Progress, not…

Last week’s delving into the past seems to have had some effect as I’ve endured a week of acute paranoia that won’t fade. On Monday morning it was off the scale, as I found myself in my “school trauma mind state” (can that be a new term for my affliction?) I got into work and there was so much to do, for a change, and I was back at school, under pressure from all sides and struggling to cope. As our team is responsible for answering the London area phone line for the charity we sometimes get difficult calls from people – not very often, but on Monday for some reason they all seemed to be coming in at once. One came from a destitute person ready to commit suicide; another was from one of the survivors of a recent well publicised tragedy who wanted some urgent assistance. When I was twelve I spent every day fearing the trouble I would get into just for being myself, and I feared it again this Monday. It’s as if something (the past?) in my mind has been uncapped and I can’t put it back in again.

Another task that came in involved organising a big management meeting at our head office. It fell to me to book the room and the food, something I’d never done before, because no one else wanted to do it. Anyone would think I was some high up executive bearing responsibility for the direction the entire charity was taking, instead of just a lowly admin assistant booking a meeting room. It all felt so important on Monday, so crucial to get things right and not slip up.

As always, the worst thing that can happen in this scenario is that I get sacked. That’s it. I’m not going to die. I’ve said it before – if I get sacked it would be difficult, but I would cope. Yet in my school trauma mind state it doesn’t seem that way. I am an adult trying to convince a scared child that all will be ok, that I’m not really at school any more, and this week the convincing has fallen on deaf ears.

God, this trauma can last. It never cracks or gives anything away. Even though I know what it is, where it came from, and the fact it bears no relation to the present, I live with it on a day to day basis, sometimes managing, sometimes not. You could say I’m managing well just by going to work and meeting all my responsibilities, but as I said to the therapist recently, that’s not enough any more. There’s got to be a better way of living than this.

*

Every Saturday I have started to follow the crowd after the meeting to the burger bar. In the past I stuck with the safe ‘coffee group’, but it seems I have started to grow away from them, and I’m regularly taking the plunge and joining the cool kids for a burger. I did it this week despite that paranoia, and for a few hours I enjoyed myself. They’ve started going to a new place where the burgers are actually good, and where there’s usually a table available in a quiet area, so we can hear each other. It’s probably not going to be the safe, reliable crowd full of the same friendly faces every week that I want in my heart, but most of the time now I realise that that isn’t possible. The small circle of AA intimates that I really want may take years to build. At the moment I’m going for these meals and staying at the level of small talk with people I know relatively well. Admittedly, small talk in AA is easier than it is in the real world because we can all talk about things that others can’t. Which is why I can put myself through the socialising in AA most of the time. What I’m constantly aware of is that this is a continuous journey with no end point: each week, with each little effort I make, I move a little closer to a goal that may take forever to materialise, but which still gets a little closer all the time.

Trauma therapy

It’s got harder to find the time for the usual things at home while I get deeper into the novel I’ve started writing. The creative urge is strong at the moment and I’m writing about 10,000 words a week, because I have to take advantage of the flow while it lasts. The book is a fictional account of someone else’s life, but they say you should write about what you know, and many of the main character’s experiences are coming to reflect mine. Brian’s a gay introverted alcoholic: we couldn’t be much more similar! I’ve always found it hard to write about the lives of people who aren’t similar to me; this latest attempt is really one step away from my autobiography, with the structure and the journey that the protagonist goes on following the same kind of lines. It’s easier to write because of that, I’m enjoying it more, and I think it’s turning out better than I expected.

The protagonist is in therapy, as am I. I can’t say I’m enjoying it as much as I did in the early weeks, when there was still a novelty about it. I’ve told the therapist everything and we’re progressing further into the trauma. Every week he wants me to talk in more detail about what happened to me at school, his belief being that the healing needs to take place there. Nearly every week I feel resistance to going further, as my logical brain questions what good this will do, since I’ve been over it already and it’s never made a difference to my ability to form intimate relationships with men. The therapists pushes back against my logic, reminding me that I’ve never really talked about it before in such depth. I skimmed the surface in step four, this seems to be the real work now.

