A question of love

With all that’s going on you could think that life is getting more dangerous. That’s what, the third terrorist attack in a month now? Every time I look at the news now I’m afraid of what I’m going to see. The streets of London do feel a little less safe every day; it gets harder to see a way out of this, especially as these lunatics seem more and more eager to copy the techniques of those who’ve gone before. I keep trying to remind myself that factually, life isn’t more dangerous than it’s ever been. Yes, we are living through a tense period where some psychopathic men are determined to use any means available to them to cause terror and havoc on the streets; but this isn’t the second world war. It’s not the wars of the roses. It’s not the Viking invasion. We’re still safer than we’ve ever been. I’m as likely to live or die walking down the street tomorrow as I was twenty years ago. Calm logic can clear the head, occasionally.

*

A couple of weeks ago in counselling class we did an exercise where we had a circle on a piece of paper, and we had to write the names of friends and relatives at certain places in the circle depending on how close they were to us, the centre. Mum’s name was closest to mine, naturally; moving out there was P, followed by some AA friends, followed by the people from work, and the counselling group. After that we had another circle where we had to do the same thing but for ourselves at the age of 18. Obviously nearly all the names in my younger self’s circle were different, apart from mum and a few relatives from dad’s side that I still see. The point of the exercise wasn’t entirely clear other than it was meant to get us thinking, and it worked on that score. It got me thinking about how I had so many more friends when I was eighteen! I already knew that anyway, but it was interesting to see it so graphically.

The challenge now, as I’ve probably mentioned before is to build up new friendships to fill out today’s circle. We all agree that we generally have less friends as we get older, it seems to be a part of ageing in a big city – but that doesn’t stop me wanting to have a bit more of the social life that I used to have.

I’ve talked about it a lot in therapy the past few weeks, this big challenge of building new friendships that I’ve been avoiding for years. Now that I’m trying to picture a life without P as my closest friend and confidant, it’s something I need to start taking seriously. As does P.

The “divorce” that I’ve been contemplating for the past two years finally seems to be happening. He emailed me last Wednesday, after five days of silence, as if nothing had happened. Until then I’d been thinking he was annoyed with me, and I’d been feeling quite relieved about being left alone for a change, but then an email comes through at work and it’s the same old superficial chatter about nothing. I wish I could be less hard on him but it has come to the point where I need the space more than I need him to be happy. I replied with a brief apology for the previous week’s abruptness before hammering home how angry the election made me and how much I need some time to work out where I want this friendship to go. I haven’t heard anything from him since.

The stuff I’ve learned about in counselling class this year has all shed an interesting light on it, especially the recent topic of transactional analysis, which talks about the games people play with each other. I’ve ordered the famous book from the 60’s that expounds the theory because it has struck a chord with me. TA talks about going into a childish state and playing victim games with people who might fill the role of parent: now I can see what I’ve been doing with P for such a long time. To an extent I’ve done the same with my mother all my life. Getting angry with him for “not understanding me” is me being the child while he unwittingly plays the parent/rescuer role in the relationship. I’ve seen that I have to get out of that game altogether; I have to be an adult now.

*

I’m still talking about P a lot in therapy but I’m also talking about mum a lot. All conversations lead back to mum now, it seems. Apparently I’m still angry with her, after all these years. When I’m angry at the world for not getting me, it’s really my mum I’m angry with, or so it would appear when I follow a certain controversial train of thought in the therapy room. Logically it’s hard to understand why I would still be angry with her when I forgave her many years ago. But I must know by now that my inner child doesn’t work with logic. It never will!

My therapist has pointed out a rage that exists in my inner child, and when I use the space to properly explore where that rage started it started with mum. The child in me can never let go of it; as long as I ignore it and refuse to face it I can’t properly form intimate relationships with others.

It’s such a shame because as an adult I really don’t harbour any ill feelings towards her any more. The other day I was flicking through some old photos of us when I was a kid – I’d been meaning to scan some of them to the computer for ages and now I had the time – and seeing the pair of us huddled together on Brighton beach in 1985, looking like any happy and normal family unit, made my heart swell with love. In an adult frame of mind I can be quite upset at the thought of blaming her for anything any more. But the separate child part of me continues to exist concurrently and it continues to blame her for the abnormal, difficult life I’ve had. I’m sure if anyone else were to look at those photos they would see nothing abnormal in my childhood: I looked happy and well fed in all of them. But privately I can look at them and notice the glaring absence of any other children – I had no close friends as a kid, it was always just me and mum, or my aunts. To my adult mind it’s hurtful to think that way about such sweet, charming pictures; to my child mind it’s the only thing that’s important.

