Too far?

Sleep deprivation can lead to a frosty countenance. I’ve been going through one of those phases this week, those inexplicable phases where I can’t get a single night of solid unbroken sleep, and I haven’t been feeling the love towards my fellow man all that much. I had arranged to meet P last night to go for dinner and then see a show at the theatre. I don’t like to use the word ‘should’ when it comes to my feelings any more, but I think a night at the theatre should be something to look forward to. I thought I would feel good about about it because the play we were going to see had had good reviews, it starred some A list actors and, many years ago, I decided that going to the theatre was one of the gifts of sobriety. But I was having one of those phases where I was sleeping badly, I felt a tad frosty on the way out of the door and I had to force a smile throughout the evening. I wouldn’t say I was in a terrible mood, not at all; I was ok, really. Talking wasn’t a tremendous effort, I could sort of enjoy the play once it got going, and I didn’t experience the sort of crash on the way home that normally occurs when I’ve been in a really awful mood and I start to feel guilty about it. It was quite an average evening, with a little frostiness at the beginning. Only it should have been wonderful, I think.

P wanted to talk about his recent falling out with N, the falling out we’ve all been waiting for for years. Since I’ve not been on facebook for the past month, I didn’t notice that P had posted a right leaning political article which caused N to blow a fuse. There were several harsh words posted publicly as comments on the article, then there were some even harsher private messages. For about the past year I’ve been wondering when it would finally happen, when one of them would say or do something to make the other’s polite facade slip. They’ve hated each other for years, let’s face it, they’ve never agreed when it comes to politics and they’ve never been the kind of people who can just let that lie. So after sending several harsh messages to P, N found himself unfriended, to which he replied with a few dramatic text messages last week. P had had enough by this point and stopped engaging with him. It was getting a bit much.

“I may support the government but it doesn’t mean I’m a money grabbing capitalist! I have a social conscience too! I believe the NHS is worth saving!” P sputtered incandescently, seemingly confused by N’s vociferous anger. Now, at this point I could have stopped biting my lip and said a few things I’d been dying to say for the past eighteen months, things that concerned his undying support for the government. I could have really let rip, because despite all the work I’ve done in the past year to accept him for how he is, his voting habits have never stopped bugging me. I don’t want to ‘divorce’ him any more, because I don’t currently think it’s worth killing a friendship of twelve years over politics (I didn’t feel that way last year, believe me, especially around the time of the referendum!), but I haven’t miraculously found a way of liking his beliefs. I will probably always struggle to accept the incongruence between what he says and what he does in this matter – the fact that he claims to care about society whilst continuing to support the government that is destroying it.

I could have said all the things I was thinking and hurt his feelings quite badly, but I didn’t. I just couldn’t be bothered to cause a confrontation. For most of last year I desperately wanted to confront him, to make him stop and really think for a goddamn minute. I’ve never said anything because the right moment never seems to come, and I’ve been putting up with it for so long the urge to smash our friendship gets less urgent by the day. I become more resigned to putting up with it by the day, simply because it’s easier, and somewhere in me I must value such a long term friendship. Watching his friendship with N implode this week is uncomfortable considering just how close I came to doing the same thing last year. Yet despite how much closer I am to N in terms of my political views, I see that the way he’s done it is wrong. It seems he’s deliberately set out to upset P, and that doesn’t seem right to me. P isn’t a bad person, he’d never do that to a friend. I think, at the end of the day, if N wanted to have it out with P he could have been a bit more grown up (and private) about it.

Session 3

I love being in therapy. The nature of the conversations we have is sometimes unpleasant, and painful, and unceasingly dark, but still I come away from each session amazed at what we’ve covered. In three weeks I have managed to explain my life story to this person who I’ve never met before, and I’ve got him to understand what I’m saying. That must be down to his training, but it feels like a very positive thing quand même. Today’s discussion went deeper than the last; I guess next week it will go even deeper. I talked about the feeling of being trapped in a glass bubble, that strong sensation of being separate from everyone in the world that occurs when life is getting too much for me. I sort of already knew it was a feeling I first experienced at school, and when it happens to me now I’m regressing to that part of the past, I’m not really my adult self in those moments. I also sort of knew that I can draw myself there, and that I use the bubble for protection sometimes, it’s not just some external factor that traps me against my will. I had never said these things before, to anyone, and I’m discovering that saying something out loud is qualitatively different to writing it down. Until now the only place I was expressing these things was on my laptop.

