Ten years sober

Today is ten years to the day since I stopped drinking. Of course I’m happy. I’ve reached a milestone that I didn’t think I would ever reach; an anniversary I dreamed of reaching when I was a year sober and I heard about these magical people who had a whole decade of clean time. I wanted to get there so badly, to achieve that miracle and have the wisdom of a true AA old timer like the rest of them. Now I’m here, it’s not in any way what I expected it to be.

It’s definitely been ten years, it feels like much longer in some ways. But I don’t feel like celebrating anything right now. I’m stressed out and I don’t have everything I wanted all those years ago when I began to fantasise about this day. I’ve agreed to chair my home group meeting later on and I’ve invited them all out to a meal afterwards, but at this moment I’d rather cancel. I can’t believe I’ve willingly made myself the centre of attention by telling them all. I just want to hide in bed!

I’m stressed about the counselling diploma that I’m starting in September (I was accepted on to it, as expected – yay for me!) I’m supposed to be receiving an information pack which will include important stuff such as a formal offer letter and necessary preparation for the course, but it hasn’t come yet. I called them and they said it was posted out yesterday. So it could come next week, but I don’t want to wait until then, I want the letter in my hands so I can be 100% confident that the course is happening. Logically, there’s no way it isn’t happening – they’ve offered me the place and I’ve accepted it. But in my emotional head, I’ve spent so long waiting for certainty about my future and this just feels like more uncertainty. Until I can see the letter confirming everything I’m not going to rest. I was hoping to have it today on this special day, it would have made the occasion so much nicer.

I’m also stressed about money. In the week I decided to lock away most of the money remaining from the 2015 RG share pay out in a fixed bond, so that I can’t spend it on frivolous things like more holidays in the coming years. A wise decision on paper, I’ve begun to experience a smidgen of regret over it. I left what I thought would be enough in my spending account to cover any emergencies that might come up in the next couple of years, while I’m studying and earning a minimal part time wage. Now I just don’t know if it will be enough. Judging by how much I’ve spent on a monthly basis in the past year, it definitely won’t be enough. I’ve got two weeks to change my mind and close the fixed bond, but I don’t want the hassle. I chose the five year bond with the highest interest, due to bank rules you can only open one of these a year so I’d lose that interest instantly. I could put a lower amount into a new fixed bond with slightly less interest, but it seems such a bother. I chose the highest interest and the longest fixed term for a reason. I’m not supposed to be spending that money, it’s far better off left where it is.

If I don’t have any more holidays, if I can live frugally in the next few years then I’ll be all right. But I’ve been saying that for the past two years and I haven’t lived frugally at all. OK, I’ve had a number of major holidays that cost the earth and if I just don’t book any more of those, I might be OK. But I don’t know what’s going to come up in the next few years. Normally in the winter I have this habit of obsessing about holidays because of the bad weather, and I’m sure this time next year I’ll be gagging for one. Maybe one a year would be doable, but I just don’t know. It wouldn’t leave room to spend on anything else that might turn out to be necessary in the long run.

I’m relying on the idea that I’ll be able to leave this part time job as soon as I graduate from the diploma and get a much better paying full time job in counselling. If that doesn’t happen in the autumn of 2019, I’ll be screwed.

Of course, I’ve been panicked about money before and my higher power has never let me down, yet. The future hasn’t happened yet and it might well be ok. The money I’ve left in my account as a buffer is still there for now. If I stick to the rules I’ve been trying to stick to all year then it could stay there. I just can’t do any big holidays or spend on frivolous things.

With all this on my mind today I can’t relax, can’t get into a celebratory mood. Knowing that holidays are where the most of the money has gone this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t justify going to France in September with P. Especially with how I feel about our relationship at the moment. Although everything is already booked and I won’t be getting any refunds, it seems like the sensible thing to just cut my losses and cancel the holiday. If I go there there’s no way I’ll be budgeting and spending wisely. It will be another £500 gone and my “prudent reserve” will be even more depleted. Always in my mind is the idea that I can just close the fixed bond and use more of that money, but I don’t want to keep spending money on things I don’t need. The next two years are an important opportunity to live sensibly for the first time, and I want to learn.

P won’t be happy with the email I’ve just sent him. I’ve explained why I can’t go on the holiday and apologised sincerely for letting him down. I feel bad for agreeing to the holiday in the first place when I knew it was supposed to be a year of austerity; I don’t feel bad that I won’t be going on the holiday. In my head I already had a long list of ground rules that I was going to make P agree to, things like not spending time together in the days, not checking in on facebook everywhere we go, not talking about money, not going to bars – when you have to set ground rules for a holiday with someone you’ve known for a long time, it’s hardly a good sign. It wouldn’t have been a holiday, it would have been a sentence to get through. I don’t suppose P realises that, but I hope he can in time.

In therapy for the past three weeks all I’ve talked about is P. This week I wanted to focus on sex and relationships, the big issue that brought me to therapy in the first place. It’s clear that ten years of recovery hasn’t helped me to make any progress in this area, which is why I’m keen to get on with finding the answers in therapy. When I brought it up yesterday I couldn’t avoid the certain knowledge that I already have the answers, somewhere inside. Therapy is just a safe space where I get to explore and make sense of my own inner world. The therapist can’t tell me what to do. I talked about the fact that I am stuck at sixteen years old when it comes to intimate relationships. The fact that what I learnt about myself at school is just a set of beliefs, yet such a powerful set of beliefs they still seem like facts most of the time. The fact that no amount of learning in sobriety has stopped the chance of meeting anyone good from seeming hopeless. I spent fifty minutes focusing on my life’s great paradox, and I came out feeling more sad and angry and scared than I ever feel in the course of a normal day. But the therapist’s view is that feelings are good: I have to live them, to experience them authentically, until they pass. All person centred therapists believe that this congruent living in feelings is what leads to change and growth, not words or “solutions”. As an adult I agree with that wholeheartedly, but as I child I don’t want to wait for the growth to take its own sweet time. I want to move on NOW.

All the problems I have today are not the problems I had ten years ago. I am grateful to have ten years of sobriety, I really am. It’s wonderful that I will be starting a diploma in counselling in September, and that my life is undoubtedly on the right track. I have these heavy feelings today because I have a lot on my plate, and it won’t always feel like that. Ten years of sobriety has shown me that. Later I could go to the meeting and put my happy face on, because I’ll be the centre of attention and some people might want to see a man celebrating his tenth year looking happy about it. Or I could use the time I’ve got in my chair to be honest, let some of these feelings out. At ten years I know more than ever that hiding my true feelings, trying to be something else, doesn’t work. I’ll have half an hour to speak. That’s plenty of time.

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