Masks

I’m still enjoying the counselling course, and I’m still committed to continuing on this path. Applications open for the next level this week, and I will probably be one of the first to request the application pack, while everyone else is still making up their mind. My enthusiasm for the learning hasn’t waned, but my participation in the group has. I’m sure the change has been too subtle for anyone but me to notice so far. If I were to tell any of my classmates that I doubt my place in the group they’d probably be surprised. I’m still talking to people there, still taking part in things when it’s required for an exercise, but the effort feels a little more tiring than it used to. In the final hour of the day at personal development yesterday I sat mostly in silence, waiting for it to be over. You don’t have to say anything in PD, so my separation from everyone is perhaps more obvious there.

I don’t know what it is. No, I do know what it is. It’s what I’ve always feared – I’m too scared to be my true self there, so I’m gradually drifting away from them, because it’s too much to keep wearing a facade. I must have said before that this barrier between me and the world operates in all situations – work, AA, relationships – this week it’s shown itself in counselling class, the place where there are supposed to be no barriers. I must have said this before as well: how nice it would be to be able to walk into a room and show my real self. By real self I mean the camp, witty gay boy that I can be in rare unguarded moments when I feel very comfortable with my companions. For three months I’ve been ashamed to show that person in college; for six months I’ve carefully hidden it at work because I’m sure no one would like to see it there either.

No one would know there’s a barrier there, so I guess it would be hard for anyone else to understand why I care about it. I care because I feel crushed when I see other people being themselves. Authenticity is supposed to be a key trait of anyone practicing counselling; with most of my classmates I can see their authenticity as clear as day. Since childhood I was attracted to and repulsed by people who seemed confident in their skin, the type of people where what you see is what you get. Now that I’ve realised I need to try and be like that I face the barriers that never seem to disappear. Some may disagree but I come back to the prospect of opening up about my sexuality as something that could help. It would be the biggest risk and probability says it would have the biggest pay off. But I don’t know if I’ll ever feel ready to do it in this situation.

I haven’t come out to anyone in years. I thought I was well past that part of my life; coming out was always something for youngsters. It’s tiring to think that I may have to do it again and again. I used to think that I didn’t need to come out to everyone, that I could keep it to myself and get by in situations like work because the people there weren’t people who mattered to me. Instinct has started to tell me I was wrong. By trying so hard not to come out I’m stifling myself. I’m so afraid of saying or doing something that might look gay, I say very little of consequence to colleagues. There’s a huge part of my life they don’t know about. Oh how I took the liberal atmosphere at RG for granted: there I was out from the get go, and I was fortunate to have the space to be myself without even thinking. I didn’t always use the space, but the option was there. The option is still there in the situation in which I find myself, I just don’t know how to take the leap.

Next weekend there’s the residential weekend in the country that we’ve all sort of been dreading for three months. The class will be stuck together for three days in the middle of nowhere, with a full programme of work and group bonding to test us. I’m not dreading it quite as much as I thought I would, but now that I’m aware I’ve not been authentic with them, I’m envisaging a weekend of tiring facade showing. Again I think of my confident, authentic classmates in that situation, I picture them enjoying themselves and throwing themselves into everything, while I unconsciously hold back from start to finish.

‘Coming out’ wouldn’t even necessarily have to involve saying the words “I’m gay,” it could be cracking a saucy joke, talking about someone I admire, sharing my music tastes. Anything that reflects who I am outside of the class, anything that isn’t a carefully considered line that’s designed to be safe.

The weekend could be fraught with tension over this, so as soon as it’s over I’m certain to be relieved, as I make my way home thankful I can be by myself and breathe once more. But then there’ll be the rest of my life to face, a life of putting on this quiet, reserved front that doesn’t really fit any more. When I’m back to work it will be the same thing all over again. People find me so quiet there they occasionally feel the need to comment on it, like people always did at school and college. When I started drinking, the whole point of it was to crack open my shell and it did a very good job of it, I was always confident when I was drunk. In sobriety I’ve never found out how to be confident in the world without alcohol, I’ve sort of just been stuck with the default ‘quiet’ persona that feels so heavy and lifeless to me now. That quiet persona is the reason I’ve never cracked sex and relationships as well, it stops me from doing anything because it all feels like a risk.

In the last couple of years, I’ve become aware that by taking small risks every day I can build up the self esteem and things will follow from that. I make one step forward then it’s two steps back, always. Kind friends would tell me I’ve made so much progress in the last ten years of recovery, but, as it is for everyone, it’s hard for me to see any change in myself.

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