All systems go

Really there’s only one thing on my mind at the moment: seeing clients. From two clients last week, I now have four to start this Sunday. My four hour weekly slot at the placement is now full and I won’t get any more, but it feels like it’s happening very quickly and I’m being thrown in at the deep end. It’s as if God has responded to my complaints of a few weeks ago, when I was worried that I would never get any clients. I felt ready for this for ages, and now God is finally saying to me: ‘so you’re ready, are you?’

With so much around it that still has to be sorted out, I have been suffering on the sleep front again. It’s possible that I haven’t slept ‘well’ since some point last year, but I’m having one of those weeks where it’s really noticeable. Waking up at 3 in the morning for no reason, panicking, struggling to get back to sleep, feeling groggy all through the next day. At the moment I can say with confidence that it is down to anxiety about the placement. Paperwork and processes that are taking forever to complete; finding a supervisor I can afford; not knowing anything about the clients I’m going to have and what will happen on Sunday with them. I’ve had many important moments in my life but I think this is one of the most important. As with all important things, there are so many factors that can go wrong. And I’m having to lead the scared, unwilling inner child along by the hand through it all, which makes it harder of course.

On Monday evening I had arranged to meet with a potential supervisor. I wasn’t very happy with the time they had offered me – 8pm – but I went along hoping we could agree on an earlier slot because their online profile made them sound ideal. One of the factors in their favour was that they lived close by, albeit in an area I don’t know too well but one that’s very easy to get to. When I got off the tube and started walking to the house, something was wrong. It felt late, and I didn’t feel safe in the area. I have bad memories of the area from childhood, memories I hadn’t quite forgotten but ones that I didn’t think would affect me so much these days. Mum used to take me to a park up there, and when I was seven one day we got talking to this friendly seeming chap by the swings. As we said goodbye he started to follow us. Walked after us with a suddenly blank expression in his eyes, wouldn’t leave us alone. Chased us all the way to the gates of the park. Mum was scared, I was upset, people tried to help us but nothing would stop him. Eventually mum had to pick me up and run to the underground, where finally we could shake him off.

I kept thinking of a traumatised young boy as I walked up a quiet, dark road near the park. It was a longer walk from the tube than I anticipated, and by the time I got to the house I was close to tears. The gentleman’s house itself was sparse and cold, and the room set aside for therapy/supervision was windowless. We discussed my needs and negotiated over them for half an hour, during all of which I was merely thinking about how quickly I could get away. Whether I felt like that because of the trauma of being in the area, or because I didn’t click with the chap, is debatable. I think it’s both. His style didn’t feel suitable. It’s similar in some ways to picking a sponsor in AA. There are all kinds of supervisors out there with a plethora of approaches, just as there are all kinds of sponsors in AA. This guy was a straight down the line, bluntly honest type who seemed more inclined to talking about ‘how things used to be done’, as opposed to supporting me in an empathic way.

I left the place relieved I had survived. Although it’s disappointing not to have found my ideal supervisor, so that I can say it’s sorted and now I have one less thing to worry about, there is no cause for panic because there’s still plenty of time for me to sort this out. Unfortunately the experience on Monday seems to have set something off in me and I’ve been in a panicked state all week. The panic has brought up anger towards the placement (again) for putting me in this position. When I woke in the middle of the night on Tuesday, all I could think about was the fact I have to do this on my own with no support. Other placements seem to support their trainees through the process, while this one is essentially leaving us to it. I’ve been angry about this since December so it’s nothing new; I’ve accepted the situation because they are giving me clients and I will get my required client hours in well before the end of the course. It’s all highly salient this week because I’m about to start seeing my first clients and I didn’t expect to be in such a state at this point. I thought when I started seeing clients it would all be perfect and I’d be swimming on air.

If you had told me four years ago that I’d be at this point in 2018, it would have been unfathomable. This time four years ago I was at RG, sitting at a desk every day answering stupid customer queries, bored and unfulfilled, thinking I’d be there forever. Today I know I’m on my way to fulfilment, I’m a million times closer to what I want to be doing now. I just wish I had more time in the week to enjoy it!

Now that I’ll be seeing clients for four hours every Sunday, I’m running out of free time fast and sacrifices are going to have to be made. At college today we were reminded that we have our first major assessment coming up in a few weeks. A recording of a practise session with a colleague that we’ve already been working with, followed by a 3,000 word report. Doing that whilst seeing clients, I’m going to need every spare moment I can get. If I wasn’t secretary on Tuesday evenings it would be better…but I’ve already decided not to resign this month, so I have to carry on there until at least the end of February, which just seems like a bummer now. I’ve really begun to find my place in the role too, I believe.

Still tired this morning after another terrible night, I wasn’t as up for college as I usually am. It was going to be a long day, with lectures on the technical aspects of person centred theory that would take us through to the afternoon. When the tutor reminded us about the assessment coming up my mood just sank, and for the first time I didn’t want to be there. I could take heart from the fact that other people were similarly tired and stressed out by everything that’s happening. But I had to sit there all day through the feelings and remember that I chose this, which is hard.

In the afternoon’s skills practise I tried harder than I usually would to get some of the key counselling ‘skills’ in, because when it comes to the recording in two weeks we’re going to have to demonstrate that we can use at least six of them (such as paraphrasing, summarising, empathic listening, immediacy, etc.) I was anxious and it all felt forced, and for the first time in ages I couldn’t get that sense of ‘naturalness’ that I’ve been experiencing more and more of recently. I can’t believe that I’ve got to see four clients in a row on Sunday. Four real clients, with real problems, all of whom need my help. This is all real now, and I have to be the adult through it all. I’m terrified I’ll get there and I’ll be tired or hungry, or both, which just can’t happen. Everyone’s advice for me has been to remember my self care routines. Get a good night’s sleep, have a big breakfast on the morning, breathe, remember I can’t do any real harm to the clients unless I deliberately abuse them or something. All good advice that I will try and follow; but somehow I suspect that I will still be incredibly anxious on the morning and if I’m not careful, it will come across.