I felt the usual resistance this morning, the weather was crap outside and I just wanted to be at home in bed. But I knew I needed to make the most of what I’m paying for. It was time for me to go and dig a bit deeper, to get a bit closer to the wound. I described the anxiety that I’ve been experiencing at my Tuesday home group recently, the one where I’m the secretary, this anxiety about being in the spotlight and feeling judged by phantoms that may or may not exist. I compared it to the daily judgement at school, because of course that’s where all my anxiety comes from. I remembered that my whole drinking career was essentially one big ‘fuck you’ to the world that had abandoned me at school, and I remembered that my voluntary decision to become the meeting’s secretary was a way of forcing myself back into the world, a going against the grain of my isolating instincts that still want to push everyone away. If I feel anxious now it’s a simple relic of the past. My beliefs about people today are formed by what I learnt at school, not the current evidence of what they’re actually doing.

When I talk about school long enough my mind always drifts to that day in 1999 when I tried to kill myself, the low point of my life when I was convinced I would always be alone. Today’s stresses subtly bring me back to that day, it’s obvious. With every word I could feel myself slipping back into those feelings like I was putting on an old skin. I cried for the first time in this therapeutic relationship. Something important happened. I felt a barrier fall away and I was able to plunge right into my emotions and visibly show them to the therapist, who was there to ‘hold’ me as my defences collapsed. This is the goal of therapy, to provide a client with the safe space where they can let their guard down and be completely open to everything going on in themselves. The goal isn’t to cure or suggest solutions, I know that very well, but if I allow my logical head to get too carried away I can become impatient for change, for a feeling that I’ve somehow solved the conundrum of my life.

The therapist regular says that this is a journey without a destination: there is no ‘there’ that I can get to and feel happy 100% of the time. My own life experience has shown that there is never an end point to any of this. Whenever I have achieved some goal or reached some place that I previously wanted to be in, I’ve found new problems to fret about. Slowly I must learn that this applies to everything, including my ultimate dream of forming an intimate relationship with a man. Because there is no final destination then, I can settle into today and the feelings I’m experiencing now, and I can be compassionate enough to allow them to be, whatever they are. So after all the work I’ve done over the years on my psyche, I am still traumatised by my time at school, and I’m still angry with my mother over her part in things. This doesn’t mean I’ve got to have some big conversation with her or with anyone about what happened to find some sort of ‘closure’: there probably is no closure in that sense. I can keep talking to the therapist about it, I can keep writing about it here, and maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to fall into that ‘dream’ relationship with someone while these feelings are still going on.

After crying for ten minutes at the end of the session I went to an AA meeting. I had intended to come straight home and duck out of the awful wet weather, but an old sober instinct pulled me in the direction of the fellowship. And I heard everything I needed to hear. The chair talked about a lifelong resentment that he had against his mother (coincidence?); other people shared back about how they don’t gloss over the anger they naturally feel over the past, but instead they acknowledge and talk about it (more coincidence?) So I’m really glad I went to that meeting today. I can always go to AA to hear from people who have the answers; I can use psychotherapy and other outside help to talk about my past until the wound is squeezed dry. It may take years, but, well it’s happening.

España

Friday I flew to Barcelona for my summer mini-break booked semi-spontaneously a few weeks ago. As always it was a chance to leave life’s problems behind for a while, but of course, even when I travel to the other side of the world I never really leave them behind. It was lovely to be in Spain again, and I’ve come to think that Barcelona is my favourite holiday destination: it just never stops being lovely. But I arrived in baking heat, and everything is that much harder to do in the heat, such as walking, and sleeping. I’d forgotten that Barcelona is a lot hillier than London, and after a day of walking up and down hills under the Spanish sun, as well as sweating buckets I had this constant back ache to contend with. I’ve had back ache before, and I’ve always suspected it to be related to poor posture; a quick search online confirmed that the majority of back pain is related to posture. But trying to correct your posture in thirty degree heat when you’re tired isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and I spent the evenings unhappy because of it.

