. I’m not expecting my hang ups in sex and relationships to be completely resolved, so I have to have faith in an altogether more vague set of goals. It seems that I am doing this for almost entirely spiritual reasons, to come out of the metaphorical darkness and into the light with my higher power. I don’t feel spiritually clean when I am using degrading porn; the urges to use it are part of my lower physical nature. Colin tells me that by giving up porn I am falling into the same trap as the religious nuts who have needlessly tried to control their sexual urges for hundreds of years. I’ve long known that trying to control urges is a risky business, and for years I thought it was utterly hopeless. The chances of succeeding now seem quite slim, which is why I can only take this one day at a time.

*****

I had a nervous and busy week to endure at work. On Monday P and I were sent to our foundation training at the charity’s office in South London. We would be there until Wednesday. Everyone has to do the foundation training when they start so there was no getting out of it. We’d be learning about the history of the charity, about what each of the different services does, as well as some core skills in empathy and listening. I looked forward to this part of the training as it might well chime with what I’d been learning in counselling, although I wasn’t looking forward to being there for three days with a group of mostly strangers. Surely it would be another opportunity to fret over how I was coming across to everyone. There was a mixture of people from across the organisation at the training, all of whom had started in the past month. I wasn’t enamoured with the location of the southern office, hidden as it was in the middle of what seemed like an unloved industrial estate. I met P at the train station first thing on Monday and we walked there together, it was a bit like walking into the unknown. At that point my thoughts were taken up with what was happening on Thursday, the big volunteer event that we were helping to organise. I wished we didn’t have to be out of the office for three days, it was going to make everything feel more rushed and stressful on Thursday than it needed to, but that was just the way things fell.

At first P and I stuck together amongst the crowd of strangers, which was naturally a very quiet and nervous looking crowd on Monday. Nobody seemed to know each other, and there was a general feeling of wanting to be in bed at home. I didn’t know if I’d be able to cope with a whole three days of it. When the presentations and the exercises started, I dreaded being put into groups with people who may not want to work with me. Just like in the counselling group, I would have to face this fear throughout the training as there was no way around it. I honestly don’t know why all educational activities in organisations have to make you work with strangers where possible. It’s not as if I’d learn less working with P.

I stayed and I went along with it, and I managed to contribute and learn quite a few things, all the while pretending I wanted to be there. In my head I endlessly questioned my appearance and people’s possible perceptions of me. Wherever I am, whether it’s in AA, counselling class or at a work foundation training, I can’t escape these doubts. It’s always the same old script. I don’t doubt that everyone goes through it initially when they’re thrown into a group, but I’m sure my reaction is still excessive and disproportionate!

Much of the training involved looking at case studies of people in crisis that the organisation had helped. There were stories of abandoned refugees, abused women and children, destitute and homeless teenagers. Compared to these situations my situation really isn’t a crisis at all, yet it constantly feels like it! My biggest worry at all times is what people are thinking about me. I learnt nine years ago that it doesn’t matter, yet somehow it still does!

Wednesday’s training involved some interesting role play exercises where we had to get into groups of three, with one person playing the vulnerable client, one playing the charity volunteer, and one playing the observer. It mirrored the exercise we do every week in counselling, so I should have been in my element. Having been with the group for almost three days by then, I was a little more settled and able to participate without too much trouble. I enjoyed the exercise and probably got as much out of it as everyone else. That said I was still really glad when the day was over and I could leave the industrial estate, never to return.

Thursday was a long day. All week our training in the other office had started at 10am, so until Thursday I was enjoying some nice lie ins. Now I was back on my normal schedule, and it wasn’t fun. It seemed there was so much to do in the office when I got there. We had to print all the posters and flyers we had prepared for the big event, which was going to take hours. We had until 3pm, when cars were picking us up to take us to the venue. I was dreading 3pm as if it was going to be the time of my execution. I wanted to keep it as far in the future as possible, I wasn’t ready to face the moment of truth when all of my social skills were going to be put to the test. Several of us from the office would be getting cabs to the venue in town, taking boxes full of food and drink with us, along with the materials that we’d been preparing to spread around the big event hall. From 3pm until God knows when I would be stuck with my colleagues at this event, and I’d have to be on guard and ready to help the whole time.

