Off centre

The week at work was busy and, despite the fact I wanted it to be busier all through my first six months there, I found it slightly too busy and therefore had my anxiety provoked. We are organising an ‘away day’ for the London team next week. A conference hall has been booked out in central London, and my team has ended up in charge of the whole thing, because there’s no one else to do it. I spent most of the week producing neat powerpoint presentations and slide shows that will be shown on the day. It’s not the most stressful job anyone’s ever had, but throughout the week I had a sense of pressure to get things done. It seemed important to do well, to not slip up and look like a failure.

Along with worrying about that I had to worry about the fly problem at home as well. Something had to be done, so on my first free day on Friday I went to the shops and spent a wad of money on cleaning products, which I took home and proceeded to use to deep clean the shit out of my room. I was determined to see the back of these tiny flies once and for all. The room ended up looking a lot nicer, once every speck of dust had been scrubbed away, and now I’d be surprised if I see anything living in this room again, although I have to try not to get my hopes up too much. They could just be hiding.

Yesterday I spent the day with T again. This time he’d come down to London at my encouragement, and I was his tour guide, as he had only been here three times before. He wanted to see parts of the city that were off the tourist trail; I decided to take him on a walk through Regent’s Park and up the canal to Camden. Not exactly miles from the tourist trail, but it was different enough to please him. We walked and talked in our usual sparse way. I tried to accept that we weren’t going to talk about feelings, or anything to do with the future. I think I had a more comfortable experience for it. Towards the end of the day he was talking about his life back home. I found out that he considered himself an introvert, as he described how he had once struggled to run a coffee house thanks to the affliction of shyness. It was the closest thing yet to a personal disclosure. I almost wanted to consider it a victory.

When we said goodbye, as always I didn’t know when or if I would see him again. He likes to be quite loose with plans, and I either have to tell him that’s not my way, or I have to accept it and move on.

I went to the south bank for my home group’s last ever night south of the river. From next week it’s moving to an exciting new home in Soho. It’s the true end of an era: no longer will I have much excuse to hang around south London, a place I’ve spent a lot of time in and made a lot of memories in over the past eight years. From now on much of my recovery will be taking place in Soho, a part of London I’ve sort of stayed away from in recent years. It will be different.

At the end of the meeting I had agreed to help the committee by carrying some of the literature in bags across to the new home. Four of us got the tube together with our bags, and it was one of those moments that I could have dreamed about, being included in a cool group of people for something exciting. I was with R, C and J, people I admire for their recovery and their confidence. I should have been on a high but my head will always find a way to spoil these things. For most of it I could only think about how tired I was after a day of being on my feet, and how little I had to contribute to the conversation. I’m not saying that it was a terrible or unusual experience – I nearly always have these thoughts when I’m with people like that, and for the most part I don’t think my struggles showed on the surface, because I am better at appearing ‘ok’ than I once was. But it never stops being unsettling when I have these thoughts, and I faced a painful dilemma once we had delivered everything to Soho, when J asked if I was coming for dinner with them. I was exhausted and I knew I ought to take care of myself by going home; I also knew how difficult it would be to sustain the sociable facade in a loud, busy Soho restaurant. So I declined the offer, in what I think was a graceful manner, though I couldn’t be sure as it was done outside the recovery centre on a busy pavement with lots of noise of activity swirling round, so they may have not heard my excuses. They may have gone away thinking I was being rude. I’ll never find out.

Today I had plans to go for lunch with C after the midday spiritual meeting in Soho. I specifically booked this in advance as an attempt to go against those isolating instincts, and build what I hope will be a secure friendship group in the rooms. C would be a great person to know better, not just because he’s very attractive (I’m pretty sure I’ve moved past the emotional crush stage with him now, since I’ve gotten to know him better and realised we’ll always just be friends). We’re of a similar age in recovery and we share a lot of opinions on things. I really like the Sunday midday meeting that he has started, and I thought it would be nice to hang around after for lunch with him. Only as soon as the meeting ended I felt anxiety weigh on me, and instead of hanging around waiting for C to be ready I wanted to run away. The moments at the end of the meeting when everyone’s milling around saying goodbye to each other have always been a particularly stressful time for me, especially when I’m entering one of my moods and I can’t find a person or group to stand with. It took C ten minutes to say his goodbyes to everyone, ten minutes in which I was forced to stand there talking to people I didn’t know well. On the surface I may have appeared to do well – some of them wanted to talk to me, and what happened with them could be construed as a conversation – yet internally the same old doubts were filling my head. I was glad when C was finally ready to go and eat.