We explored the link between the bubble and my inability to form romantic relationships, my constant use of porn and fantasy to shelter myself from my lonely reality. Through the discussion the therapist kept asking me how it felt to talk about it. I couldn’t just say what I was thinking, I needed to delve into my soul and name the feelings as well. My therapist seems acutely attuned to the two conflicting parts of my personality, the adult and the child. He knows that my adult side is the one doing all the rationalising and analysing, trying to find the logical answers to things, while my child side is the one still living in the 90’s, experiencing the constant powerful tug of emotions such as fear, anger and lust. The therapist seems keen to keep pushing me there, gently of course, to find out what the child thinks about things and how it sees the world. Normally I wouldn’t like to ask my inner child’s opinion on anything, because somewhere along the line I’ve learned that it can’t be rational about anything and therefore it can’t serve me any purpose. Today I’m starting to give the child some airtime because my therapist wants me to.

The fifty minutes zoomed past today, so that we had to end just as I was experiencing a surge of anger and felt myself close to tears. My child side is still angry about the trauma it suffered twenty years ago; furious that I was cast aside at school for being gay and left with no one to talk to, made to feel it was my fault. I thought about the paragraph in my autobiography where I imagine being at school, turning around to the bullies who are castigating my sexuality and saying “So? So what if I’m gay?” I would never have had the self belief to do such a thing at school, and I still wouldn’t.

I left the session with the conundrum of self belief on my mind. To get better, to be able to do the things that scare me in life (such as getting a boyfriend) I need some element of self belief in me – but where do I get it from? In AA we learn about higher powers, and letting go, and taking care of ourselves, and that’s all wonderful. Yet this doesn’t answer the question deep down in the core of me, the question of whether I’m really worth loving.

Lots more work to do.

Session 2

I had that dream the other night, the one where I’m told I have to go back to school, to complete some mysterious task that I failed to complete when I was a teenager. This recurring dream has come and gone over the years; in recent years it’s come up infrequently, possibly as I’ve worked on whatever issue was causing it. This week it was more lucid and powerful than it had been in years. I clearly remember a scene where I’m walking towards the school gates on a dreary weekday morning, trying to slow my steps so I can put off the inevitable. The image stuck with me when I woke, and I’m still thinking about it now. The fact that the dream can come back so strongly after all these years, at a time when I thought everything was going so well, is concerning because I always took the dream to be a sign of things going badly. The sense of doom in the dream always seems to say something about my life. Some repressed feeling or message is coming up, and evidently the fact that I have just started therapy again must have something to do with it.

I didn’t plan to talk about the dream in today’s therapy session. I went there fully intending to talk about my sexuality for an hour, since it appears to be my most pressing problem and I become increasingly desperate to resolve it by the day. We continued the discussion about shame around sex for the first ten minutes, then somehow it went into a discussion about my experience of school, as I linked the men I tend to be attracted to to the boys I attended school with. “They are all without exception straight, unavailable men; men who would probably hurt me if they knew how I felt about them. These crushes started at school, where the boys I fancied were the ones who would definitely hurt me if they knew.” Then I mentioned the return of the recurring dream about school, and we spent the rest of the session dissecting what happened to me there.

A powerful emotion built in my gut and burst out of my mouth halfway through the conversation. “I’m so fed up of being stuck at school! I want to move on! I want this to be over!” Although I have been aware for a very long time of how school traumatised me, I never really imagined “moving on” from it. For so long I’ve lived with it; at times maybe I’ve thought I could accept those demons in my life and carry on peacefully with them there. Until today I didn’t quite understand the anger I still have about it. My therapist therefore must be good at his job, as his gentle probing questions quickly got underneath the justifications and defences, unearthing a need to heal that I didn’t know was in me. Whenever I said something strong about my school experience he asked me to describe how it made me feel now. His technique is a classic therapeutic technique, I guess, requiring the client to focus on feelings and their underlining meanings. I’m quite impressed that we got to this stage in the second session. Sometimes it can take months or years for client and therapist to go into those areas. I suppose my already high levels of self awareness and my recent training helped a great deal.