Again, I’m reminded that all new therapists go through this, it’s natural, I won’t be able to eliminate anxiety entirely, but I will be supported through it. As I said earlier, I really wish the placement would give us a bit more verbal support. It will be hard to hold clients if I don’t feel held myself. I’m committed now, though, and I’m determined to see it through. If I can see it through I’m certain it will all prove worth it in the end.

Advertisements

Flow

My slow acceptance of the changes in the Saturday meeting progressed this week. Once again I took a seat near the back and remained content with being less visible for ninety minutes, and it was fine. I guess it’s like how it was two years ago when I was just starting to go back there again after a long break. Two years ago, I wanted desperately to be involved with fellowship every week after the meeting, just as I do now, but I seemed to realise that it wouldn’t always be possible and that I could get something out of it even when I don’t go for dinner. Now it’s my job to return to that state of acceptance, because as I remembered last week, I don’t have anywhere else to be on Saturdays. It’s been a shock to realise that going to the meeting is so engrained in my routine now, I couldn’t imagine not going.

*

Someone shared in a meeting yesterday about some borderline sexual harassment that they’ve been receiving at work, and it got me thinking. The share was powerful and moving, and quite unusual for an AA meeting. For a start, you don’t hear many people share so bravely and honestly on this subject, being something that isn’t entirely related to alcohol. I wish it would get shared about more often. As we know from the ‘Me Too’ campaign, sexual harassment and abuse is a widespread scourge on humanity, affecting nearly everyone at some point it seems. I wish I could talk about my own experience in meetings – but since the beginning I have been too afraid of the honesty, in case it would upset someone. The person who shared yesterday said afterwards they couldn’t believe they had said it out loud in a meeting; they had refrained from talking about it before because they were afraid of offending. How sad it is that we can feel that way, in what is meant to be a safe space, but I feel that it is all too common in AA.

What I’d really like to say to the world is that ‘Me Too’ covers men too. Of course we have heard stories from men as part of this movement, but I wouldn’t say it is enough by any stretch of the imagination. My lived experience of it is that abuse and harassment are rife in the gay world. Everyone who goes to an LGBT AA meeting will know this, but we don’t talk about it. What I am beginning to understand, and this is important, is that what I thought was ‘normal’ for a sexually active gay man was actually abuse. To an extent I have been abused by nearly every man I’ve slept with. It’s only hearing all of these stories coming out of social media from brave women that I’ve recognised the huge scope of what can be classed as abuse. It doesn’t just involve forced penetration (though I have experienced that in my drinking days) – it’s the hand where you don’t want it, it’s the unsubtle attempts to persuade you to get undressed, it’s the constant questions about sexual preference. In short, it’s all the assumptions that powerful men make about what you will do with them. And a powerful man isn’t just someone who has a top job and lots of money; it’s any man who feels they can get away with making those assumptions.

*

Until last week I was getting quite heavily into my creative writing again. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this, but prior to the new year when I was on holiday and I had some time, I decided to pick up with the novel that I started last year. I figured that being on holiday would be a good opportunity to make some progress, and I was right. I managed to write about 15,000 words in two weeks, and restore my faith in the story that I’m writing. Over the weekend I had built up such momentum with it that I experienced one of those rare episodes of creative ‘flow’, the kind of thing where I can’t stop writing. It happens incredibly infrequently to me – maybe once every few years? – and I got so far with my story that I could say to myself: ‘yes, one day I will finish this.’ Unfortunately, with my therapy training taking over my life again this week the momentum has gone and I don’t know when I will go back to it. But that’s ok, I’m used to this process. I will return when I next have some free time and I will pick it up again.

The thing that makes it much easier is not obsessing over whether it’s any good or not. It’s such a cliche, but it’s so true that worrying about whether anyone will like it is the worst thing to do when you’re trying to write. I have to accept that it may never be liked by anyone; it’s the only way I can continue. I can appreciate where work needs to be done on it, I have a certain style that I feel I want to follow, but it has to be true to me, and not what someone else might want.

Because I was having one of those moments where I couldn’t stop at the weekend, and because I knew it was so precious to experience, I was rather glad when M cancelled on me on Sunday morning. We had been due to meet for brunch, but he texted me first thing to say he wasn’t feeling well and could we postpone. The good thing is that I would have gone if he hadn’t cancelled – I wouldn’t use writing as an excuse to avoid my social life now – but I must admit that my immediate reaction to his text was ‘oh thank God’. I’m not sure if or when we’ll meet again. Sadly I think it’s still at that undecided stage where we could go our separate ways and not be missed too much. I’d be happy to meet again, and I might even suggest it, but with things getting so incredibly busy now with the training, I need to make some priorities.

*

The clinical placement was still driving me mad at the beginning of the week. I had seen on their online diary system that I had a client to start on the 28th, but there were no details and I had to wait for the reception to email me with these. Monday and Tuesday were spent biting my nails as I watched my email inbox constantly. It’s a wonder I didn’t get ill. On Wednesday I was pleased when they finally got in touch with me; I was a little shocked when they sent me details for two clients, as I will have two starting on the 28th now, and not just one. While I was still waiting to hear it felt like an interminable wait, but actually looking back it has all happened extraordinarily quickly. From not having a placement a few weeks ago I now have two clients. It’s strange.