We’d planned to only talk in French, as it’s something we both desperately need practise at. But since C was suffering from a cold, and since I was still tired and a bit depressed, it wasn’t going to be much fun trying to stick to a foreign language for an hour, so we switched to our native tongue after fifteen minutes. C was talking about this relationship he’s been in for six months and the struggles he’s having with it. Before I realised what I was doing I was going into therapist mode, asking pertinent questions and making light suggestions. What’s clear is that even those of us who seem to have it all sorted, like C, can struggle in love. I still came away with the impression that he’s doing far better than I ever will in life, though.

A sad feeling of poignancy was threatening to take over when I said goodbye to C after lunch, and I wanted to do anything but go home. The weather was unusually warm and I decided that a long walk across London was in order. At first I stuck to the central London streets that I knew, streets I’ve trodden countless times over the years, and before long the lethargic sadness was coming back. I needed to see somewhere different, somewhere that wasn’t central London. I thought about Richmond, a part of London that feels far removed from the city. I’m lucky enough to have a travelcard that will take me to such places, so I jumped straight on the tube and witnessed the heavy feelings lift inside me as the train got further and further from the metropolis. As we reached the outer zones and the tall brown buildings were quickly replaced by green leaves and grassland, my breathing became easier, my heart rate slowed, and everything felt cleaner, and clearer.

I’ve never spent much time in Richmond, but I wish I had because it’s a lovely place. Even though the high street was busy with tourists it all felt relaxed and pleasant, compared to Oxford Street and its surrounds, the part of London I’m usually in when I go to meetings. I probably spend far too much time in the centre of the city, listening to the same old pop music on my headphones, walking the same old streets, bumping past the same old crowds. Today I put some unfamiliar classical music on and walked along the bank of the Thames, enjoying a lovely stroll in the unseasonal warm sunshine. Out there the Thames is narrow and quiet, and the path passes through parks and meadows, so you couldn’t feel further from London, even though you are well within its boundaries. It was the stroll I needed. I felt like I was on holiday.

With all the things I’ve had to worry about recently it would be natural to assume that a constant state of anxiety is my lot now. Admittedly I’ve had a number of unresolved issues to face (flies, not enjoying college as much as I thought I would, being over busy at work, not having a lot of money thanks to my part time wage). Days like today must show that freedom from worry is still possible. I need to make sure that my daily life doesn’t become stagnant, that I am always seeing new places and experiencing new things. If I keep hanging around Oxford Street and listening to loud dance music every day I’ll get depressed quickly. When I’m not in meetings, I need different places and songs to fill my time with now.

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Thoughts and dilemmas

A cringeworthy moment

This morning I attended the new spiritual meeting in Soho, confirming that it will become one of my regulars and I will have a new Sunday routine to go forward with. I expected to see C there and I was fairly committed to thanking him for his help at dinner last night; but once I got to the meeting place he was busy being friends with other people, as he so often is, and the moment didn’t immediately present itself. It wasn’t until after the meeting had finished that I managed to work myself up to send him a whatsapp message containing the sentiments I’d hoped to convey in person. Inwardly I cringed as I sent it. Well, he was bound to think it was a bit sad and creepy, wasn’t he? A cool, attractive person like him wasn’t going to take it for what it was, a genuine communication of friendship, was he?

Despite those reservations I managed to chuck in an invitation to coffee next week, something I want to do more and more of with people like that because it’s good for me, and it directly challenges my sense of inadequacy. C instantly accepted my invitation and told me he was only too glad to help me out last night. I know he is a nice person and all of his behaviour suggests that he wants to be one of those recovery friends that I’ve so desperately needed for so long. But from a certain perspective I still can’t help seeing this in terms of my inadequacy versus their ‘better’-ness. If I think about all the coffee dates that someone like C must be invited to on a weekly basis, I can create all kinds of differences between me and him, and I can sink back into the firm belief that I am not like other people in AA, I am not as good as them.

*

The battle for authenticity

The challenge to work out what is happening with T continues! I spent half the day again with him yesterday, three weeks on from our last meeting, and I came away feeling I had got no closer to that mind of his. I should just come out and ask him what he wants, it would make life a darn sight easier – but there are boundaries I dare not cross, boundaries that probably exist solely in my mind (and are no less real for it).