Of course, this was the first time in years that I was in Spain on my own. Every year since 2012 I have gone with P. This would be my first chance to experience ‘life after P’, so to speak. Now that I’ve done it I have no doubt that it was for the best. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the holiday with him, especially with the excessive heat and the back pain. It’s nice being able to go out in the morning at whatever time you want and have a full day to do whatever you want. I had chosen to go for just three days this time, the perfect amount of time to enjoy one’s company in a beautiful city without getting bored. Plus I know Barcelona well enough not to feel unsafe there. The only trouble was that at certain points I found myself wanting to turn to P and share something of the experience with him: point out the sunset, perhaps, or talk about the visit I paid to Casa Batlló, Gaudi’s other masterpiece.

When I go next year I must go earlier in the year. Five degrees cooler and it would have been perfect. Yes, I will be going again. Probably every year for the rest of my life, if I can make it. Despite the pain I find the place very soothing to think about. The more I get to know it the more I love it. And it’s so close. Less than two hours on the plane, a journey even I can cope with.

I saw all I wanted to see this weekend despite feeling like an old man half the time. Before going, I had half debated whether I should pay a visit to Sitges, before realising I couldn’t not go. Last year, when I left Spain I’ll admit part of me thought I would never go to Sitges again. I’d grown out of the gay partying lifestyle, and it no longer held the same attraction that it held five years ago when I could go and expect to score there. But being in Barcelona, just half an hour away on the train, I felt an inexplicable draw to it. So on Sunday I bought the train ticket and went, planning to spend the afternoon and maybe some of the evening there. I’d try and keep it low key, not stress out about taking my clothes off on the beach or anything like that. The last few years with P really drained the attraction of Sitges, as trips there always had to be rigidly focused around the beach and going naked and looking my best for other men’s eyes. It was why I believed I’d never go again, or at least not for a long time. But despite all the stress and boredom I felt in this little Spanish resort in the last few years, it still has a place in my heart.

What exactly is its draw, if I’m not going there to find men? Well, if I’m honest with myself the men still are the main draw. I may not be looking to meet any of them now, but I can still look at them. Sitges is a beautiful part of the world, with stunning white beaches and cliffs, and every summer it fills with beautiful people that just have to be looked at. The first time I went seven years ago I was shocked at how much looking I could do, and the best thing was that I wouldn’t get into trouble for it. Here, you can’t look at anybody, but in Spain, and particularly in places like Sitges, you have to look.

Naturally I ended up on the beach, despite thinking last year I had grown to hate it, and I simply couldn’t keep my clothes on because it was so bloody hot. I took off everything except my underwear and sat under a parasol for a couple of hours, watching tanned bodies go by. I’d chosen the town’s easternmost beach, the one that P always said was the official ‘gay’ one, forgetting all about this aversion to doing specific ‘gay’ stuff that I’ve developed recently because, frankly, I was more likely to enjoy what I saw there. It would be my only opportunity this year to enjoy such a thrill so I was going to take it and to hell with the consequences. After a while I couldn’t help noticing that the beach was markedly more family friendly than it used to be; there were a few brave men strutting around with everything hanging out, but they were in a small minority. I lost count of the number of families with kids that I saw, all of them passing the naked men without batting an eyelid, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

I realised that Sitges as a whole must have seen a surge in popularity with families in recent years, and the explosion in visitors must have spilled over from the town’s other main beaches to this one. The gays, meanwhile, must have decamped en masse to the small, secluded beach three miles down the coast, the one that involves a long walk over hills and beside railway tracks. I’d love to have gone there yesterday but I simply didn’t have the energy. I had a good time anyway.

A dip in the sea would have made it even nicer, but I couldn’t yet feel safe trusting my bag and possessions not to disappear in my absence. I’d have had to leave them on my towel on the sand, and with so many people around, anything could have happened. That’s the main downside of going to Spain on my own – no more P to look after my stuff while I go for a swim. Of course, other more trusting people do leave their bags and clothes alone while they take advantage of the warm Mediterranean, I saw plenty of them doing just that yesterday; but I just wasn’t ready yet. Next year, perhaps.