Among those old photos were a few of me as a teenager, taken at a time in my life when I woke each day feeling ugly and unwelcome in the world. As an adult I don’t blame mum for any of that any more; in my child’s mind the debate is still open. The truth is that even at my most grown up and logical, it’s hard for me to look at those particular photos and see a normal, healthy kid. I haven’t forgotten how I looked in the mirror every day between the ages of twelve and eighteen and saw acne, greasy hair and cheap glasses, and it’s still the first thing I see when I look at the photos from that period now. I found loads of them in my search the other day, but I could only post two to the facebook album that I decided to create of my walk down memory lane. I was happy to post the pictures of my younger self, the ones of the sweet and innocent nine year old with perfect skin. Any later than that the only pictures I could bear to post were the rare ones where you couldn’t see the spots, because of poor focus or over exposure.

Looking at what my journey might now involve, I wonder if there needs to be a coming to terms with the way I looked twenty years ago, the way I still can look sometimes because of the skin problems that I still frustratingly have. I’ve long suspected that this has to be part of the work. But, as I’ve said to my therapist quite a few times now, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next. I can’t make myself accept the way I looked in the 90’s; I can’t just decide to love all parts of myself, including my complexion. I know that in my dark moments I am regressing to that teenage state of mind – I don’t get how I can stop that from happening. I don’t get how to make peace with that poor, sad child.

There’s one haunting photo that mum decided to take of me one day when I was sitting in the kitchen, staring into space. I was about fourteen or fifteen. I was wearing this awful garish jumper that she had bought for me; my face was covered in acne; I was wearing round prescription glasses that cost nothing; my hair was greasy and unruly. It was the time in my life when I felt the ugliest, the most alone and unloved. Had anyone told me that day I would eventually make friends and experience moments of real happiness, I’d have scoffed. It wouldn’t have seemed feasible. In my eyes there’s a faraway look that speaks volumes to me now, twenty years later. It’s a look that says how I really felt about life at that time. Everything just seemed so hopeless and pointless back then. Within a year of the photo being taken I would be desperate enough to attempt suicide. I don’t know why mum took a photo of me that day: it’s one of very few photos that ever got taken of me in those years. She must have just got herself a camera and decided to have a play with it. I very much doubt she noticed anything wrong with me that day; if she looked at the photo later I doubt she saw anything meaningful in it at all.

My problem was I saw myself as unlovable – I believed everything the bullies were telling me. If I can’t learn to believe something different now then I don’t think I will progress in this journey. Have I missed something in AA’s message? Is there something I’m supposed to be doing to make this feeling of self love and self worth appear? Looking at that photo now I feel so sorry for my teenage self. God, what a lonely existence I had. But to see that kid as innately beautiful and worthy of love? I just don’t know.

Funny old week

Funny times we’re living through, aren’t they. With no work on Friday and no reason to be up especially early, I could stay up for as long as I wanted on Thursday night. As soon as the exit poll was announced, predicting the most unexpected of election outcomes – a hung parliament – I was too excited to contemplate sleep for any time in the near future. Along with I expect half the country, I watched the drama unfold as the bubble of Tory arrogance was slowly burst. By Friday morning it felt like the raging injustice of the past year was gone. Against all odds, the British public had said “no” to the complacent Tories’ program for years more of austerity, and a non-committal “maybe” to Labour’s vision for hope. It’s looking like we won’t get the horrendous “hard” Brexit the prospect of which the right so relished up until Friday. The clouds had begun to clear; I could feel some restored faith in our electoral process.

An outright Labour win would have been better, but this is the British public we’re talking about. We are not known for our eagerness to embrace radical change. I will take the result that we got. How P is taking it, I might never know. There have been no emails, no texts since Thursday. I couldn’t resist briefly logging into facebook on Friday to see if he’d posted anything; nothing. Like all Tories this weekend I suppose he’s upset, but determined to hang onto the notion that they still govern, despite all the evidence suggesting why they can’t. Even now we are hearing in the news from senior Conservatives who believe this isn’t the end of the road, surely now we must all get behind our government because they happened to win the most seats in parliament. The denial is strong. There is no taking into account the idea that perception is more important than the number of MPs you have.

With no communication in three days, I can assume P is annoyed with me. I don’t know whether to feel guilty about the way I’ve left things with him. I don’t feel anything at the moment, apart from perhaps some relief. Politics may have been the big issue that came between us in the end, but it was undeniably about far more than that. The inauthentic, head-in-the-sand, “I’m always right even when I’m wrong” attitude, which makes him fit so well with the Tories, probably did for him a long time ago. The only reasons I can think of for feeling bad about telling him the truth are:

  1. I did it by email
  2. Society says we’re supposed to respect view points that differ to ours

These are society rules: they are not beliefs that I genuinely hold in my core. Therefore I don’t feel guilty, yet.