I’m discovering that there are certain things we cannot avoid doing when we see each other. These include going on some trip somewhere, walking a lot, and then returning to his place to have sex. On Friday he was surprisingly keen to get in the car and drive far out to the countryside, where we spent an hour exploring a chocolate box village in the Cotswolds. I appreciated the opportunity to see the quintessential English village that people abroad probably dream of when they think of England. In theory I also appreciated the opportunity to do something that on paper would seem romantic with him. When I’ve told friends about the sorts of things I’m doing with T, they naturally smile and sigh, “how romantic!” It is exactly the sort of thing I wanted to do with boyfriends when I was a younger man, the sort of thing I never got to do. I don’t know why it still feels like there is some missing piece, when I’m actually there doing these things. I don’t know whether there is a missing piece, or if it’s just down to the fact that reality is never quite the same as fantasy.

As ever, we concluded the day in his bed, and as ever, it was nice until the point where he expected me to climax. We approach this point earlier every time we see each other. Soon he’ll be expecting it the minute we’ve climbed into bed. After fifteen minutes of trying it was clear I wasn’t going to manage it. So I was quite surprised when T sighed and suggested getting some porn up on his computer to help. It’s almost laughable how quickly the trick worked. T seemed quite blase about the fact that I needed a porn fantasy. I think it probably says something about his character: pragmatic.

Using porn could be a solution, then, whenever we find ourselves in bed and T wants to get on with things. Or it could spell disaster for the relationship. It’s a bit depressing to think that I still don’t know what this all means for us. I still don’t know if it’s really what I want.

I should stop observing other couples on trains and in the street, because they clearly appear to have something that I don’t think I’ll ever have with T. I’m not sure if chemistry is the right word. A bond? Yes, that’s probably it. Even if I have just met T a handful of times, I would’ve thought that it would be easier to talk to him by now. We do talk, but most of the time only haltingly, and I know that I bear as much responsibility for this as he does, but as I said at the beginning of this vignette, something keeps stopping me from crossing his boundaries, so we are not getting past that stilted small talk that can be enough to drive me mad if I think about it too much.

Couples on trains and in the street always seem happy together – they can laugh, smile at each other, hold hands, give each other a little hug or peck on the cheek. They always seem natural together in a way that I haven’t been with T yet. I may be able to entertain the idea that I have some control in this matter, and that I can force some intimacy into any situation by being who I really am (my therapist self always tells me to be more like that). But in the reality of the moment I never manage to go that far, it’s only ever afterwards that I realise how much more I could have done.

And perhaps in reality, the couples I see in public are experiencing the same issues – in their heads. The surface might appear polished and shiny, but with my therapist head on I can imagine what might be going on underneath. When I see a pair of lovers smiling at each other in the most intimate way I am only seeing one brief moment in their day. I am not seeing the other 1,439 moments.

It’s very hard for me to hang on to such a realistic appraisal of things when I am in a mood such as the one I’m in tonight, when I want to let go entirely of reason and embrace the wild emotionality of the child.

*

The mother’s paradox

Instead of using another fifty minutes to talk about T, I spent this week’s therapy session talking about mum. By the end of the week she was in a normal mood again, as I had predicted, but it was still bothering me, and I knew the time had come to finally offload about it. I have never talked to anyone much about my relationship with my mother. I have never told anyone what I know about her past, what I think troubles her, and how it has affected my entire life. I probably could spend weeks talking to the therapist about it, because what has become clear to me is that everything is important, every small detail.

I’m aware that sometimes my long, rambling entries here can seem long and rambling, but I think that they need to be, because I can’t pick out anything that isn’t significant these days. In Love’s Executioner, Dr Yalom calls it ‘grist in the mill’. My life can seem like a succession of confusing, complicated and challenging stories. When I focus on one of them it can look a bit episodic, but I see how they are interlinked. This week I started to think that my relationship with mum is a significant underlying factor. I live in this dysfunctional relationship from day to day, and it has been dysfunctional for decades, and I get such a sense of powerlessness in it, because my mother never changes, no matter how much I change. In the past I saw my relationship with my dad as the defining factor in my life, and of course it was always defining, but it wasn’t the defining factor. It was one of many. My anxiety disorder, my uncontrollable emotions, my mistrust of the world, my feeling of powerlessness, perhaps these things started with mum. I had a tremendous sense of guilt weighing on me as I opened up to the therapist about all this, since I felt like I was betraying her, but I couldn’t stop opening up. With self disclosure there is always a point of no return.