After the session my analytical mind wanted to know what was going to happen next, how I was going to use this new insight and finally “move on”. I had to remember what the therapist seemed to be getting at in his closing statements: I can do myself a favour by staying in the present, with the feelings, not trying to use them or process them or get rid of them. There is a helpless and upset child inside me, one that suffered for lack of love, I need to simply be there for that child. The therapist really seems to believe in inner child work, so it looks like I have a lot of that to look forward to. And despite the upsetting nature of the conversation, I came away happy and relieved that I finally get to address these things with someone who is trained and solely focused on the work. Now I can look forward to next week’s session even more.

Doing my bit

It’s the birthday week of the founder of the charity that I work for, so to celebrate all staff have been out fundraising. We were asked to think of creative ways of making money; my manager came up with the idea of having a cake sale. Perhaps not the most original idea, but it seemed guaranteed to raise some funds. In the morning I helped her set up stall in the road outside the office. I wasn’t looking forward to the day – I’d have to stand there for at least an hour selling cakes, and I’ve never considered myself a salesman. It felt like one of those Apprentice episodes they always have at the beginning of the series, where the candidates’ selling skills are put to the test on this kind of challenge. A cold breeze blew past us, never letting up, and it seemed destined to be a slog.

The road was busy in the morning and my manager was very good at catching the attention of passers by. Knowing I ought to make some effort, I studied what she was doing and soon I was doing it myself. Nearly every other passer by seemed to have a hankering for cake. Some colleagues in the office had baked especially for the occasion, others (myself included) had just bought what they could find at the local supermarket, and we were well stocked for the day. Pretty soon slices of banana loaf and fruit cake were flying off the table, and we were doing a lot better than predicted.

Other teammates took over selling duties after lunch so I could go inside and resume my normal job. I was glad to be back in the warm, though as I watched the team spirit in full flow outside I kind of wanted to be back out there. At the end of the day when we cracked open the buckets we were delighted to learn that together we had made over £200. Result! Although I could be sure I had only contributed a small part of that, it felt good. It had been a good day all around. We had worked together and done something worthwhile. That money will go to what is unequivocally a good cause. It’s nothing to do with profit, it really means something. I had sort of enjoyed talking to people in the street, something you’d never normally find me doing; and it had been nice to feel part of a real team all day. None of the cold atmosphere that was there before I went to America was there yesterday. Apparently that’s in the past, since P got over whatever was bothering her.

*

The home group was nice to go to last night, after such a nice day. It’s always nice to go to, but particularly so yesterday. I guess I’ve been back ‘in’ AA for eighteen months now, and I feel more solid as a person the longer this regular routine of meetings continues. I could have felt a bit shaky without my sponsor there last night: he’s away at the moment, and later in the year he still plans to move away permanently, so going to the meeting alone is something to get used to. When he’s away it’s a reminder that I need to learn to stand on my own two feet there, and trust the rest of the meeting’s attendees fully. By trust I refer to something deeply personal, a feeling that leads to security and fellowship with others, the opposite of isolation. I did my best with it last night, making an extra effort to talk to people, when I was tempted to sit at the back and mourn the absence of the person who brought me into the meeting last year.

Soon I face the choice of whether to volunteer myself for the position of secretary or not. R’s tenure comes up in two weeks. Everyone would agree it’s been a successful tenure. He’s the best kind of person to have as secretary. It’s a shame it has to end, but the tradition of commitments only lasting a year is strong. When the impending vacancy was announced a few weeks ago I felt unexpectedly inclined to put myself forward. I say it was unexpected because at one time I didn’t think I’d ever want to be secretary in an AA meeting again. Doing this wouldn’t just tie me to the meeting for another year, it would mean I’m really back in the fellowship, committed to it without any reservations. Although I decided at the end of 2015 that I wasn’t going to go through life without a program any more, that I was ready to relinquish my doubts once and for all and throw myself back in, there wasn’t an overnight return to service positions. I’ve taken my time with them, allowing myself to settle into meetings before putting my hand up for jobs, because I didn’t want to rush into responsibility without knowing I was really ready for it. I specifically didn’t want what happened in 2012 to happen again, when I had so many commitments I stopped seeing the point of them.