When I started going to Spain seven years it was a very different holiday. I went expecting sex, and I never had to leave disappointed. This time sex had nothing to do with my holiday, it wasn’t even on the cards when I left these shores. I had a good time in my own company; I got the break I needed. That said, even away from the beach I was spending a lot of time doing what comes naturally to me, i.e. staring at men, making them unobtainable.

Since I’m in therapy now I have to try not to see the unobtainability as a fact but rather as a barrier I choose to put up. I could have approached any of the men I saw and asked for their number; I’d have been rebuffed by many of them, but the chances are in a place like Sitges I’d have been lucky eventually. The majority of the men I noticed may have been selected by my subconscious for looking ‘straight’, but still, stranger things have happened. I can no longer say that nothing happens sexually for me these days because I’m just too old and it’s not meant for me any more. Factually speaking, I chose not to approach anyone because of the terror of rejection, therefore it’s my responsibility. Seven years ago that just wasn’t an issue, because men were more willing to do the work for me.

I didn’t expect anything to happen this weekend and so I don’t have to be disappointed in the holiday. I suppose I’m more aware than ever that I can choose what happens in my sex life and be at peace with that. Making a choice to approach someone rather than fall back on the safe, old, familiar pattern of avoidance will be so hard, when eventually I have to do it; but I want to keep moving towards it and building the confidence and faith if I can. After all, I must have some hope that at some point something good will happen to me, otherwise why would I be in therapy?

Sex and relationships are dominating my thoughts at the moment because they’ve come up so much in therapy (as expected – it’s the reason I went back into therapy after all). Then again, I guess they’ve always dominated my thoughts, it’s just I’m talking more about them at the moment. Well, we’ve got to get everything out in the open, haven’t we.

At least the holiday was nice. Now it’s back to reality, which means back to budgeting, and back to dieting! I failed so badly on both counts in Spain it’s shameful. I dread to learn how much I spent there; even more to learn how much weight I put on. God, why must it be so easy to spend money and eat food?!

Shaky ground

Someone got out the wrong side of bed today. It hasn’t been a good week so far. I don’t know if I’m pissed off today because a lot of genuinely annoying things have happened, or because I’m on week 4 four of my diet, I’m getting constant cravings for sugar and I haven’t lost any weight yet.

It was a busy day at work yesterday and I was extra sensitive to people’s reactions to me, like I sometimes am when I have a lot on. My boss’s boss asked me to do a big task, halfway through the day when I was busy with other stuff, then left me to it while he got on with his own stuff. In the course of the work I needed to ask a few questions, so I went back and forth to his office, feeling like more of a nuisance as time went on. At the end of the day when I was leaving I wanted to update him on what I’d achieved; his door was wide open but he was in a meeting with his boss at that point, and I felt like I was properly disturbing him. The look on his face nearly sent me home in tears. “Go home, you silly boy!” I thought he was saying.

The last thing I wanted to do was go to and take my home group meeting, but my commitment meant that I had to. I’ve been taking the meeting for the past eight weeks and I haven’t learnt to enjoy it yet. Every week it feels like a chore, and I’m just waiting for someone to pick me up on reading the script wrong, or not sourcing good chairs, or not setting the meeting up in the right way. Yesterday I had my sponsor booked to do the chair, and all week he had been telling me how nervous he was, because in nearly twelve years of recovery he’s never done a chair. He likes to do service “in a different way”, he’s always said. I had persuaded him to do the chair here with nice words and gentle encouragement. However by yesterday evening I had a strong suspicion he was going to pull out. He’d called me in the day to tell me he had a lot on with moving house and he was feeling ill. He was still going to do the chair, he said, but he asked if I had a back up just in case. It was the last thing I needed to hear. My biggest problem with the commitment is finding chairs – when people say “no” it’s stressful enough. When people say “yes” and then pull out it’s even worse because you have to find someone to stand in at the last minute, and no one wants to be asked at the last minute.