It was good to talk about it, to express the sheer frustration of living with someone who doesn’t change. For the first time ever, I could put into words what I would want, if my mother and I lived in an ideal world: to know whether she is really happy, and to have her see me as an adult. If those two things were to ever come to happen, it would transform both of us completely. The great paradox here is that I will never be able to ask if she is happy, and I will never get her to see me as an adult, because there is a barrier in this home that can never be crossed. I can press my nose up against it and I can privately question it, but that’s about it. After thirty-four years of being up against it, I see that it can’t be broken.

Right. I’m in therapy because I want to change my life. I want to overcome the obstacles to intimacy that I face with friends and lovers. I want to become more authentic as a person. I want to be happy. Somewhere in me there must be a belief that I can achieve those things, otherwise I wouldn’t be paying so much a week for therapy. At the start of therapy I wasn’t planning to bring my mother into it at all. I have never seen this relationship as something that can change. I was willing to work on everything else, but this? It’s too much to think about. I wouldn’t know where to start.

Now that I have brought it up in therapy, it may be safe to say that the idea of change is lurking in this area too. I can vaguely imagine what I would like to happen with mum in a distant utopian future where we are both congruent and self actualised: something to aim for. But I’ve just remembered that it will be too much work, and she has no self awareness, she has spent her life living one way, keeping all her thoughts private, believing that her son will always be a child because she couldn’t cope with him growing up. It would be so unfair for the rest of her life to play out this way, so unfair for me to change so much while she never changes, never experiences reality as it is, never knows real happiness out in the world, away from her TV. But all the signs say that that is what she is destined for. I don’t know how to help her. I don’t have the words.

Turning it around

AA is not a social club!

Sometimes you hear old timers say that they didn’t go to AA to make friends, they went to get well, and I appreciate that sentiment, but I can’t stop seeing it like it’s a big, fashionable party that I’ve been trying for years to get into. Since the summer of 2007 it has been my dream to feel completely normal in an AA meeting – to walk in and not care who says hello to me and who ignores me – in recent years it’s been a little easier, but the issue is clearly still there on some level. I’ve gone to the Saturday meeting nearly every week for two years, I am one of the most regular faces there, and people like me for it; but the socialising afterwards remains one of my life’s biggest challenges. Every week they go to the same restaurant and sit at the same table, yet somehow whenever I go I feel like it’s the first time I’m there. The crowd does change from week to week, but not that much. My problem is that I can never seem to get there before everyone else has already arrived and sat down. I’m a fast walker, yet I have always been one of the last to arrive, meaning that I don’t have much choice over who I get to sit with or where.

Today I wasn’t hugely keen on going, as I knew that the people I feel closest to at the meeting wouldn’t be there, it would just be the ‘cool’ people that I wish I was closer to. I went as it had been a few weeks since my last trip there, I wanted to keep up some sort of momentum with this group, and I knew I could have a good time if I just tried because it had happened before. When I arrived I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find all the good seats already taken, and the only seats left were at a small empty table far away from the main group. I could see there was the possibility of people budging up at the main table to make room for me, but none of the people I asked were willing to move, so I’d have to go to the other table and hope I wouldn’t be left on my own there. It was like the school canteen at lunch time, when no one wants you at the table so you have to find somewhere else or sit on the floor. In that moment I didn’t think anyone would care if I actually had to sit on the floor.

I skulked over to the other table on my own and tried to pretend that it didn’t matter, that I could still enjoy the food, as I would if I really were there on my own. After a few minutes someone who’d been even slower to arrive than me joined me at the loser’s table, a person I recognised but didn’t know well at all. He seemed nice, but before long we were both stuck for words. I couldn’t think of anything useful to start a conversation with. It looked like it was going to be an hour of near silence. I decided there and then I would just wolf down my burger and go home, never to darken this restaurant’s doorway again.

As the burgers arrived I was touched to see my friend C get up from the main table and walk over to join us. I could tell that he’d seen me struggling and probably felt sorry for me. It should have turned the night around and given me the confidence I’ve had in that situation before, to talk properly and be a friend amongst friends. But the thought that he just felt sorry for me kept playing on my mind, and I still thought I would just go home as soon as I’d had my burger. The minute he’d eaten his burger C left, giving me the excuse I needed to call it a night. It was by no means a disaster, but it wasn’t fun, and I left thinking that the big meal at the burger restaurant would probably never work for me. Unless people like my sponsor choose to go, I’m never going to go there knowing who I’m sitting next to and that I have a safe place at the table. Of course I could take matters more into my own hands and push my way into that group, like other people do, but that’s not me. Never has been.