There’s no danger of me taking on too many commitments this time. I only have one other at the moment, and I don’t want more than two. I feel reluctance about going for the secretaryship at my home group because it’s such a visible role, I’d have to be my best self every week, and it’s an important meeting to steer. There are a lot of newcomers that go there, people who need to see a good example at the front of the room. Could I really set a good example week after week for a whole year? People may say I already do that when I go every week, but this feels like a big step up.

I want to do it because a part of me (maybe it’s the ‘recovery’ part) feels I ought to keep giving back to the meeting, and this would be the perfect opportunity. I’ve been secretary before at plenty of meetings, it’s not exactly hard to read out a script. Sourcing chairs would be hard, as you’re always having to deal with people saying ‘no’. I think I could deal with that now. It’s really the visibility of the position that scares me, as well as the fact that I’m not the only person interested in it.

Somehow people have figured out that I’m interested and they keep asking me if I’m going to put my hand up at the group conscience in two weeks. I only told two people, but it looks like one of them’s let the cat out of the bag because more than two people know now. It’s nice that people have enough faith in me to give me the encouragement. It would be lovely to think I’m really ready to do this for a year. Well, of course I’m ready. I’ve been ready for a long time. Sadly it will mean going up against people I like; the group would have to vote on who they want. We’d have to have our own mini election! I’ve never competed for a service position before, so that could be an interesting experience. Ahh, life in AA.

Meeting night

It’s not just politics that I’m trying to avoid by staying off facebook. It’s also the constant hunt for likes that I have to stay away from, too. In a meeting tonight someone compared facebook to cigarettes: where the first thing they used to do in the morning was light one up, now since they’ve given up the fags, the first thing they do is go on their phone and scroll through liking everything, in the hope they’ll get a like back. For too long my self worth was too heavily invested in that, and for months it was literally the first thing I thought about in the morning. Some people may think “oh poor you for being addicted to something so innocuous as facebook!” I don’t claim that it’s as serious as alcohol or drug addiction, though I hope people realise it can be used as a drug like any other. You hear about teenagers committing suicide because of what’s been said to them on social media, after all. I’m starting to take it seriously because I’m so fucking fed up of it. I spent years waiting to be tagged in a group photo at some restaurant somewhere, looking pleased at having so many friends around me, so I could get dozens of likes and ‘prove’ that I’m really popular after all. It’s never going to happen. It’s time for me to get off that ride and find another one!

I went to the big downtown meeting for the first time in ages tonight. Yay, I’m going to spend a few paragraphs obsessing about this one meeting again!

After therapy this morning I was feeling extra confident about things, and I thought a visit to my old haunt could round the day off nicely. I was prepared for the feelings of unworthiness to come back to me as soon as I got there, because unlike all other AA meetings, for some reason this one meeting that can always bring it out in me. It has always been the meeting where I’ve compared myself to others, always the meeting where I’ve struggled to share and connect with the group. There’ve been better phases and worse phases; I seem to remember a period last year where I was doing particularly well there, going for regular fellowship afterwards and feeling generally wanted there. And then it tailed off really quickly and I haven’t quite got it back since.