The election was all anyone could talk about in counselling class yesterday. It was nice to spend a day with people who all agreed with me; it’s been so long since I experienced common values with anyone in my personal life. I’ve been invited to interview for the diploma course in three weeks’ time, along with many of my classmates. The interview will be the same arduous series of tasks that we had in December for the certificate course. I’m not looking forward to it, but at least I’ll be prepared for it this time. It will be good to see people there that I’ve come to know and like as well.

I’ve excelled at the social side of things in AA meetings this weekend. The good feeling from the election has carried through to the extra effort I’ve been able to make with people I don’t always see. I’ve said it a lot in the last two years, but it still feels wonderful to be doing this well in AA again after the break I had, and I can’t take it for granted. As I approach my tenth sober anniversary I seem to have discovered a mature approach to meetings that actually serves me. As well as fellowship I’m only too happy to do service where I can, an attitude I could scarcely fathom five years ago. I have the two home groups now that anchor me in the week, two meetings where I generally feel secure in my seat. A third would always be nice; the search for the third continues.

Session 6 / nail in the coffin

Feeling sick today. Sick of politics, sick of the election, sick of Brexit, sick of people who openly or tacitly support the status quo by doing and saying nothing. It all came out in this week’s therapy session (moved forward to Wednesday because my therapist is away tomorrow), all of the vitriol, all of the rage, all of the blasted feelings of betrayal that I have been keeping in for weeks. In the beginning I didn’t want to go into therapy and talk about P, but that is all I’ve done for the past two weeks, pored over our dying friendship and the pain and anger I’ve been forced to hide for the past few years. I didn’t think I’d need to contemplate breaking the friendship again, that was all supposed to be sorted out last year when I made it a rule to not see him so often and to avoid talking about thorny subjects with him – but it’s become blindingly clear that it will never be sorted out. My feelings are still there, boiling under the surface, seeking any escape valve they can find which at the moment turns out to be my precious therapy sessions. I feel dirty whenever I have to talk to my therapist about politics, knowing as I do the unfair position it puts him in since he can never share his political views with me, especially if they are different to mine. Yesterday my therapist chose to pick up on this aversion I have to candidness about my views: he described it as me “looking after” him. As self aware as I thought I was, I didn’t notice that I have always done the same thing with friends and with mum, people whose views oppose mine: I’ve strived to “look after” them by keeping my mouth shut. I’ve spent a year buttoning my lips with P for the sake of his feelings. I don’t like the thought of confronting him or making it clear that I’m unhappy with him, because it will upset him, so I pretend to be OK every time I see him.

In the session I tried visualising the really honest conversation I’d like to have with P – the therapist actually encouraged me to say what I’d like to say to an empty chair in the corner of the room, a technique that I have encountered once or twice before in therapy – and I couldn’t do it. The words seemed too heavy and embarrassing to utter. I knew that in real life if I were ever to bring this up with P he wouldn’t just sit and listen to me, he’d interject with attempts at advice and solutions. I’d hear about looking on the bright side, how things will probably work out for the best because the world is fundamentally ok and the Tory party really is the only viable government. P wouldn’t hear what I was really saying. I’d get superficial sympathy, and no empathy whatsoever.

I could send P an email with my thoughts: at least I’d be able to get the words out without interruptions, and I’ve always found it ten times easier to express myself on paper, being a prolific diarist as opposed to orator. Something about sending an email would seem cowardly, though, which is why I’ve never done it, and why I continue to be in this catch 22 situation. Doesn’t the world say it’s fairer and morally better to break difficult news to friends and loved ones face to face? If you have to end a relationship, isn’t it a cheap cop out to do it by email? Here my therapist reminded me that I was doing it again, looking after P’s feelings by appealing to arbitrary morals. He questioned whether I really believe that it’s better to have these difficult conversations face to face, or if it’s some rule that society has opposed on me. I thought I believed it, but after the session I wasn’t so sure.

At the end of the day, all of this boils down to excuses not to tell P how I’m feeling. We have another holiday booked in September, which means I have to spend another summer biting my tongue, because his feelings are more important than mine and I can’t possibly ruin his happy, content life. The therapist is really doing his job by questioning these values, something I’ve never done before. I’ve endured years of uncomfortable inauthenticity for the sake of a friend’s feelings without realising there was another way. Whether I tell P the truth by email or verbally, the concept of such raw and necessary honesty feels awful to me, because it will definitely hurt him and deep down I still doubt that my feelings are important enough to do that to someone. But maybe that doubt doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it.