My qualm with it all is how disorganised it’s felt. They have been quite frank with us about the fact that there have been lots of staff changes at the centre, and they’re taking on a lot of students so that they can get through their client waiting list. There’s no mystery about why it’s felt so chaotic and why they can feel unreachable at times. I would naturally feel more assured if they responded to emails quickly and if I didn’t keep thinking of questions that may or may not get answered. But while all this is going on I think we’re all learning that placement work (and therapy work in general) is never perfect, there are always trade offs and compromises to be made.

It’s depressing to think about how much everything is going to cost in the next few years. As well as the training, I have to pay for my own therapy and supervision. Which would be fine if I wasn’t on the lowest of low wages, but things were already tight, and now they’re about to get much tighter as I go into supervision. All therapists, including trainees, need their work to be supervised. Some placements offer supervision in-house for free, others don’t. My placement has a half and half solution: half of what I need will be provided free of charge, the other half I will have to source and pay for myself.

Considering that qualifying as a therapist doesn’t guarantee you therapy work, it can all seem quite a slog for not much reward. At college today we had a session on professional issues and it was acknowledged that it can take several years to build up enough experience and reputation to get to the point where you’re employable as a therapist. Most of that experience comes from voluntary client work. It’s a long journey.

I didn’t let that get me down too much as it’s always nice to be in college, and today was particularly nice. I had a great practise session with my partner V, to whom I talked about some of my past trauma and the journey I’m on to finding compassion for the inner child. Every week it seems to get more honest and intimate; today I thought I would cry for the first time, but luckily I didn’t. At the end of the practice we hit on something quite profound: isn’t it wonderful and beautiful that as an adult, we get a second chance to provide the child that lives in us with the compassionate parenting they never got? That when you grow up that isn’t the end of the story; you don’t just stay damaged forever without a chance to put things right. I think it’s wonderful.

The grey areas

When I was feeling normal again on Thursday I messaged M, to ask him of his intentions regarding a relationship, because I wanted to know and it seemed like a reasonable time to do it. I wouldn’t say I waited for his reply with baited breath, but a part of me was certainly hopeful, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked. He responded pretty quickly, saying that he didn’t see this going anywhere romantic, but he likes my company and would be happy to continue in a friendship capacity. Obviously there was the initial disappointed reaction to get through, but because I had taken the initiative I had to be prepared for this response, and I was content with the situation within half an hour. A new friendship would not be a bad thing at all; sure, a boyfriend would be even better, but as an adult I can see that it wasn’t my time.

Now, none of that could possibly have happened the day before!

Because it’s been a relatively normal week mood wise, I’m not raging at the moment, like I was this time last week whenever I had to think about my training and the clinical placement I’ve been accepted onto. But the uncertainty remains and I don’t like it at all. I wish they would tell me who my first client is; I wish they didn’t feel so remote and unavailable! The importance of this placement going well can’t be overstated, and unfortunately it feels like the place I’ve got cannot supervise the welfare of all its trainee counsellors. Due to a mistake that they made in December, they’ve taken too many of us on at once, which makes it impossible to have a personal connection with any of them. With my start date supposedly in just over two weeks and no clients to see, I could have been forgotten about. Well, it’s possible!

I was back at college today after the long break, and many of us are starting to stress out about this part of the course now. Those who don’t have a placement yet are worried about finding one; those who do have one are worried about their clients and how it’s going to be managed. Despite that, it was really nice to be back. We genuinely gel as a group, and we can be deeply honest with each other whereas just a few months ago we were still at the stage of niceties. In the PD session at the end of the day, someone started talking about their relationship with their mother, which encouraged someone to talk about their difficulties with their husband. After which another person immediately broke down and admitted that they don’t know if the person they’re about to marry is the person they want to spend the rest of their life with. God, I thought, that’s a brave thing to say. But it’s true, and why shouldn’t it be said?

It does make you realise that it’s not all a bed of roses for people who are in long term, loving relationships. She said quite vehemently that she does love him and she knows she wants to marry him – but whenever she thinks about the rest of her life, she just can’t deal with it. She mentioned having seen a friend post on facebook how happy they were on their wedding day – ‘I’ve found the man of my dreams’ – and it naturally got her thinking. I suppose there’s a lesson there in comparing our private feelings to people’s public facebook posts. The reality for her, and for all of us, is that the perfect person doesn’t exist. When you share your life with someone, there will always be things that get to you, things that niggle at you in the night because they’re not perfect.

I would have liked to play more of a part in the discussion than I did, but I felt a bit of a fraud sitting there considering I’ve never been in a long term relationship and don’t know if I ever will. I didn’t say this to the group – I kept that to myself, although I had been willing to be perfectly honest about other things. Sometimes I do wonder if I’m not in a relationship because I’m too much of a perfectionist, expecting far too much from other human beings. In fact I know that’s probably true to an extent. It must be hard for someone who’s about to get married to suddenly question whether they’re really doing the right thing, but I couldn’t help secretly thinking: ‘well at least you’re with someone’ (I didn’t say that either).

On the positive side, I think the approach I’ve taken to dating recently has been the correct one, and hopefully it will lead to something good at some point. I need to learn to balance my needs against the urge to seek perfection.

My Tuesday meeting went well again this week. I inhabit the role of secretary more and more easily as the weeks go on. Perhaps it helps that the person I was feeling awkward about last year is no longer so awkward to be around. I’ve made small but steady efforts with him in recent weeks, after he made a small effort with me before Christmas, and it seems to be paying off. We won’t be the world’s closest friends, but we can be nice to each other, and I don’t have to feel judged every time I sit in front of him at the secretary’s table. Which has led me to push back my resignation date from the meeting; I now think I can cope with doing it until the end of February. When February comes I will evaluate my feelings on the matter again. The commitment is only supposed to go until the end of May, but I still find it very stressful to imagine carrying on with it that long, so February is my reasonable compromise for the moment.