I managed a few tricks to help myself avoid feeling isolated from start to finish. I sat in a place where other people were sitting, and I made an effort to look and smile at everyone I saw. I knew the person giving the chair quite well, someone who I know struggles with sharing as much as I do, and I was able to spur him on, which felt nice. He gave a fab chair and I felt compelled to share something back in the meeting, but it took me until the very end to open my mouth and get the words out. A lot of people had talked about self worth, this big recovery issue that so many people struggle to crack. I needed to talk about it as well; I wanted to make the room laugh by quoting a much loved RuPaul line (“if ya can’t love yourself, how’n the hell you gonna love somebody else?”) but I decided against it, something about designing a share to elicit laughter doesn’t feel right. I just said that it’s taken me ten years to realise what self worth is, and how it’s something I need to work on every day by doing challenging things. I don’t know how many people my words resonated with, because I didn’t stick around long after the end of the meeting to find out, like I would have done last year. I’ve described the moments at the end of the meeting before as being like a gay club with the lights on and no alcohol. It felt that way tonight; that part of the meeting never changes. I would have liked to chat to G, the guy who’d given the chair, just to congratulate him for being brave and sharing so well at such a scary meeting, but alas he was occupied with other friends and there wasn’t space for me to butt in.

Before I left I made myself stop and talk to someone else who’d talked about how hard they find sharing. I don’t know the person that well but to me they had always seemed like a confident person. Their words had been especially difficult to listen to because they were sharing something that has been very much an issue for me. I felt good about reaching out to them and experiencing a moment of human connection before I had to go home.

There were other people I could have stopped to chat to. I knew nearly everyone in the meeting, some of them I’ve been quite friendly with in the past. What can I say, I didn’t choose to make the extra effort tonight. It would be easy to feel terrible that I didn’t say hello to everyone tonight, it’s got me down on so many occasions in the past. Tonight for a change, I don’t want to feel bad about it. I just want to feel happy that I went to the meeting, shared, and talked to a few people who I like. I’ve ruined so many nights over the years by over-analysing what I did and didn’t do there. It’s just a meeting, they’re just people. They’ll survive!

It begins

Two weeks into my social media ‘detox’, I’m still tempted to log in to facebook several times a day, but remain determined not to. Hopefully the urge is weakening with time, and I’m getting used to the space that the avoidance has freed up in my head. I desperately needed a break from the politics that have taken over everyone’s timeline this year – the truth is I don’t miss having that in my life at all. I was annoyed the other day when my sponsor unexpectedly brought Brexit into the conversation over a coffee before the meeting. I’d been enjoying a peaceful week up until then without seeing it in front of me every day. I gathered that he had been working with a counterpart in his organisation from Brussels, and that they had been shirty about something to do with some work he’d done. He launched into the closest thing to a rant that he could manage – normally so zen, my sponsor doesn’t rant like other people, it’s more of a smiling and quiet character assassination, but the intent was there. His point was that we’re probably better off out of the EU if that’s how they’re all going to behave, thinking they’re better than us, and so on. I switched off and started to nod robotically every few minutes, deciding it would be better than actually engaging in the discussion. I have nothing more to say about Brexit to anyone, it’s beyond pointless in my opinion.

Fortunately my sponsor doesn’t tend to stick to politics for long, and without any input from me we were onto another topic soon enough. If I were to start engaging with someone who thought leaving the EU was a good thing I’d probably scream. The idea of Brexit feels more and more like a poison in the air, infecting everything in this country. A collective madness has gripped us and there seems to be no escape. Although P didn’t support leaving the EU he still supports the government for some weird reason, so I can never go anywhere near the topic with him, unless I want to fall out with him. I believe the country is heading for a crash that will be too long and drawn out for fervent leavers to notice in their nationalistic reverie. It’s infuriating and sad and there’s nothing I can do about it, so I have to put it behind me and ignore any discussions with the people close to me who don’t share my view. And I have to keep avoiding social media, for my sanity!

*****

My new working hours started this week, and I couldn’t be happier with the arrangement. Having Wednesdays and Fridays to myself, at least for now, allows me time to finally start doing things I want to do, important things. Real things. On Wednesday I attended an afternoon AA meeting and then I went swimming, beginning what I hope will be a new twice weekly routine. Today I started therapy again, and this afternoon I’m using simply to read and write before another meeting. Before I started at the charity I had a bit of time to focus on those things, but it was cut short, and it’s not until now that I feel I can really slow down and live again.