*

P emails me daily from work to catch up and fill the time. Often it’s a friendly, superficial kind of email, asking me what I’ve been watching on Netflix, what I’m reading, how work’s going. Today, being friendly was the last thing I felt like doing. On the day of our national election I woke up feeling angrier than ever at the status quo. I know and my therapist knows that sending back an abrupt “fuck off” would plainly be wrong, but I couldn’t simply email back and pretend we were still ok, like there was nothing going on. So I’ve told him that I’m angry and I think another Tory government will be a disaster; I’ve also said that I can’t meet up for a while because I’m short of funds and I need time to myself. Both things are true, and I feel better for saying them. Unfortunately I couldn’t go all the way in linking the two things – my anger at the government and my desire not to see him for a while – by admitting that I am actually angry with him. It seemed too harsh for an email and since he was at work I had to stop myself from going too far. That’s probably me putting his feelings first again, but it felt like an appropriate restraint in the circumstances.

P replied back quickly, reminding me that he doesn’t agree with all the government’s policies, but we have to live with what we’ve got and make the best of it. Immediately after that it was back to the niceties, talking about his plans for the weekend and the holiday we’re still going on in September.

Clearly there is no awareness of his part in the situation. He cannot see how voting for them (which he definitely did this morning) bolsters them and makes the onward march towards “no deal” and decades of austerity even more likely. Well, he either can’t see it or he refuses to see it. If I had told him the truth, that his actions today have an impact on the precarious situation we find ourselves in and that he bears responsibility for it, it might have demanded an honest answer from him. He might have been forced to admit that he doesn’t want to pay more taxes, that he doesn’t care about the poor and suffering, and that’s why he’s happy to put up with a hard Brexit and everything else that comes with the Conservatives. I couldn’t see the point in forcing him to admit to what I already know he’s thinking, so I haven’t replied to the email. I probably won’t reply to any more emails for a good while. I must have annoyed him today, and if I have banged the first nail into the coffin, maybe it’s for the best.

Day of anger

Binging on the latest series of Bloodline on Netflix when I get a message from P, checking whether I’m safe at home. I know from the last time I got a message like that it could only mean one thing, so I paused Netflix and went straight onto the Guardian website, even though I’d promised myself a weekend off the news. Looking at the news late at night for me is like drinking three double espressos, guaranteed to keep me awake for hours, but this was too important and I couldn’t keep away from it. Two weeks ago I guessed that something terrible was bound to happen again before long, and it has, in a place I know extremely well. I spend practically every day of my life in Central London, and I tend to walk through the London Bridge / Borough Market area at least once a week before or after my home group on Saturday night. Last night I jumped on a train at Blackfriars before I reached there, as I was tired from a week of sleepless nights and was keen to give myself a rest. Had I walked a bit further a long the Thames I would have been at the epicentre of the attack, at the time when it was taking place.

I don’t feel the same raw shock that I felt in Paris eighteen months ago, when I found out I’d just passed through the area where gunmen shot dozens of innocent people. Perhaps it’s tragic that instead of shock I’m merely experiencing numb resignation. For the third time in as many months we’ve seen horror and carnage in a place where it doesn’t belong, and I can’t help thinking about the atmosphere this is taking place in, and how it seems to be becoming a part of life. Commentators will bemoan the injustice and the needlessness, while politicians will spend the day talking about what they’re going to do to “beat” terrorism, as if stern words and policies can ever beat it. Our leaders talk about us standing together in the face of this atrocity and “not giving in”, but didn’t we already give in by voting to close our borders last year? Hasn’t the broken state of this country paid testament to the fact that we are all afraid, and angry, and clueless about the solution?

I don’t want to sit here writing yet more words of negativity. But if this is to be an honest document of my life, I am forced to admit that I am feeling very negative today. Before anything had happened last night, I was at the fish and chip shop with my sponsor and friend from the meeting R, trying to enjoy a meal in the place that has become a favourite for our little group. I was trying to enjoy it but I found it impossible after my sponsor came out with something absurd, for no reason, in the middle of a conversation about something entirely different. “You know what, I’m going to vote Conservative for the first time this week.” I had been trying to avoid thoughts of the election all day, having made the mistake the night before of sitting down to the leaders’ debate on TV, which caused a restless night of anger and insomnia. I could have punched my sponsor, firstly for bringing the subject up and effectively ruining the evening for no reason, secondly for admitting to being a first time Tory voter. It’s bad enough being a Tory voter, let alone one that until now was a reasonable supporter of other parties. To know that someone I considered a spiritual guide has abandoned all principles to go with the intolerant masses, for what he justified as our “national safety”, incenses me.

Of course I could say nothing, I just had to get through the meal and get home, hoping I’d never have to sit through another one like it. For ten minutes my sponsor and R berated Jeremy Corbyn over such predictable things: his promise to increase tax on businesses, his unwillingness to launch nuclear missiles and kill millions of people. They could have been reading their lines straight out of the Daily Mail. Even though R’s attitude could be considered even more pig headed and ill informed than that of my sponsor, given that R has never studied the policies of any political party or given it any great deal of thought, I was more angry with my sponsor, as someone who has clearly thought about it and come to what I see as the most treacherous conclusion. Before leaving them last night I felt like saying to them: “Well thank you very much for screwing me over!”