My handling of post meeting fellowship has been an issue since the earliest meetings that I went to. It’s made me so angry at times that it has pushed me out of AA. In my first few years of recovery I used to find it so easy to pick up resentments against people in these restaurants, because they weren’t making it easier for me. Eventually I had so many resentments I didn’t want to go to meetings, didn’t want a program any more. I blamed them for my inability to slide into the group and take my place like they did. Today that inability remains to a large degree, as does the temptation to blame. It was hard to walk away from the restaurant tonight and not want to cry a bit, to feel like a failure. It was hard to make myself say goodbye to people, instead of just running off as quickly and invisibly as possible. All of this is behaviour that I’ve enacted throughout my life, based on feelings that I never grow out of. There is the feeling of being a statue that I have experienced many times, a statue that no one can communicate with or understand. I feel stuck and exposed in the situation, and humiliation is surely around the corner.

My therapy head tells me that no one tonight saw me that way, while the child inside strongly feels that they must have seen and judged my failing, because they’re not like me. The child’s feelings will always be with me, but I suppose it’s good that I am more willing to listen to the adult, to the ‘therapist’ in me if you like, these days. Already I can imagine seeing C at a meeting tomorrow and thanking him for joining my table, because it would be a nice thing to do, the exact opposite of what the child would have me do (isolate, pretend nothing happened, refuse all future friendship from anyone who was there tonight). It would solidify a bond and it would acknowledge the positives of tonight. I will probably always have to talk myself through this ‘positive’ approach, as I pass over thoughts of the negative, thoughts about people not wanting me to sit with them. It does feel a bit easier than it used to, maybe because I am in therapy and I am becoming more accountable to my recovering self. It’s easier than it ever was to understand why tonight was such a challenge, why I couldn’t just slip into the group and feel instantly welcome there: I have simply never tried that hard before.

So no, AA isn’t a social club, I can’t say that being invited to sit next to someone in a restaurant is as important as going to a meeting and doing service. But it’s always a nice bonus of recovery when these things happen, and it’s important to crack open my shell sometimes and go into these places, make a little effort and perhaps make a new friend that I can share some recovery with. When I came back to AA I did recognise that it was going to be hard to immerse myself in fellowship again; I would have good weeks with it and I would have bad weeks. As long as there’s more good than bad then it’s working.

Sunday, Sunday

Going to work on Friday threw me out of sorts, but there was a rare series of Excel training workshops taking place that I had wanted to attend for years. By the end of the day I was happy to consider myself an Excel whizz. And I knew I would feel better if I could look forward to my usual lie in on Saturday morning, and not have to meet T at the train station at 8.30 as arranged. I thought I’d better message him on Friday about my potential change of plans, give him time to change his own plans or prepare for a day of socialising on his own. I didn’t know how he would react; I thought he would probably be annoyed, as that’s the way people in the past have responded to being cancelled on so last minute. It’s one of these unspoken rules of society that floats around my head whenever I face these situations – the rule that you must attend an engagement if you haven’t given at least a week’s notice of cancellation. In my mind I was certain that T would feel let down by me, so I elaborated on my reasons for wanting to cancel by saying that I was coming down with a cold, as well as feeling tired after a long and busy week. I didn’t think I could just say that I was nervous about meeting a new bunch of people and spending the entire day with them, having to miss my regular AA meeting as a result.

T responded with an extraordinary eagerness for me to get better, so that I could keep him company on the trip. I learned for the first time that he really does like spending time with me. We ended Friday by agreeing to see how I felt on the morning. If I still felt awful I would stay in bed, otherwise I would go and meet him as planned.

I didn’t feel awful when I woke on Saturday morning, but I am never going to be the type of person who enjoys getting up at 7am unless I’m obliged to, and I had already made my mind up the previous day that I would just message him and say I was still feeling bad when the time came. In the end I was so attached to my normal Saturday routine that I couldn’t bear to break it, even just once. I felt terrible for letting T down and for not realising prior to the day that I would feel this way, but by now it was too late, I’d just have to make my excuses and hope for the best.

I got the impression T was sad about not seeing me, but if I was expecting this to be the final nail in the coffin of our young romance, it wasn’t. I received regular updates from him through the day about the walk, complete with plenty of pictures of the Sussex countryside that they were exploring. It looked lovely. I managed to arrange another trip to Oxford for next Friday, so this thing will continue for at least another week.