I’m pleased with how I’ve used the week, then. If all goes well the new arrangement will stay in place permanently. I say if because, as with so much in life, there’s no knowing how long I will be able to last on the reduced salary. I guess we’re not going to find out until a good few months have passed. At the moment I think I will be able to manage ok, but that could easily change. I’m trying not to let it worry me because I want to enjoy this time – I don’t want to let another year slip away in anxiety. This is my time, to be treasured while I have it.

Therapy started again today. A familiar combination of excitement and nerves brought me to the house in west London where my new therapist lived this morning. I must have seen about nine or ten counsellors over the years, and with my recent training in the subject I’m very familiar with how it works. So I was expecting today to be little more than an introduction, a chance for me to outline my history and what I was there for. I was rather impressed by how much we managed to cover in fifty minutes: we seemed to get through my whole life story, as well as the main issues bringing me back to therapy at this stage in my life.

I came away fairly confident that we’ll get on. He seems to be one of the quieter person-centred therapists, more interested in giving me space to talk and hear myself than forcing direction on me. I suppose it’s the space that I really need. I can already be sure that I’m not going to get any miracle answers from him. When I felt honest enough to say this to him he smiled, which I took as a good sign. There was certainly warmth and understanding there. I picked a gay man because I know I won’t feel safe sharing things about my sexuality with anyone else. I wish that weren’t the case but it is. I told him about my internet porn addiction this morning – the first time I’ve ever spoken about it to anyone – it was a hard thing to share about, and I don’t believe that I could go into depth about the type of porn I enjoy with a woman or a straight man, for instance. My new therapist isn’t exactly a loud and proud gay man, by the way. In fact he said nothing about himself or his sexuality today, it was all about me. And so it should be in professional therapy. But the prior knowledge I have from his website about it is reassuring, a thing I can keep in mind when I’m talking about the links between my sexuality and the problems in my life.

The fifty minutes passed far too quickly, as they always do. I’ve always wished the therapy hour could be a real hour, but as I now know, therapists need that ten minutes to write their notes, go to the toilet, make a cup of tea. They need time to process what’s happened as much as the client does. With the ‘behind the scenes’ knowledge I now have about therapy, it will be interesting to see if or how it affects my behaviour in this new relationship, whether it will be easier or harder to go through the process with him. Therapy is supposed to be a process of change; every course of therapy I’ve had before has changed me while I didn’t know anything about its mechanics. I can be quite confident about what lies ahead now: I’ll be doing a lot of talking, I’ll be exploring things I probably don’t want to explore, and I’ll be trying to get my money’s worth. Whether that can happen while I’m studying what technique the therapist is using, remains to be seen.

Back (and raring to go)

The jet lag passed after a few days, as did the dark mood. Although I know only too well how these moods come and go, because I’ve lived with them all my life, clearly they still have power over me, as I can still be blindsided when they happen. When it happens, all previous crises cease to matter, because this is the worst one ever. Whatever it’s about, this new problem is too much to bear. Those attitudes are what continue to feed the dark thinking. I wish I could say I’ll be more prepared next time, and I won’t feed the darkness again, but it’s impossible to make promises where my head is concerned.

The therapists that I contacted all got back to me quickly, and by Tuesday I had chosen one who has the right availability and price. I’ll be seeing them for the first time this Friday. Hopefully we’ll get on, and I’ll see them every Friday from now on. I’m excited – I’ve known good things to happen in therapy before. It has never fixed all my problems, but it has provided some powerful solutions. I am looking forward to talking again, really talking. I honestly can’t wait to travel down on Friday morning and see this person whose website makes them sound very suitable.

Maybe I’m too excited? Honestly, I think there’s a part of me that is hoping for some miracle to happen on Friday, despite all I know about therapy and how long it can take for anything to happen. As this is a brand new therapist that I’ve never seen before, I don’t know how they’re going to work yet. They could be the wisest person ever; they could say something in our first session that simply changes everything.

But I need to be realistic. I know the theory behind counselling now. I know that if any miracle is to happen it will come from me, not the therapist. I will be the one that does all the work. I will get support, but I will be the one that has to solve my problems. I’m going there because my feelings about my sexuality need to change. I foresee a lot of heavy conversations, possibly some tears; I foresee the answers coming out of my mouth and, unless there really is a miracle, I don’t think I’m going to like them. I need to keep going, this isn’t something I can keep avoiding.