I’ve come to some private compromise with the Saturday meeting as well: I can go each week, sit at the back, talk to a few people and leave afterwards knowing there are other meetings where fellowship is easier to come by. When my tea commitment finished there a few weeks ago I initially thought I would stop going, but I’ve kept going back for the simple reason that I don’t have anywhere else to go on Saturday evenings. When it came to a choice between going to a meeting that was familiar and finding a new one where I wouldn’t know anyone, it was easier just to go to the Soho meeting. Since it moved from its old home the lack of fellowship at the end has been a big sore point for me, along with the uncomfortable aspects of the new location, but the last couple of weeks I’ve found a way of coping with those things, knowing that it’s better to be there than not be there. Although it’s still a busy area, Soho and Central London as a whole are much more bearable to be in when it’s not Christmas. December was such a difficult month, thank God the holiday period is over. The aggression in the crowds, the mad dashing into shops to find bargain presents, has all dissipated now that it’s 2018.

My grieving process over the old place is far from complete, but I have to accept that a room can’t keep me sober; nor can a building, or an area. When a meeting moves of course it changes, but even when it doesn’t move it still changes. The group that goes to the meeting now won’t be the same in ten years’ time. The people I saw in meetings ten years ago have nearly all moved away or gone back out. It’s one of the hardest things to accept about AA, when secretly I have always yearned for something permanent in my life. There’s the odd face that you always see around, the one that’s always been there and will undoubtedly always be there, but those aren’t the people I tend to get involved with and cling to. My closest friends in AA have been the ones that didn’t stick around. And I’m sure that will continue to be the case, because we can’t predict where any of us will be in five, ten years’ time, who will stay sober and who won’t. That’s the impermanence of life: one of those things I refer to as part of the ‘grey areas’ because it isn’t good or bad, it just is.

Just for today

I was ok on my date with M, and I was even better when I led the meeting yesterday. My new year sadness looked like it was passing, and I could resume a normal, uncomplicated life. M and I definitely get along. We have lots in common, in fact we seem to agree on so many things that it’s hard to believe we’d ever argue, should we become further involved. It would be nice to become further involved. I find him attractive in lots of conventional ways, and I detect attraction on his part too, in the odd meaningful compliment or look that he passes my way. We ended our second coffee date on the same note as the first, agreeing in theory to more dates but no closer to acknowledging where this might lead. Like the first time, we said goodbye with a friendly hug. No kissing, no words about what we want from each other, no indication that this will be more than a close friendship. And that’s fine, because as I said, we get along and have much in common, and I’d get a lot from another friendship like that. But something in me thinks that this should be developing into something more, because of how we met and how excited I initially was by his attractiveness. I feel that at a certain point one of us should say something and address the attraction, otherwise it will wither, unacknowledged and unattended. Which would seem a shame if there really is something there.

My trouble is, has always been, that I don’t know the rules of this game. When I ask what is the appropriate time to introduce a physical element to a developing relationship, no one can tell me. I know when it is not the appropriate time – nearly twenty years of gay experience has shown that I will never gain anything from taking my clothes off the first time I’ve met someone. Most recently with T, I learned once again that an authentic bond can’t be built on instant sex (maybe it should be called Instasex.)

After saying goodbye on Monday I was committed to telling M I fancied him via whatsapp. I’d leave it a day or two, and then I’d go in for the kill, since we had been on two dates and it seemed like there was something real there. I haven’t texted him yet, and I’m not so committed any more. I think I’m falling into the trap of waiting for him to message me. I was the one who suggested the second date and decided where we’d go, by the rules of the game now it’s his turn to take the lead. Reality reminds me that playing such games hasn’t always worked in my favour. He may have a busier life than me, and him not sending a message for a few days doesn’t necessarily mean what I think it means. Yet, after just a couple of days, I can already see my resolve slipping and my will to be reasonable fading. I’m having a bad day, and so I’m finding it harder to see the point in trying.

Yesterday, when I was having a good day, I performed well on my return to work and I sailed through my commitment at the meeting. A turning point there must have been reached. With less than six months to go of the commitment it doesn’t appear to weigh on me so much now. It’s slightly easier than it was before to source chairs, sit at the front of the meeting, read the script and not be distracted by ideas of who might be judging me. It felt less of a sentence this week and more like a noble act, the reason why I originally volunteered for it.

I don’t think I had a particularly bad night, but I woke today feeling tired and angry. My main worry at the moment is this placement. Although I left the induction last week relatively satisfied that it was real and that I’d be seeing clients within a month, my satisfaction levels with it are depleting again. I haven’t heard anything from them since last week, I don’t have any client referrals and it’s not clear when I will have any. They asked us to send them a short description of ourselves which they would put on the website: this would allegedly be the key to getting referrals, as it would help the reception to know who we are. I sent in my profile before last week’s induction and have had no indication that it was received, nor has it been posted on the website yet. Without it being there I know I’m not going to get any referrals. I’m itching to chase them up about it, but I know it would be pointless because my main contact in the organisation only works two days a week, which undoubtedly means she has a mountain of work to sift through whenever she’s there, and she’ll just advise me to be patient. I can’t be patient because seeing clients is one of the few bright spots on the horizon for me at the moment.