Already feeling anxious from the hard day at work, I went to the meeting shaking with panic. I expected to receive a text from my sponsor at any minute telling me he wanted to cancel. When I got there, he was there, so there was small initial relief; but then I had to deal with fears over what he would say in his chair. He kept saying he had no idea what he was going to say. It might turn out to be a purposeless ramble – often when I talk to him he goes into these random monologues about things that have no relation to what we’ve been talking about. Would he do that in the chair? If he did it would surely make the whole meeting think I was a useless secretary and I’d be sacked, humiliated and banished forever.

It turned out all right in the end, as these things do, but I still went home anxious and dissatisfied about the whole day I’d had. I could have done with an easier day, one where I didn’t have to be at the mercy of other people’s moods.

Today I have off work, I should be using the opportunity to enjoy some peace, but I had a doctor’s appointment first thing to get a top-up of my acne cream. When I got there the place was closed because the receptionist hadn’t arrived yet. When she arrived she told those of us with early appointments to wait outside while she opened up shop. We ended up waiting for fifteen minutes in the street, increasingly restless and impatient. Finally another receptionist showed up telling us we didn’t need to keep standing there. I tried to say that we had been told to wait, but as with all doctors’ receptionists I wasn’t listened to, and I was left feeling foolish. Emotionally I took on the weight of everyone’s opprobrium, for being the one who made everyone stand outside because it was me that the first receptionist spoke to.

I’ve spent the rest of the morning in a shitty mood. All I can think about is my life’s problems, and the people who are pissed off with me: my boss’ boss, the doctor’s receptionist, the members of the Tuesday group who might still think I’m a bad secretary (because I don’t smile enough, or I don’t read the script in a funny way like the last secretary did). I can’t know for sure but I suspect this isn’t happening by chance. I’m in the middle of a big period of transition in my life, lots of things are stressful, I’m trying to give up porn and sugar again, and I’m tired, and the weather’s shit, and I just want to travel three years into the future to a point where I’m settled again.

Last week I went to college to pay for my place on the counselling diploma, so I’m all set for another two years of studying and waiting. It feels like I’m doing another degree. The length of study certainly matches, along with much of the study material. The course starts in seven weeks; I was excited about it, until yesterday, when life got in the way.

One of the main changes I need to trust myself to make at this transition point is better spending. I’ve said it before, but the importance of trusting myself to budget properly can’t be overstated. In this area I need to be grown up and responsible every day. Frivolous purchases can no longer be justified. I’m worried about it, of course. Nothing I’ve done in the past few years has exactly given me confidence that I will be able to be sensible from now on. Like the diet and the abstinence from porn, this goes to the heart of my relationship with myself, and whether I can stop myself from giving into the urges that will constantly come up.

The lesson

It was hard to go and speak at my home group last night. Normally I don’t get nervous about chairs in meetings any more, but I was more nervous than I had perhaps been since my first ever chair, when I was six months sober. When I got to the meeting, I still wanted to be at home in bed. It’s an honour to be asked to lead your home group meeting on your tenth anniversary, I’d been looking forward to the occasion for weeks, yet I couldn’t lie to them about how I was feeling yesterday. It hadn’t been a good day, and I told people that whenever they asked.

Despite the nerves I had to give the chair and make some kind of sense. I decided I would talk about recovery instead of drinking, for a change. Last week when I did a chair I talked almost exclusively about my drinking, the subject that’s normally focused on in chairs. Not many people give much time to the story of their recovery, and since I was getting a second opportunity to talk in a week I thought I would try and tell the true story of this ten years. I told them everything, about my first sponsor and my shyness around meetings in the early days, the slow build up of resentments against the fellowship, the way my understanding of the steps never really reached completeness. I talked a lot about the “six year slump” when I left meetings and decided I didn’t need a program any more. I recounted the night I was at the pub with work colleagues and I nearly drank, because they kept asking me why I wasn’t drinking and I couldn’t give them a satisfactory answer. I explained how hard long term sobriety can be to maintain in a level of detail I’ve never gone into before. Most of the time people don’t talk about that kind of thing in the meetings I go to. The only meeting I’ve been to that focuses on issues of later sobriety is the Thursday night in South London, one which I used to attend eagerly to hear about what later sobriety was like.