Work was fine. The bad atmosphere in the office has completely lifted, and I’m actually getting on with my colleague P. We chatted about our holidays and settled back into a friendly working relationship. In the evenings it was nice to be back at AA meetings that I’m familiar with. Since everyone had seen my holiday photos on facebook they didn’t need to ask me how it had been, so I didn’t get to talk about it much.

Someone said they were having a facebook ‘detox’, and I decided there and then I needed to have one. I’ve spent far too much of the past few years scrolling through my facebook feed, looking for likes. We all know it. So on Tuesday I logged out of facebook and have only been back on it once, for a few minutes. A break from social media was long overdue. When I will return is undecided. Maybe the best time to go back will be when I no longer feel like I want to. At the moment I’m thinking about it every five minutes. When that stops then I’ll consider my detox to have been a success.

It was nice to return to college on Saturday and see everyone. I had missed them, strangely enough. It was a great day. There was more interesting work to do, and the closeness in the group hadn’t dissipated during the three week break. Some of them feel like genuine friends now. I don’t want this to end. I want to continue in September on the next level and experience this education for another two years.

The tutor was as happy to see us as we were to see her. Everyone had a lot of questions about the application process for the diploma, which she kindly spent much of the afternoon answering. It seems that most of us are keen to progress and become professional counsellors. She had a warning for us concerning the availability of jobs in the field: apparently they are hard to come by. It put a damper on the discussion. I hadn’t thought that it would be hard to make money as a counsellor. I’d’ve thought the country was crying out for them. In my fantasy, I would have qualified in 2019 and gone straight into a £25k a year job, where I’d be helping clients day in and day out from the start. Now it seems it could be a long, slow road to career success, if it happens at all.

It hasn’t put me off continuing with the training, but it has made me think. Which is what the comment was intended for. If I’m not meant to make money as a counsellor I’d need to think about what else I want to do with my life. I haven’t a clue what else I’d do at the moment. So I need to start thinking.

Since it’s been a bank holiday weekend I was in the mood for a day trip somewhere interesting. After a look on google maps I thought it would be nice to get the train to the countryside west of London, somewhere I’ve never been before. My friend P tagged along and we spent an afternoon walking around admiring a historic town. On the train back P showed me a whatsapp message that he’d received from a friend. There was a picture of the friend (in his forties) sitting next to a cute young guy, and a message that read “look what I just had for lunch.” We got the connotation instantly, and I couldn’t ignore a feeling of revulsion that immediately rose up in me.

P agreed that the message was pure bragging. He said, “It is a bit…”

“Distasteful?” I finished. It’s exactly what I don’t like about some men, this need to show off about sex. P retorted with something like, “but he’s a nice guy normally,” which I wasn’t buying. To this friend, the nineteen year old he’d just slept with was little more than a piece of meat, worth referring to as “lunch” so that others could have a good giggle. This is why I have felt so inclined for so long to just give up on sex altogether, because this kind of behaviour is so crushingly common amongst gay men. My future therapist has his work cut out for him, trying to solve this dilemma!

My new part time hours start this week. Hooray! I’m at work tomorrow and Thursday, and that’s it. From now on most of my time will be spent outside of work. I have every intention of using the new free time that I’ll have wisely. Whether it will last is to be seen, but I hope it will go well. From today I’m on a significantly reduced salary, so I have to start budgeting properly. There can be no half measures now. I know most of the money I waste is on expensive food that I don’t need, so I’m hoping on Wednesday I can go to the supermarket and buy ingredients that will last the week, and not just a day or two. I’m also hoping that I’ll be able to get in the kitchen and cook them. For years I’ve been saying I’ll give up the microwave meals; they’re expensive and un-nutritious, unlike real food that takes time to cook. I’ve never managed to break away from those microwave meals because of how lazy I am when it comes to the kitchen. Working full time meant I had an excuse to keep avoiding this change. Now I will have two more days every week to use, I hope (and pray) something shifts.