It’s the key to my future: once I start seeing clients that’s it, I’m a counsellor, I can proceed with my course and pass next year, and then move into private work. Without clients it’s all for nothing. I’m furious that I’ve been reduced to this state once again. This horrible, torturous state of waiting for someone else to do something crucial that allows me to proceed to the next stage of my life. Three years ago I was waiting for RG to hurry up and get sold to an investor so that I could take my shares and run. A year and a half ago I was waiting for HR at the bank to acknowledge my resignation so that I could leave the private sector with my head held high. Last year, I was waiting to be accepted onto my diploma course. All of this waiting I have to do all the time, I’m not sure how it hasn’t driven me mad. Sometimes my whole entire life seems to be spent waiting. There’s always something in the future, something important that has to go successfully for me to feel all right about myself. Until it’s passed I can’t relax. I guess it’s been like this since I was a teenager, when I was waiting to leave school. Ever since then I have been fundamentally obsessed with the future, and all the important things in it, to such an extent that half the time I’m not really living, I’m just sitting, waiting.

And the most unjust thing is that I can’t stop doing it. The things I spend my time obsessing about are usually quite important, without which I can’t move on and achieve my goals. I want a career as a therapist; more than anything, I want to move out of this hole and get back to my independence. If the placement doesn’t start passing clients my way soon then I will fail the course, I’ll have wasted half my savings and the past two years of my life, and I’ll never get what I really want. I recognise that thinking this way isn’t entirely helpful, but how do you stop thinking it when you literally have nothing else to think about?

Mum’s not well again. I came home from a long walk just now (which I’d gone on to try and cheer myself up) and found her lying in bed, in the dark, with a headache. According to her that’s all it is, a headache, but on appearances alone you’d think she’s at death’s door. It’s always been this way, of course. Whenever she’s unwell (which thankfully is not so often these days) it’s death’s door and nothing less. She’ll say she’s ok and doesn’t need anything from me, in a weak, unconvincing voice that’s meant to get my sympathy. Usually she’ll recover after a few hours or a day and everything will return to normal, but the whole experience will always leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Granted, she has a hard job, and I guess it’s a wonder she doesn’t get ill more often. It’s not the illness as such that bothers me, it’s the sympathy act that she always puts on. I understand why she does it, more than she understands it I’m sure. Anyone else with a headache would just take a paracetamol and sit down for an hour, but here it’s always lie in bed for the whole evening in deathly silence. I’m completely torn between feeling sorry for her and loathing her. Which is nothing new. I’ve felt the same way since I was a child. As an adult now I can cope with these episodes, I can just help in any way that I’m asked, sit out the rest of it and let her get on with it. As a child I didn’t have those coping strategies. Imagine being five years old and the person that you rely on for everything suddenly goes to bed, says they have a headache and acts like they’re about to die. What are you supposed to do? That she kept doing that to me as a child makes me angry, and I’m only reminded of it on days like today when I least need it.

“I don’t want to message M any more. What’s the point? I’d be a useless boyfriend. I have nothing to offer him. I live in a council flat with my mum, I have no money, and I can’t give anything of myself away because the deeper you go with me the more disappointing I am. If he messages me at some point this week, I’ll reply, but otherwise, I think I’ll leave it. Better off that way. I’m sick of my life. Sick of me. Part of me is actually hoping the universe will come through and send me a message from M, so that I can dispense with the responsibility and say ‘oh, look, I was wrong.’ Of course that will never fucking happen.”

The last paragraph is the angry child speaking. Right now I’m trying very hard to go back to being the reasonable adult. I guess it’s marginally easier just to let myself regress for a while, before I come back to the present and realise that I don’t have the same problems that I did thirty years ago, and everything is really ok. Tomorrow will always be different. This is life: good and bad. I’ll never stop having these bad days but equally there will always be good days in between. Just for today, I can stop seeing the future as one long continuation of the past.

Forward

The worst thing would be if anyone noticed that I was struggling last night. I would hate that. I can’t take the thought of other people judging my behaviour, thinking I didn’t want to be there and that I failed somehow. This is what makes it so much harder; it’s not just the not wanting to be there, it’s always about other people’s opinions as well. If it had just been a few trusted friends in a room I’m sure it would have been fine. With dozens of people to potentially witness my personal hell it was a million times worse.

My head continues to clear today and it’s easier to see what triggered the problems. I have to be more aware of my triggers these days, they are the key to everything. I forced myself to stay in a difficult situation, I decided that others were judging me and I couldn’t reach out to anyone. The nightmares of the past came back to haunt me; I completely regressed to a child state, nothing less. Today I’ve been thinking about cutting back my AA meetings to recover, not doing any more fellowship, deleting facebook and pretending to the world that nothing happened. These are the thoughts of the child, still powerful and still quite convincing.

Entering the new year, I’d like to think I can back away from the demons of the past and follow the adult’s logic more quickly in these situations. As I said last night, there is a middle ground with everything. Objectively I haven’t offended anyone and it doesn’t matter that I wasn’t in anyone’s facebook photos. This is why facebook is so dangerous, because it presents people as they wish to be, not how they are, yet you can take it on face value and think that everyone is having a wonderful time, all the time. I’ve come to realise it gets in the way of true communication, it doesn’t help.

I need to move on from last night and focus on today. I’m sad that I ended up having such a terrible time, that I believed I couldn’t possibly tell the truth when that person at the end asked me if I was all right. But I need to look forward. The adult is trying to persuade the child now, to compassionately bring him out of a hole. That’s the change that has taken place in me: the ability to get to that stage quicker, to see what’s going on more swiftly and take the difficult path forward.

The world had a pretty bad 2017, but ironically I could say I had quite a good one. I enjoyed some great holidays and I progressed comfortably through the stages of my counselling training, bonding with numerous people during the course and finding new ways of looking at myself. I did some good work in therapy and I came to a good arrangement with my job.