Like a lot of people of their generation they evidently see the Conservatives as the only answer to the problems we’re facing, just because the Conservatives keep claiming to be strong, stable and trustworthy, ad nauseum. They appear to have been brainwashed by slogans, I can’t think of any other explanation. The government’s record on these issues certainly can’t be what’s persuading people to turn to them. I don’t hold people like my sponsor, R, P and my mother personally responsible for the terrorist attacks that we keep seeing, there can never be an excuse for callous murder, but equally, unlike them, I don’t see this happening in a vacuum. If we are ever going to solve this problem surely we have to look at the wider context that it’s taking place in: a society that is dividing along racial lines, that is blaming innocent refugees from abroad for the actions of sick men who are very much home grown. No, that didn’t cause those men to go out in a van and knock people down blindly, but for God’s sake, we can’t keep responding to this in the same way every time, because it isn’t working.

I was supposed to be meeting P today, to help him choose some new glasses at the opticians, but I just wasn’t in the mood. My sponsor has messaged me to ask if I got home safely, and I haven’t replied to him yet. I’m not in the mood for politeness and the hand of friendship, I just want to push everything and everyone away and be on my own. With all of those close to me supporting an ideology that divides people, I can’t pretend to like them today. I’d rather do what my therapist referred to the other day as passive aggressive inner child’s work. I’m determined to sulk and be alone, until I’ve figured out some way of telling these people how I feel. I haven’t got the words to say to them what they’ve done yet, so I need to stay here and think.

A telling mood

Last week I did something unforgivable. I talked about politics in my therapy session. Before I started I vowed I would never pollute this safe space with such a sordid subject, but there I was, ranting about the Conservatives and lying politicians because it was clinging to my thoughts more firmly than usual. We had started the session by picking up on the theme of honesty and authenticity, something I know my life has severely lacked. I mentioned the betrayal I’ve felt this year at the people closest to me, all of whom have indirectly caused what I see as society’s biggest problem; the fact I can’t have an honest conversation with any of them about it. And then I was off. My country is wilfully self harming, the people around me seem to think it’s perfectly all right, and I feel sick not just talking about it, but thinking about it. I suppose it’s a good thing I could say all of this to another human being last week, but I didn’t exactly feel great after the session, just deflated. Maybe the benefits are yet to show themselves.

The other night I caught a documentary in which the famous artist Grayson Perry brought together a bunch of “leavers” with a bunch of “remainers” to try and encourage dialogue and understanding. He had produced several works of art on the embittering subject of Brexit, with the lofty hopes of discourse and reconciliation in mind. I watched enthralled, despite a very real aversion to giving any more of my time to this topic; I wondered if the people interviewed would learn anything or change their minds. After an hour of hearing asperity in the voices on both sides, the last five minutes when they all came together in the art gallery were surprisingly heartening. Here both sides saw in the works of art that Perry had produced how much more they had in common, than what separated them. For a while I felt warmth and forgiveness towards my fellow Brits, as I contemplated the love I have for my country which is ultimately the same as the love those “leavers” have.

I was close to having a great week, before I started hearing once again about the impending general election and all the divisiveness that’s going with it. It seems every time a member of our government speaks now another lie comes out. And I can’t ignore how pleased they all look about it – how comfortable they are knowing that no opposition can touch them.

I spent the weekend with P up north, a trip we had planned ages ago. We’ve been getting on well this year, and after the Grayson Perry documentary I ought to have been full of understanding and acceptance towards him. But spending more than a few hours with him always seems to bring out the worst of my resentment. We were talking about the many holidays he still has planned for the rest of the year, and he had it in his head that if I’d just try a bit harder to save money, I could go with him to fabulous places such as Spain and Italy later in the summer. This even though I’ve told him many times that I can’t afford any more holidays apart from the one we have booked to France in September. I am trying to live more frugally these days because I appreciate how it will benefit me in the long run, and going on holiday every month is no longer a priority for me. We’ve talked about this so often, it got to me when instead of enjoying where we were, he spent half the time looking online for bargains and discounts on my behalf. A conversation that kept coming up concerned air miles, how if I started using them I could enjoy lots of free future holidays. All I have to do is sign up for a credit card and buy things I don’t need, and it will be great! I can spend more money on holidays I don’t need, and have more wasted time with P into the bargain!

P has been obsessed with collecting air miles since I’ve known him, but it rankles especially at the moment when he half lectures me about it, conveniently forgetting all the times I’ve explained to him why I’m not interested. In particular I wish he wouldn’t forget the reason why holidays and living in general are getting ever more expensive, thanks to his beloved government and their pig headedness. But he does keep forgetting, because I can never remind him, because if I did it would end our friendship and then I’d have no other friends to do those things with.