*

Part of the eagerness to stay in London yesterday was the opening of a new 12 step centre in the centre of town, which would be housing my regular Saturday home group temporarily while its normal home was otherwise occupied. I had played a tiny part in the efforts to get the centre opened, as it’s something I’ve long thought London needs. Many other cities around the world have these centres where meetings take place throughout the day, while London has never had one as far as I’m aware. It seemed about time the fellowship got a place that wouldn’t be subject to the vagaries of rising rents.

It was exciting to see the new place on its opening day, even more exciting to see what my home group would look like in the space. We’re going to have to move from our regular space soon, as it happens, and this new space in town could become its permanent home, if everyone agrees to it. So yesterday would be like a trial run.

Turnout was high, thanks to everyone’s curiosity at what it would be like; the space was amazing. It sits in the heart of London, with bright white walls, polished wooden floors, brand new amenities, and large windows overlooking the busy road. It was easy to get over excited and fall in love with the place. It was all most people could talk about in their sharing. Having been in a quiet room south of the river for so long, the meeting had a very different feel to what it’s usually like. With the constant evening buzz coming from outside, it was easy to be distracted, to think about where you were rather than what people were saying. I’m sure not everyone was happy with the space, and if we do move there, it will take a lot of getting used to. The group will change; in six months it may have a completely different set of regulars. This is what happens when meetings have to move. Seven years ago when it had to leave west London it was a big wrench for the meeting, and a lot of people who used to go every week never went again.

A bunch of new LGBT meetings are starting at the centre in the coming weeks, giving birth to an expanded and revitalised LGBT fellowship in London. Today I managed to get myself out of bed for one of these new meetings at noon, an hour long meeting that focused on spirituality. Sunday afternoons in Soho are a lot quieter than Saturday evenings, so it seems, so we weren’t disturbed as much by the traffic noise from outside, although there were just as many meeting attendees, which was good to see. The entire format of the meeting was different to anything that London has had before, based as it was on a meeting that the secretary used to attend abroad. No speaker, just some reading and then an hour of sharing. It felt very much like a New York meeting. The space itself is very New York. I liked it.

When the meeting was over I didn’t want to go home. Nobody seemed to be going for coffee so I decided to go for one of my long walks. I took myself to the park and sat with a book for a while. As the day pressed on I was increasingly upset by the thought of returning here to the flies, which are still emerging from some mysterious corner of my room. I do a lot of walking, it’s one of my top pastimes, but today I was rather bored by it, because I knew I was only doing it to avoid home. I didn’t need the extra exercise, I’d already had plenty of that earlier in the week. None of the music on my phone was very interesting, so I switched it off after a while and just listened to the sounds of the world.

Eventually I had to come back. As well as the flies, I was dreading coming back to see what mood mum was in. She’s been in a funny mood all weekend. I have no idea what it’s about, but something’s off. Having known her since the day I was born, I can always tell when she’s a little less ok than usual. At first I imagined it was something to do with me – my worst fear is upsetting her, and whenever there’s a possibility that I’ve upset her I find it hard to cope. If it is something I’ve done she’ll always come and tell me in the end, and she hasn’t done that yet, so I can only assume it’s about work. With five years to go until retirement I know she’s just waiting for that day to come.

I know I’ve said it before, but if we had a ‘normal’ relationship I would probably just ask her what’s wrong. I’m training to be a therapist for God’s sake, can’t I just go to my own mother and show some concern? No, it’s never worked like that between us. I can’t even explain why it’s never been like that. We just don’t talk to each other, it’s not part of who we are. For thirty-four years that’s been fine, but as I go further on this journey to authenticity it gets more and more painful to sit in anything that isn’t authentic. And now I expect that I will have to start talking about this in therapy, because this is the other great problem in my life, the relationship with mum. It’s the problem that goes deeper than any other, even my problem with sex.

Therapised

Had therapy this evening. I started off by explaining the latest developments with T, and my brief dalliance with G last week. I’d been looking forward to therapy all week, for the opportunity it would provide to go over these things and what they really mean. I managed to express everything, all of my feelings on the matter and what I had learnt from it. I’m clearly still conflicted about whether this thing with T is going anywhere, but perhaps I am a little less conflicted than before. Starting something with G was clearly a mistake; last week’s excitement after the first date was probably just over-excitement at the novelty.