For 2018 I hope I can carry on the same path. If all goes to plan I will start seeing clients at the end of the month; I hope I help some of them. I look forward to more nice (affordable) holidays. And I hope I keep to the AA path, as I have done for the past two years, through thick and thin. I want to keep meeting sober people, I want to get better at sharing (not beating myself up all the time for not doing it perfectly), and I want to find some peace with the whole fellowship problem. Oh, and ideally I will get back to healthy eating and exercising. December was a terrible month as far as that’s concerned.

Later today I’m meeting that guy, M, for our second coffee date. He still seems keen, which is nice. My child head wants to run off into the future with this; I simply must stay in the present and only think about how today can go well. I can be present and myself, and that can be enough. I wish I was feeling a bit chirpier than I am, and that I didn’t stay up so late last night mulling it all over. Not much I can do about that right now, I suppose.

(Un)happy new year

Since this is an honest journal, I need to admit that I am not starting the new year on a happy note. I went to a new year’s eve party, and I wish I hadn’t. It’s the same party that I went to last year – the big AA bash in the east end that I really enjoyed this time last year. As I was travelling there, I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it just because it was good last year, I just hoped I’d enjoy the company of friends and stay in the present. I was nervous about going, as I always am about parties, because I wasn’t going with people this time. I knew several people from the LGBT rooms who said they would be there, so I went hoping and praying they’d be there when I got there. Last year we all went together after the Saturday night meeting; this year, being a Sunday, there was no later meeting to gather at. We’d all have to make our separate ways there. For most people this was evidently fine. For me, I think it’s where things began to go wrong.

Mistake number 1: I showed up too early. I was sitting at home, it was getting on for 9pm, I didn’t want to sit at home any more so I left and made my way to the place. When I got there I found just one person who I knew. No one else would show up for over an hour, which was disappointing. The person I found, J, is a nice person, who very kindly invited me to sit at her table with a friend I didn’t know and her quiet son. I get on with J, and for the first hour we managed to have quite a good chat.

Mistake number 2: I ran out of steam after an hour and stopped making the effort. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. When other people that we knew started showing up, J invited them to join us as well, which would have been ok, but the table was too small to accommodate all the people suddenly arriving, and with me not being assertive, I lost my place near the middle of things and ended up being squeezed out to the far edges of the group that had gathered. Before I got to the edge I tried to have a conversation with M, someone I’ve known in the rooms for a while and who I’ve spoken to before, but who I have a bit of a funny history with. Whether he thinks we have a funny history or not, I’ll never know. I certainly think we do. That history is entirely down to how difficult I find him to talk to. He seems like a nice person, he has a lot of sobriety, and on appearances alone we should be able to communicate with each other very well. I don’t know why, but for some strange reason, we can’t have a normal conversation with each other. After ten minutes of trying we both sort of just gave up and began staring into space. When someone else showed up near us and politely asked M how long he’d been at the party, he gave a weary sigh and said: ‘three years’.

Now I don’t know if that was aimed at me – it probably wasn’t, it was probably just a joke aimed at no one and nothing in particular – but of course sensitive old me was going to take it personally. Taken seriously, the comment would indicate that the party had so far been quite boring for M; my feeble attempts to engage him with conversation obviously weren’t enough to stem the boredom. At that point I wanted to give up on the whole party and go home. I allowed myself to be pushed the rest of the way out of the group and to a corner, my natural home, where I spent the next two hours staring at the floor and intermittently saying hello to people.

Mistake number 3: I didn’t go home straight away. I wanted to go home at 10pm, and earlier when I had been making my way to the event, I’d promised myself I would if it all got too much or if I wasn’t having a good time. As an alcoholic trying to stay sober, I have every right to leave things when I’m not enjoying them, because I’m meant to be taking care of myself nowadays. No one would have seriously minded if I’d gone home two hours prior to midnight – M certainly wouldn’t have. But I just couldn’t face having to say goodbye to everyone at that point, and the inevitable questions about why I was leaving early. They would have been questions that came from friendly concern no doubt. Since I didn’t have the energy to get up at that point, I stayed where I was for the next two hours.

I wish I’d gone home. I wish I hadn’t gone to the party. I could have just stayed indoors, in the warm, watched the fireworks on TV and gone to bed. I’ve said this so many times at new year, and do I ever do it? This time next year, I have to be better to myself and stay at home. I can’t do the social new year thing any more. Between 10 o’clock and midnight, I kept asking myself why I was there, what the fuck was I doing, this is my worst nightmare. That’s the definition of torture. Whenever I had to go to the toilet I’d have to stop myself from bursting into tears the minute I got to a cubicle. That isn’t fun. One sarcastic comment from a fellow alcoholic, whether it was intentional or not, shouldn’t ruin an entire evening, but this is my disease. This is who I am, who I have always been, who I will always be.

When I was sitting on the outskirts of the group I had a lot of time to observe the people around me and wonder, not for the first time, how it could come so easily to them and not to me. Looking at most of them you wouldn’t think they were alcoholics with a mental illness. I didn’t try to stop myself from getting angry with them all. How fucking dare they stand there and have fun in front of me? Who do they think they are?

When midnight finally rolled around I stood up, joined hands with my neighbours and sang auld lang syne. After that I hugged about ten people, wished them a happy new year with a false smile of my face, then I got my coat and fucked off. I was ready to leave – had been for two hours. In that two hours I could have tried to cheer up, could have found someone to talk to, could have gone and danced, could have left at any point and stop the self torture. Instead I did what I have always done: froze myself to the spot, tried to act like I didn’t exist so that I wouldn’t offend anyone. I left believing that I must have offended so many people. Surely some of them must have noticed my sour expression, and now they’re probably at home thinking, what a miserable arse. Who does he think he is?