“What if you were honest with P and it didn’t end the friendship, but instead made it stronger?” My therapist asks. I have to think about the answer to this, carefully. Deep down I think I want the friendship to end, I’ve wanted it for a long time, but I’m stuck with it because there’s no one else as loyal to me, no one else who cares or knows me as well as P. It makes me sad considering how far we’ve grown apart and how utterly unmatched we are now, but what can I do? I’ve faced this dilemma for two years now with no obvious solution.

I think I need another break from P.

*

Tuesday I had my debut in the spotlight at the newcomer meeting: my first time as co-secretary. Arriving back from the north that afternoon I was predictably nervous about predictable things (Would the group accept me? Would I get it right? Or would I fuck it all up and end up shunned by them again?) Each step I took to the meeting was reluctant. Somehow I got there and got through it. All I had to do was read out a script and introduce the chair. I spent a lot of unnecessary time comparing myself to the meeting’s previous secretary R, who always did this with such natural charm and poise. By the end I had to accept that I’ll never be like R, that the secretary doesn’t need to be the star of the meeting. And the group already accepted me by voting for me last week.

*

Work’s been fine recently. Having settled into my new hours I guess there’s nothing much to complain about any more. I got the setup I always wanted. Being there three days instead of five means that those three days are a lot busier than five in a week used to be. We have a new member in the team, adding a different dynamic to things. She’s talkative and likes a joke – probably just what we needed. Me, A and P: the serious three.

P was in one of her moods today and it was initially disappointing after such a good run of relations. Eventually I remembered I could just leave her to it, it’s nothing to do with me. She’s leaving soon, apparently, so I won’t have to worry about it much longer.

I can

Like everyone else I was horrified by what happened this week. Manchester is a city I’ve always been fond of. A couple of years ago I was seriously considering living there. I hate that it has been touched by such terror, in what seemed such a safe place. I feel I ought to be careful about what I say next; but as soon as I heard the news on Tuesday morning, I wasn’t shocked – not as much as I was saddened and angry. The world today is increasingly prepared for these things to happen, so before Monday I guess I was wondering, where next? Given how much the Manchester attack seems to mirror the plot of Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes, I could well believe this kind of thing would occur at some point.

Before the attacker was identified I was really hoping they wouldn’t turn out to be of a certain background; as soon as they were identified as someone from a certain background, I could foresee the reaction of the media, as it is the reaction we always get now. It gets so tiring after a while. According to our most vocal news outlets, it is the religion’s fault, or it is the fault of all the refugees coming here; there is no specific motive that needs to be investigated, it is just another sign that liberal society’s tolerance has gone too far. What incensed me almost as much as the attack itself was the front page I saw today on two newspapers, both proclaiming in hysterical tones how “they” have started targeting children. They being terrorists of any description, those foreigners who come here solely to blow us up. It seems these newspapers have forgotten about Nice and Paris 2015, where children were also killed in great numbers.

What happened this week was devastating and evil, but to my mind what makes it even more depressing is the competition you get between outlets to appear the most horrified, to use the strongest and most stirring adjectives (“sick”, “disgusting”, “monstrous”). Being forced to listen to the news when I’m at home makes it hard to escape the feeling that the media’s vitriol has infected the air, so that the next incident won’t come as any surprise at all. Let’s face it, this is going to happen again, and again, until something in the world changes. A really depressing thought that may be, yet I can’t deny what I’m seeing. Things are either getting worse or they’re as bad as they’ve ever been; they’re certainly not getting better.

*

I’ve slept badly every night this week. I don’t know why, I just keep waking up three or four times a night, and it takes hours to get back to sleep. People have suggested all sorts of things, such as drinking camomile tea, switching a light on and reading until I get drowsy again; even getting out of bed and starting the day, regardless of what time it is. Such suggestions don’t take into account the fact that doing anything to stimulate the mind makes it twice as hard to return to the peaceful land of sleep. Drinking tea and reading are activities that stimulate the mind, so I don’t do them because the last thing I need at 3 in the morning is an even more active mind. All I can do is lie there in the dark and wait.

A strange and slightly disturbing development in this sleepless saga is the new uncontrollable tendency I have to make loud groaning noises as I’m falling asleep. I’m lying there, drifting off when suddenly a high pitched snarl or growl comes out of nowhere. I wake up and realise that I made the noise. How embarrassing. I’ve read up on this quirky disorder and apparently it’s called catathrenia. I’ve never experienced it before, but now it seems to happen every night. Apparently it can result from stress and anxiety, and is more common in people who regularly partake in activities where they have to hold their breath, such as swimming. The noise results from the breath being held for too long whilst dozing. For some reason the onset of unconsciousness is causing me to hold my breath for short periods. If I delve into this a bit I know I have long had trouble controlling my breath when I’m swimming; I’ve never figured out a comfortable way of swimming at length without having to constantly slow down to take in breaths. Somehow this is linking to the general underlying anxiety in my life, which links to trouble getting to sleep.