I found myself talking like a different person in tonight’s session: like a confident, self assured person capable of saying anything. In fact I think I may have been emulating some of my counselling classmates, the more assertive ones. I was using the kind of phrasing they would use, saying things like  ‘oh, I noticed this,’ and ‘yeah, that’s kind of exactly how I felt’. Things I would never normally say. I felt freer, more relaxed and more expressive in the session than I have done before. Was I more myself? It remains to be seen.

The last twenty minutes of the session were focused on a different subject entirely – work. I had mentioned that I was a bit stressed about the big day out I have planned with T on Saturday, because it will come after a long and shitty week at work and I’ll probably wish I was able to stay in bed. I didn’t expect to talk so much about what happened on Monday, but in therapy there is a tendency for subjects to take over if they are important, whether you planned to talk about them or not. I expressed how I felt unjustly treated by the manager, and it got linked to how I’ve felt unjustly treated by a string of managers over the years. It also got linked to the resentment I had against T last week, that led me to retaliate by messaging G.

I’m dreading the next few days because I’m at work on Thursday and Friday. Not my usual pattern, but I had to swap days around this week as there’s some training I wanted to do on Friday. Having not worked on Fridays for most of the year, it’s taking me out of the routine I like. And then on Saturday I’m out all day socialising with T and a bunch of people I don’t know. Three long days to get through. I don’t feel prepared or energised enough, but I have no choice, I have to get through it. I’ll need to use the tools at my disposal, tools like mindfulness, which I was helpfully reminded of in therapy. Having practised mindfulness for years you’d think it would be something I do automatically in all stressful events, but I still need to be reminded sometimes!

The drawing board

What a stinker of a day it’s been. Evidently I’m not in Oxford at the moment. I chose to do what I’ve done every Monday for the past several years: stay in London after work. When I found out that T was going to be working a late shift, to earn a bit of extra money, I knew that the special night we’d been planning wasn’t going to happen. He suggested I come to Oxford anyway and hang around in a coffee shop until he’d finished around 10pm. I instinctively didn’t feel comfortable with this arrangement, and told him that we would just do it another time. Before learning that he’d be working late I was stressing out about the arrangement anyway. Going to Oxford on a Monday night and spending all of it away from home would take me far out of my normal routine. None of the things that I normally like of an evening would be there: my bath, my toiletries, my clothes, my pillow, my bed. I wouldn’t have slept a wink, and I’d have mum at home worrying about me, which would mean I’d have to keep her up to date with my whereabouts through the day and evening.

Until T’s announcement that he’d be working late I was just about willing to put all these concerns to one side and book my overnight ticket to Oxford. When he messaged me in the morning about his working commitments I immediately thought: what a relief, I don’t have to go through with it. I could go home and relax, or I could go to the meeting by the river and enjoy some fellowship before going home to relax. It would be a normal, non-stressful evening after all.

I would love to have spent a night with him, but all things considered it’s been another piece of evidence that things aren’t going to work out between us, which has led me from initial relief to an afternoon of endlessly thinking: what was the point? Work was pretty awful today. With a series of annoying things happening I just wanted to get away from it, and a night in the arms of a sexy individual would have been enough to help me forget those annoying things completely.

I hated my job today. It was like being back at RG five years ago, with everyone and everything getting at me. None of it was deliberate on anyone’s part I’m sure, but the activities of my colleagues got to me nonetheless, and I wanted out of it. To give a brief overview of one of the things that really drove me nuts this morning:

  • our team is responsible for booking and managing meeting rooms in the office; one of the rooms was double booked by accident last week and it led to some confusion and annoyance amongst managers for a while
  • first thing this morning we were greeted by a snippy email from our manager, telling us that we need to be more vigilant with the room bookings in future to avoid this happening again
  • I felt blamed, as I had been the one who arranged one of the meetings in that room on Friday
  • it was implied in the boss’s email that I hadn’t marked it down on the calendar properly (I did!), leading to someone else coming along and booking the room for themselves at the same time (oops!)

I didn’t need it this morning and it caused no end of resentment, I can tell you. In a perfect world I could have sat down with the boss and talked it through, but everyone seemed to find it easier sitting at their desks discussing the matter by email; so nothing was really sorted out as a result, we were just left with a bad feeling in the air.

When the day was finally over I could run to a meeting in gratitude and offload my troubles. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t go to Oxford this evening, really. I might have still been in a bad mood as I faced an expensive bus journey and the inevitability of a sleepless night in someone else’s bed. It’s sad to think that I may have to go back to the drawing board with the whole dating thing, find someone else who’s nearer. I do like T, but everything at the moment is telling me that it’s never going to be practical to see him regularly. And I want something regular, that much I can be sure of.