Before I could leave someone I didn’t know actually stopped me and asked if I was all right. When I tried to lie and say I’d had a good time, they said ‘are you sure?’ So others must have noticed it too. You sure can’t hide in AA. Which made me even angrier. I could have done with someone reaching out to me two hours earlier, to be honest.

Reality check: that’s the thing. It’s no one’s job to save me. Realistically, it is up to me to make these things a success for myself. Realistically, no one was studying my behaviour tonight, and no one went home offended by it. Fact: I’m not that important.

I don’t know how I didn’t cry on the tube home. My thoughts kept swinging between the worst kind of self flagellation and hatred of others. My phone battery was nearly dead, so I was determined to get home quickly so I could put it on charger, get on facebook and unfriend M. That’ll show him. In a worse mood I could have unfriended everyone, decided I was never coming back to AA. That’ll show all of them. It would have been so simple to buy alcohol in a shop somewhere and really go to town on this anger. Isn’t new year’s eve when most relapses happen? Oh it would have been just perfect.

A small voice in my head reminded me that going on facebook in this state would be disastrous for my self esteem. It is the very thing I shouldn’t be doing at this point. All I’d see are photos of other people’s great evenings. I might see photos from the party I’d just left, of the group I’d supposedly been with having an amazing time without me. Seeing it would probably make me want to slit my wrists. I tried to bat that voice away, I didn’t want to be reasonable, I just wanted to be petulant and go on facebook and feel even worse for a while. When I got home and opened it up and prepared to unlink from M, before looking at my newsfeed and embarking on a night of self torture, I heard one word: petty. How very petty it would have been to do all that. The heart went out of my petty pity party at that point. I couldn’t unlink from M, and I couldn’t scroll through my news feed. I had to close facebook and start having a serious think instead.

My assumption all night was that everyone else was having a fab time and it was only me feeling unhappy. At home, with a slightly clearer head, I remember that I don’t know what’s going on in other people’s heads, and appearances can be deceptive. There’s every chance I wasn’t the only person who didn’t enjoy the party. Given how many people were there, it seems likely I wasn’t. Early on I saw someone I vaguely recognised standing near the bar, on their own. I think I must have seen them at a few of the LGBT meetings recently. I didn’t know them, hadn’t spoken to them before, and my natural instinct was to leave them be. Now I am haunted by the idea that I could have gone over to them, invited them to the table and had myself someone to chat to. For a minute after I’d noticed them, I did actually think I might do it, but within five minutes they were gone, not to be seen again. Stupid, stupid me for not taking the action.

Now that I have a clearer head I can remember that I have been to far, far worse parties in the past. It certainly wasn’t a great party, but perhaps it wasn’t such a disaster either. For months haven’t I been trying to listen less to my head and more to the external evidence? It’s annoying having to do that all the time, when all my head wants to do is throw a tantrum and jump to the easy conclusions. At these times I feel trapped in AA, trapped by its logic, unable to ignore what it keeps telling me. I hate having to remind myself that I have a responsibility in these situations, a responsibility to make an effort when I’m there and not see it as a complete disaster when it doesn’t go perfectly. I hate the middle ground I always have to end up taking, between the self blame and the burning resentment of others. I hate that it is my job to be compassionate to myself and forgive others. To realise that life genuinely isn’t all that bad.

It is painful to admit that all of this is the reason why I will probably need AA forever. I certainly have a disease, and I can’t be on my own with it. When I was close to tears on the tube, thinking about how soothing a pint of beer would be, I might as well have been a day sober again. This disease has never left me, has as much power over me as it ever did. I felt exactly the same way about people when I was drinking, and that’s exactly why I drank. Today I don’t have the luxury of drinking any more, so I need to stick with AA, with sober people, the very ones that I am so mad at. I’m stuck with them. And that is the dilemma I will face for the rest of my life: how to be around them, how to reach out to them, when at every turn I want to isolate and protect myself from them. How does anyone do it? What the hell does it take?

Uncertain steps

Even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t be therapist to my sponsor’s friend last week. When he was describing his family problems to us in the restaurant, he jokingly said to me a few times ‘here’s an interesting case study for you!’ Later I had to say that I couldn’t counsel him because I’m not qualified yet and it would be unethical, because I could tell he wanted counselling. In fact I think he desperately needed it. As well as not being qualified yet, what I didn’t say is that I don’t feel anywhere near ready to help someone facing such a crisis. This even though I have claimed to be ready, and am about to start my placement with real clients. It makes me wonder what needs to happen for me to actually feel ready. Is it a pressing priority for me to sort out my remaining psychological issues in the next month – or am I over thinking this like everything else and assuming that one can ever have everything sorted?

*

I’m always glad when Christmas day arrives because it means that it’s nearly over. This year was a good one. I managed to book myself an uber for the first time ever and get down to west London for the morning meetings. The place was packed with people and festive cheer, I saw quite a few faces that I knew, and it made all the difference to the day. I’m hopeful it can again become an annual tradition for me to go there, like it was for the first few years of recovery.

I talked to most but not all of the people that I recognised that morning. As I was leaving at lunch time I saw someone come in who I used to know quite well, but who I’ve not seen a lot of in recent years. This was one of the regulars at one of the meetings that I abandoned four years ago, at the beginning of my ‘dry drunk’ phase in recovery. When I’ve seen him more recently he’s been nice to me, and I thought it would be nice to go up to him on Christmas day and wish him a merry Christmas. Only the minute I started walking towards him, he turned away to be distracted by someone else, and I missed my chance.