I know I’ve had problems sleeping all my life, so this new and slightly weird problem falls into a wider issue that isn’t new at all. I’ll have to get used to it. There do tend to be times where I’m sleeping better and times where it’s worse; phases that go in cycles which I haven’t identified yet. In a week or so I’ll probably be sleeping normally again, until the next turn of the cycle.

*

I made up with mum quickly on Monday, as I couldn’t take the feeling that I had done wrong any more. Although her outburst at the Labour canvassers would never be acceptable in any circumstances, my cold shoulder treatment was not acceptable either, and I was reminded of step four, and keeping my side of the street clean. I apologised as soon as I got back from work and immediately felt better. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a stretch to surmise that my disturbed sleep this week has resulted from the unnerving stress of the falling out. Even as circumstances improve and I start to experience normal moods in the day again, the old underlying sensitivity to anything potentially wrong is there. Anxiety sits deep in me, embedded in my soul. To soothe it I must take my time, be patient, meditate every day, be kind to myself. This is a journey of years.

*

My home group elected a new secretary last night, and that secretary is me! I was preparing for the “election” all week, knowing I couldn’t back out as half the group were expecting me to go for it. One other person was up for the role, another regular member that I like and respect, and it was rather nerve racking as we had to pitch ourselves to the group. I gave my length of sobriety and brief reasons why I want to be the secretary. I love the group, I’ve been going for nearly ten years; there was nothing else to say. Pitches done, us nominees had to go out of the room while the group voted. In our moments of anticipation in the hallway we talked about other things, anything unrelated to what we were doing there. After a while someone came to fetch us and we were told the result.

My approval seeking side immediately thought “they like me!”, and then I wanted to know how many people voted for me, but of course it would have been inappropriate to ask, so I’ll never find out. I especially wanted to know whom the members of the group that I don’t get on with voted for. There are three people that go to the meeting regularly that I would say I don’t get on with. I’ve never fallen out with them or had any kind of incident, I just don’t know them, and they’ve never appeared to be interested me. Extrapolating from lack of interest the idea that they don’t like me might be a leap too far, but with some people you get a vibe, and I definitely get this vibe with these people.

Whether they voted for the other candidate or for me, it shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Serving as the meeting’s secretary for a year is going to be very good for me. Already at the end of the meeting I had two new phone numbers from other people on the committee, which indicates that I’ve moved another step closer to the heart of things. My journey back to the middle of the AA bed is virtually complete. Being endorsed by the group is a good confidence booster, and I was on top form as some of us left to go for fellowship at the nearby chip shop. I was laughing and smiling and chatting almost as if it was natural. The fact that I’m now tied to the meeting for another year makes me only slightly apprehensive, as does the idea of having to ask people to do chairs for me. I haven’t forgotten the last time I was secretary of a meeting, when the stress of it drove me out of the gay meetings.

That was a long time ago, I’ve worked hard to come back from the wilderness that event left me in, and this is a very special meeting. Even if I don’t get along with everyone there, it will go well as long as I do what I’m capable of doing, which is committing myself to it fully. The doubts will always swim around at the back of my mind – Does he hate me? Am I out of my depth here? Am I picking the wrong people to do chairs? – as they do in every situation. I end many journal entries on a deliberately positive note and so I’m ending this one on a positive note: I can do this.

Way too far

If you’d call N’s behaviour with P slightly out of turn, then my mother’s behaviour is diabolical. I hate what this election is doing to the country, I really do. As part of the normal election process we had some canvassers round today trying to drum up support for the opposition party. As soon as I saw them outside I was hoping my mother wouldn’t answer the door to them. She hisses every time the opposition leader is on the TV – what was she going to say to them? Even I couldn’t predict how bad it would be.

This is going to be hard to write about. I love my mother dearly, anyone who knows me knows how true that is. But sometimes she does my fucking head in. What a nice English expression that is. Her behaviour is sometimes so unbearable it’s like having my skull crushed in: it breaks my heart. As soon as the canvassers knocked on the door she opened it and launched into a violent rant at them, calling them names, asking them how they dare bother her with their filthy socialist policies. How dare they do their job? How dare they try and encourage democratic debate? How dare they support a different party to her?!

I was dreading the abuse becoming racist, because that’s what seems to happen with ill informed Tory supporters these days, but fortunately (if you can call anything about the situation fortunate) she just stuck to childish playground insults like “moron!” They quickly wished her a good day and walked away, probably wishing they’d never got up this morning.