People shared back with gratitude for my honesty. I had been apprehensive about how such an unusual chair would go down, and the response proved there was no need for apprehension. They appreciated hearing about the dangers of letting resentments build up in the fellowship, and what happens when you don’t go to meetings. For some people out there, leaving the fellowship might be a good move; none of us knew anyone that it had worked out well for, though. I was lonely and angry for two years when I wasn’t going to meetings, and I nearly drank. The only reason I didn’t drink was because I didn’t want to lose that sobriety date.

It was nice to use my voice authentically and to have a good response to it. Prior to the meeting I had asked several people if they’d be going out for dinner afterwards, as I wouldn’t get another opportunity to celebrate being ten years sober. Many people gathered outside at the end for food, as they normally do on a Saturday, and I was a little weary of continuing to be the centre of attention. I’d been the focus of everyone’s attention for nearly two hours, and it was only set to continue. But I had put myself in that position because it was my tenth anniversary, and I knew somewhere inside that I needed to be at the centre of things, to celebrate and make some memories.

People asked me where I wanted to eat and I just suggested the place where they usually go, a busy burger restaurant round the corner. They do good burgers there and I knew I’d enjoy the food, but I also knew that it would be difficult to find a table where we could all talk to each other. Initially I was at the front leading the group with C, my crush, but somehow I got separated from him on the five minute journey and ended up stuck at the back of the group, meaning that I got last dibs on a place at the table and had to take a small, squashed space in a corner. I was sitting with two shy newcomers that didn’t say much, while the people I knew best were far away at the other end. This was why I rarely went to the burger restaurant with that group, why I preferred the coffee shop with the other group where at least I could hear what people were saying to me. Here there was loud music booming out of a speaker above my head all night, and it was an uphill struggle to get any conversation going at my end of the table. I could have cursed God for putting me in this position again. I had to wonder at why it seemed so easy for other people, people like C, who always just ends up with friends and has a great time.

Before long I knew that I was being presented with an opportunity to test my social skills, and I started to make an effort with my neighbours. By a miracle I ended up having quite a good chat with the person sitting next to me, someone I had never seen before, who happened to have studied acting at the same college where I’m studying counselling. We talked all about the college and the excitement of changing careers for a good half hour. I made an effort with some of the newcomers as well, and although it wasn’t a conversation to write home about, I felt I got to know them a little better.

My fear that I would be the centre of attention all night ironically proved unfounded. I could have been forgotten about entirely had I not opened my mouth and started speaking.

After dinner when we were all standing outside the restaurant, satisfied and ready for our beds, I continued with the effort to be part of things by laughing at jokes and offering reflections on the night. It was a lovely ten minutes, as we said farewell and crystallised our bonds. I could go home knowing the night had been a success – an unexpected one, in many ways – and I could forget the bad feelings of earlier.

I had ended my chair by talking about the fact that feelings never go away, no matter how long you’ve been sober. The most important lesson I’ve learned in sobriety is to take life one day at a time, literally. I can have a bad morning like yesterday morning and feel like shit: unlike my newly sober self ten years ago, I can acknowledge these feelings and carry on through the day, facing what needs to be faced. One day at a time, or one step at a time, I can walk through fear and anger and meet friends and smile and end a day on a good note. My fear and my anger hasn’t gone away, but I’m learning to live with it. I already knew this, but it was clear to me again last night that this was what I needed to keep doing, if I wanted to cultivate the intimate relationships that I so crave. I need to keep being around people and sharing with them. Five years ago I didn’t use my voice in meetings, and I paid the price.

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.