Yes I could have pursued him and interrupted him mid conversation to do what I had set out to do. He probably wouldn’t have minded, and it would have been a nice way to end the morning. But when I find someone mid conversation, especially someone I don’t know well, I can never bring myself to interrupt them, even if it means I have to abandon speaking to them altogether. I left the meeting feeling quite disappointed with myself, despite all the things that had gone well that morning. It is indicative of one of the wider problems in my life these days, those that are making me question whether I’m ready to be a therapist to others who have similar problems. This happens to me so often: if I recognise someone in the street or at a meeting, unless they come over to me I will very seldom go over to them. Just walking over to that guy on Monday with the intention of speaking to him was hard enough, when I knew he wasn’t expecting it. It has led to indescribable awkwardness and embarrassment on my part over the years. It’s long since stopped being a trivial thing and has turned into something quite painful.

I cheered myself up by walking home that afternoon. It would take two hours and it would take me across London, but I couldn’t think of a nicer thing to do on a dry, relatively mild Christmas day. On the one day of the year when streets in the centre of town were likely to be empty, I decided to cut through Soho and Oxford Street, places that just the day before would have been a nightmare to venture through. I wasn’t wholly surprised when I got there to find that they weren’t quite empty and everything wasn’t quite closed. Each year more and more little coffee houses and restaurants decide to open for the tourists, which is understandable, and so in the vicinity of Regent Street and Oxford Street you could almost have called it a normal day.

Once I’d got home, as ever there was the tradition of watching a few hours of TV with mum to face. This year the choice of films and programmes to watch was particularly thin, and we ended up spending plenty of time looking for interesting things on Netflix. I would have preferred to be elsewhere doing my own thing, but I do this for mum every year because it makes her happy, and I have nothing against that.

On Boxing Day things returned to some semblance of normality, as they always do, but I was a bit miffed to discover a lot of places in town were still closed. So I couldn’t do what I would’ve liked to do, which was enjoy tea and a book in a cafe for a few hours before the meeting in the evening. Mum had given me some money for Christmas and I had bought some clothes in town at 4pm, which left me with over three hours to kill there. I found one place that was shutting at 6; after that I had to walk several times round the block in the rain until I could go to the meeting.

Again, I would have loved to be somewhere else that evening, but duty called and I had to take the meeting. Only ten of us turned up in the end, so it was a nice small meeting for a change and we could close it early. I could feel pleased with myself for bringing it all together, arranging the chair and various service commitments that needed to be filled with everyone on holiday.

*

Yesterday it was all still a bit too festive for my liking as I went to the induction afternoon at the counselling centre in south London. Though it was a Wednesday it felt like a Sunday, and most of us still appeared to have our Christmas heads on, not really sure why we were there. I was hoping for all of my many questions about the placement to be answered during the session. The placement manager sat down on time and swiftly took us through the lengthy practice handbook, which explained a lot of things, but not quite everything. When she had finished nearly everyone’s hands shot up to ask questions, and the afternoon descended into semi-chaos. Not being one of those people who is endowed with the skill of getting my voice heard in a large group situation, I couldn’t get any of my questions answered. Which led to disappointment and disillusionment later on, as I thought about how I could have just tried a bit harder.

My classmates from college were there and they seemed happy with how it had gone, while I dreaded having to send them yet more emails with yet more questions that probably wouldn’t get answered for weeks. My main question concerned how I was going to get clients referred to me. This hadn’t been covered at all in the induction, and I found the handbook quite vague on it. I had lots of other questions like: how am I going to get into the place on Sunday mornings when reception is closed; can I still see clients in January even though the official training weekend isn’t until February; how do I log into their internal system. I would have to sit down at home and put it all in one big email. If they don’t reply until the new year and I have to wait anxiously in that time, so be it.

As it turned out, they were quick to reply for once, and my mind is more assured now. It will be up to the receptionist as the first port of call for potential clients to pass referrals to me. So now I just wait until I hear from them. My first ‘slot’ is on the last Sunday in January, when the room is booked for me. I’m there every Sunday from that point on. Reception will be filling those slots for me, and I will be taking whatever I get. With hundreds of other volunteers to choose from I have no idea if I will be bombarded with referrals, or if it will be a slow start. I haven’t seen fit to go back with another email to ask, because I sort of don’t want to know the answer just yet. What I know is that when I have a client there will be a mountain of forms and paperwork to fill out. Assessment forms, contracts, payment forms, mood questionnaires. This isn’t like private therapy, where the only thing I’ve ever had to sign is a contract. It’s much more aligned with NHS therapy, where they love their forms. Everything is checked and measured, nothing is hidden.

I won’t lie, I still have many concerns, but I know it will all sort itself out and become clear in time. Everyone who was at the induction yesterday will surely have the same concerns as me. It’s going to be a big transition for me – not just because I’ll be seeing clients on Sundays and in supervision every other Friday, but also it will be a totally different working environment from what I’m used to. I will be responsible for people’s wellbeing in a far more real way than I’ve ever been before. I will have to be professional and strong. I will have to find a way of managing the personal issues that I was worried about earlier.

Granted, every human being on the planet has their own internal battle to face. No one is exempt from it just because they’re a therapist. There is a very good reason why I’m required to have my own personal therapy as I travel on this journey. When I have a client who is experiencing similar problems to me, problems such as:

  • not being able to say hello to someone in the street unless they make the approach
  • fixating on unobtainable men
  • having a mother who still sees you as a child
  • having a past that sometimes invades the present and makes life unbearable

I know I will take that to my supervisor and my therapist, and I will be fully supported as I continue to work on it with the client. Fortunately, I am more aware of the problems and some of the solutions than I’ve ever been, I know what I have to do in most cases. And equally I know that there will never come a point where it’s all fixed. I only wish that I were a lot closer to sorted than I am!