Having seen them off, mum slammed the door and got on with her day as if nothing had happened. I didn’t want to be anywhere near her for fear of what I would do, but I had to go in the kitchen to make lunch as I had been waiting for the past ten minutes while she screamed on the doorstep. “I’m sorry about that, but these people really get to me…by the way, I saw a lovely wardrobe in the shop across the road yesterday.” My wardrobe has been on its last legs for a while and we had agreed that I would need a new one soon. To bring it up now, of all the times she could have done it, made me rage. I couldn’t talk to her about wardrobes at that point, or anything, I just needed to get away from her. I quietly made my sandwich, walked back to my bedroom and closed the door, ignoring her completely. I was livid.

I wanted to ask her if she believed that Theresa May would be any better placed to solve her problems than Jeremy Corbyn. I wanted to remind her of what the Conservatives have been doing the past year, ruining the country’s prospects of getting any kind of deal with the EU so that they can feel high and mighty about themselves. I wanted to ask whether she really thinks that the multi-millionaires in the cabinet care about her and people like her. I wanted to yell in her face that thanks to her government, I will never get a mortgage, I’ll have to pay ever increasing rents for the rest of my life, I’ll probably have to work into my seventies, and I probably won’t get a state pension when I retire.

I can understand why working class people like my mother feel angry at the world, why they may feel the need to explode it all out sometimes. I can’t understand how we’ve gotten to a position where the blame is being laid at the kind of politicians who want to do something about it. The left have somehow taken the place of the right as the villains of the piece. So now it’s the left’s fault for the social care crisis, it’s the left’s fault for rising inequality, stagnant wages, inflation and declining opportunities. If I didn’t live with someone who had bought into this warped way of seeing things I wouldn’t find it so painful to think about. I probably wouldn’t be so fucking angry. But I do live with someone who will happily tell the world that they think Jeremy Corbyn is a loser. Someone who thinks it’s ok to humiliate a pair of young kids on the doorstep because they’re trying to make a difference.

I was supposed to be writing an essay today, but there was no way I could just close my bedroom door and concentrate. The only place I could think to go was to the college library, where by some miracle I managed to finish it within two hours. I wouldn’t have gone to the library today if it hadn’t been for mother’s outburst, I was planning to stay in all day until the work was done. It turns out the library is a great place for concentration, so if there’s any positive to come out of today it’s that. Not that I’m feeling positive at the moment.

When I’d finished the essay it was still the middle of the day, and I wouldn’t feel ready to go home for hours. I decided to go for one of my long London walks. The weather was nice and I ended up in Greenwich Park, taking pictures from the top of the hill where the views are spectacular. I had good music on my phone and I began to feel better.

Evening came and I’d have to go home. Many possible conversations went through my head on the train; none of them would have been worth having. I can’t change my mother. I could tell her that her behaviour was inappropriate, that part of living in a democracy involves respecting others’ views. But she would only do it again on another occasion. She used to have many irrational outbursts when I was younger, over all sorts of things I can no longer remember, it seems to be a part of her make up. I told her so many times that it had to stop, tried so often to reason with her and get her to see things from an adult perspective, but she never would. The heartbreaking thing in all of this is that she doesn’t seem to have the capacity to be reasonable, at all.

So I’ve returned to my room and closed the door, saying a quick, awkward “hello” to her in the hallway. It’s just like one of the many evenings we had when I was a teenager, after we’d had one of our fights and I’d stormed off to my room in a huff, furious with her for not understanding me. The atmosphere will stay for a day or two, and then she’ll apologise without really knowing why she’s apologising, and then we’ll be back to normal. “Normal”. Until the next time.

The outbursts aren’t frequent at all now, not like they were fifteen or twenty years ago. Thank God. That doesn’t make today’s incident any less disturbing though. I still can’t quite believe it happened. All through the day I’ve wanted to run to her and say sorry for ignoring her in the kitchen, because there’s the part of me that desperately needs to keep her love, alongside the part that wants to teach her a lesson. My inner child needs her love and approval more than anything, and in that inner child there’s incandescent rage over the fact that it has to be this way. I could never tell her how I felt as a child because there was never any point, and there still isn’t. It’s enough to make anyone want to tear their hair out.

We learned about Johari’s Window in counselling class yesterday. According to the theory we all have a known part (things that everyone knows about us), a hidden part (things that only we know), a blind part (things that others know while we don’t), and an unknown part (things about us that no one knows, not even us). Things that have been in the hidden parts of us can come to the surface and become known through disclosure and sudden insights. In counselling, the counsellor usually aims to bring things out of the hidden self. What’s in my hidden self? That anger I was talking about, for sure; and that heartache. My mother will never know that I had to get out of the flat today and go for a massive walk because I couldn’t bear to be stuck here with her, it will always be hidden. I can talk about it to friends, to my therapist; but I can never share anything with the most important person in my life. I may as well be a teenager again, hiding the important facts in my life such as my sexuality in case it upset her. A 34 year old teenager, stuck inside my room, hidden and invisible.