Feelings and facts

The thing about what I was describing last week is that I have all the answers. I know how to go into these situations and feel confident, be myself, make a success of it. I’ve been around for too long for there to be any mystery. In four days I will be ten years sober, and I have the resources I need to lead a good life. But I keep getting in my own way. It’s too easy to get in my own way because I’ve done it all my life. I give into the child’s fear because I am a normal human being that prefers to act on instinct rather than reason.

I can go to my aunt’s house in Surrey and have a great time despite the fears inside. I can ask someone I like out on a date despite the immense doubts that it will go well. To do anything challenging I have to do it with the feelings going on all the while. The feelings may never cease. I found out the answer twelve years ago when I looked on someone’s book shelf and saw a book titled ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’. The sentiment can seem over positive and cloying, but it’s still accurate to my situation today.

And so I must move on. The choice in front of me is the same as it ever was: take risks to get what I want in life, or remain stagnant. There’s no middle way. I won’t find myself in an intimate relationship with someone by accident. It will happen by my conscious actions alone.

All I’ve read about psychology and all I’ve experienced in therapy has brought me to the over-arching conclusion that my feelings are not facts, they are relics from the past. On a daily basis they can seem as factual as the colour of the sky or the position of my nose on my face, when I’m tired and I have a lot going on and logical questioning is a stretch too far. A couple of weeks ago these were the factual reasons why I could never meet someone and form a loving relationship:

  1. I’ve had a bad case of acne for the past five years – who’d be attracted to that?
  2. I have tummy problems that mean I can’t stop passing wind at night
  3. I still live with my mother
  4. I don’t enjoy penetrative sex and I find it nearly impossible to orgasm in the presence of another person

Today I see that they are personal beliefs I came to a long time ago, beliefs that I can choose to buy into. I’m aware that in the future they will seem like facts again, whenever times are challenging. Maybe I should have a note on the desk in my room that just says: “feelings not facts”.

With all this in mind I still have no idea when or if the intimate relationship I’m seeking will form. But the future is not mine to guess at. I think I can serve myself better by focusing on now, on what’s in front of me.

*

I’ve started a new novel: my fourth attempt at one in recovery. I think I can say that my autobiography is finally finished, and that I’m ready to move on to a new project. It’s going to be about what I know, the life of an introverted gay man in London who struggles with addictions and relationships. I’ve decided to try and write as if it doesn’t matter how ‘good’ it is, because I will never know what ‘good’ is and this struggle to achieve it must be what has always held me back with writing. After years of trying to be someone else in my writing – to be a ‘good’ writer – I’m finally just writing as myself, saying what I want to say. And how liberating that has been.

*

I’m also on a diet. I’ve given up sugar (again) because of this spare tyre around my midriff that refuses to disappear. When I tell people that I’m aiming to lose weight they invariably look at me and laugh: to most people I look thin and therefore couldn’t possibly be on a diet. They don’t seem to realise how well some shirts can hide a big belly. A few years ago I had a flat tummy that I took for granted; how I miss it now!

*

P and I exchanged emails again last week after a two week silence. To sum up, he accepts my need to be on a ‘break’ from him. We’ve talked as much as we can about our political differences – he’s never going to see things from my point of view and I will never see things from his. It’s at the point where we are beyond politics. I’ve realised that the problem in our relationship is about much more than that. In my last email to him I hinted at the real issue as I see it – this lack of authenticity between us, the fact that we can’t have honest conversations face to face because he constantly without realising does this devil’s advocate thing and replies to any opinion with a “yeah, but”. He didn’t really address that point, instead just said he’s happy to wait until I’m ready to see him again.

I probably won’t see him again until September. I have no inclination to go through the motions of another social visit at the moment, even though we’re technically on good terms again. We’ll go to France in September because it’s paid for and non-refundable, and we’ll try and have as much independent time there as we can. I don’t think P really wants time to himself in his heart, but I think he’s willing to try it again for my sake. I’m determined not to be in his constant company for five days again. After the holiday, I suspect our relationship won’t ever be the same, and we may not see each other any more. I will have to be honest with him when the time comes, if that’s what I really want.