Decision time

And so the tedious dilemma continues. I met G for a second date today, and it wasn’t anything like it was supposed to be. I was supposed to be excited about seeing this person again with whom I had such a fascinating time on Wednesday. We were supposed to have so much more to talk about, there was supposed to be a growing chemistry between us; it was supposed to be romantic and memorable, with a sunny afternoon walk planned in the park. I was all ready to consign T to the past and move on to this new affair that was so much more suitable on paper…and then I met G at the tube station, and we had nothing to talk about. To be fair, I had been out of sorts all day. Not over anything serious – just pissed off about this tiny fly problem that I’ve had in my room the last few months. I don’t know where they’re coming from, I’ve tried various methods of exterminating them, and they never seem to go away! I can’t tell you how much I hate insects, and especially flies. Regular readers will remember a similar annoying problem that I had on my trip to France in 2015.

It was bringing me down and all I could think about as I went to meet G at the station was these horrible fruit flies, and the infestation that would be waiting for me when I got home later.

I was also thinking about how important it was for things to go well with him – it simply had to work out like a Hollywood romance, otherwise it would be a complete waste of time. He just had to fall for me today, otherwise what’s the point? From the moment we met I couldn’t think of any interesting things to say, like I had been able to on Wednesday. Suddenly I was painfully aware of the effort needed to keep a conversation going, all the things you have to think of and say – thing after thing after thing after goddamn thing. Everyone else in the world could do it today, why couldn’t I? G wasn’t doing it either, but I wasn’t preoccupied with his inability to keep things interesting, it was all about my failing.

We walked for an hour in the park then headed for dinner as I was hungry. Prolonging the evening seemed pointless, but cutting things dead would have seemed rude, so I decided to prolong the agony, thinking at least it would be easier to say goodbye on a full stomach. When G asked if I fancied practising some more French with him our conversation came alive for a while; but since I was tired after a long and stressful day, I only had the energy to use my language skills for half an hour before my jaw started getting heavy with all the funny inflections and conjugations.

By the end of dinner our connection was clearly dead, and I said an easy goodbye back at the station. I immediately knew that it was T I wanted to keep seeing, despite the distance, despite the cost, despite all the goddamn doubts. I resolved to send him a message, apologising for cancelling on Friday, making clear that I was keen to see him again as soon as possible. He’s been quick to reply, asking if I’m free tomorrow night. I would never normally give up a Monday night for anyone, but, well, the feelings I had a couple of weeks ago are back, and I don’t think I can ignore what they’re telling me.

What was blinding me from making a decision was the need to be liked, or rather the need to feel liked. I didn’t feel that T liked me much, even though he was spending all that time with me, and I retaliated by finding G. After an entertaining first date with G, during which I got the impression he definitely did like me, I was ready to switch allegiances and forget the guy I probably liked all along. The fact I was possibly more interested in T didn’t matter this week, I just wanted someone who would be easier to see, someone who would do more to make me feel secure. For a very short while I thought that would be G. Until today, which felt boring and needless in its entirety.

I still have many doubts about T. The challenge of how far away he lives, how long it takes and how much it costs to get there remains. As does the challenge of deciphering what he really wants, and whether I can truly embrace a sexual relationship in which I have to perform by climaxing all the time. The future of this remains a mystery, teasingly intangible. If I’m going to proceed I have to do it with more caution, more responsibility to myself. It’s so easy to say on paper, but I need to be more honest in this relationship. If I’m not happy with something I need to find a way of saying it. That will be bloody hard, and there’s no guarantee I will even follow my own advice here, if in the heat of the moment it just becomes too hard to say anything, as it often does. But I need to be willing.

T has mentioned the fact that he’s free tomorrow evening going on to Tuesday morning, which instantly made me want to suggest going up there and spending the night with him. I don’t know what I’ve just done! My normal evening routine will be ruined!

I guess my real fear is of what mum will think. I haven’t spent an unplanned night away from home in years. Of course I knew if I was to keep seeing T it would happen eventually, and it’s not really any of her business where I sleep as long as I’m safe. But this is where the codependency comes in, the need to let her know where I am at all times, alongside the need not to do anything unusual that will worry her, like suddenly announcing I won’t be home tomorrow night. God, why couldn’t I just have an easy romance with someone that doesn’t have all these demands?!