My biggest fear was not knowing what to do at the venue when I got there. There were a lot of us going – others would surely be much better at taking things in hand, and I could just see myself standing around for hours like a spare part. I had prepared a lot of flyers to stick up on the walls of the venue, but that wasn’t going to take the three hours between us arriving and the event starting. This is why I hate the thought of helping out at events, why I spent my entire time at the bank living in dread of having to go to one. Once I was there I wouldn’t be able to leave, and I’d have to be smiling and helpful the whole time because that was clearly my role.

3pm came all too quickly and we were getting into cabs with heavy boxes full of food, drink, posters, leaflets and party balloons. I did what I could to help carry everything, then once we were in the cab and on our way I experienced a temporary feeling of redundancy. The colleagues I was with, all of whom had been with the charity for much longer than me, spent the journey talking about people I didn’t know, so I couldn’t contribute there. I should have been glad when we arrived at the venue, but I wasn’t because now the fun of the afternoon was really going to begin. I guess my fear of helping at big events goes back to a time when I was a clumsy and clueless child, being shouted at by adults at school events for doing it all wrong. I don’t really remember any specific occasions, but I can’t think where else this specific feeling of uselessness would come from. When K told me to start arranging tables and sticking the posters and balloons up everywhere, I had something to do and I could discard the sense of uselessness temporarily. She would have to keep giving me things to do for the rest of the afternoon, because I didn’t know how they wanted things to look, so I couldn’t exactly go on my own initiative.

P arrived a bit later and thankfully appeared to be suffering from the same doubts about her place there as me. Together we did everything that K told us to do, never separating. By 6 o’clock the hall was ready and there was little left for anyone to do. K and the others started mingling and drinking wine with the guests who were beginning to arrive, while P and I stood in a corner feeling lost. I felt resentment coming off P at being there – I can only hope my own feelings weren’t showing quite so obviously. Although I get on with P and we have a decent working relationship, there have been times especially this week where I’ve sensed a bit of competitiveness with her. I don’t know how else to describe it. In the foundation training, for instance, when we were in one of the listening exercises with each other at the end I heard her make a few comments about my counselling skills that were a misplaced critique. And at the event on Thursday, although there were no comments I couldn’t help but wonder if she was resentful at having to be stuck with me the whole time. We followed each other round all evening because neither of us knew what else to do. If only we’d been at the charity for five years each and knew everyone there like old friends.

The event passed by in a flash, and luckily people didn’t hang around for too long afterwards, so we could start clearing everything up pretty rapidly. By 9.30 the place was clear and we were surprised to be offered boxes of food and cakes that no one had eaten. It would have gone to waste otherwise. I was more than happy with this result of the evening, and I was pleased with my performance over all. I’d helped tidy up as much as anyone, and no one had complained or had a go at me. Outside the venue, we all hugged and said goodbye to each other warmly, and I could revel in the knowledge that I had the next few days off work. Friday there would be no counselling lesson because of the half term holiday, and next Monday and Tuesday I’ve booked as annual leave.

A few of us walked to the train station together, laden with our heavy bags full of food, and it was quite a nice, amiable stroll. I ended up on the Piccadilly line with P. Maybe out of tiredness, I don’t know, I lost some of my inhibitions and chatted to her the whole way like a real friend. I was probably relieved that the event I’d been worrying about for a month was finally over.

Now that it’s over my worries can turn to the future at work, which remains a bit foggy. K has asked me to look at finance and invoicing for the team when I get back next week, so there’ll be something to do, but I don’t know if it’s going to take up all the hours that I’m there. It seems unlikely, given the fact I still don’t have access to all the systems I need and IT have been dragging their feet about it. I’ve got a meeting with K next Wednesday, let’s hope I remember to bring it up.

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