Outside interests

After Tuesday’s anxiety overload I was ready to feel more relaxed on Wednesday, with just a day of college to get through. Having just spent the weekend bonding with my classmates I thought it was bound to be an easier day with them. When I walked in I knew I was safe, I knew I could be myself with them and not have to act like I do at work, or at the newcomer meeting. But my thoughts were like: I’ve already gone as far as I can with being myself in front of this crowd, do I really have to keep doing it?

I was tired, smack in the middle of one of my insomnia phases, and I hadn’t counted on the strong desire to shrink back into my shell and hide for the day. I was challenged throughout to keep disclosing things, to keep being as real as I could be; all I wanted to say was that I was tired and I didn’t want to be there, and I felt ashamed of that. In personal development (aka group therapy) at the end of the day things came to a head, as the facilitator directly challenged me, as I seemed intent on fading into the background. I never got challenged on my behaviour in PD last year, so that was interesting. I knew the tutor was doing it in my interest, to throw me a lifeline into the group, so I said what I was thinking, as if it was the easiest thing in the world. I confessed that my mind had been elsewhere all day, that I had a thing about sharing negative feelings because it always felt like I was bringing the mood down. Next the tutor asked me why I hadn’t talked about being gay for several weeks, given how candid I was on the subject back at the beginning of term. I immediately got that sense of “do I have to?” again, because all I had to say about being gay was how much of a struggle it is.

The solution I find to any challenge is do the opposite of what I want to do, so I talked for two minutes about the struggle. Although I could have said a lot more, I was more open in two minutes than I had ever been in the group; and I thought I couldn’t get more open than I did last weekend. I realised that this is part of what it means to be authentic: to share all sides of me, in all situations. To be unafraid of what my head tells me about others’ opinions. It’s simple, classic stuff, and I’m still learning it.

(Oh, last weekend, how I yearn to be there again!) On the retreat I told the group that one of my newest, and biggest, struggles is to be the same self in all situations. This would mean sharing about my sexuality and my recovery in counselling class; it would mean sharing about my experience with counselling in AA. It might sound odd, but I have found it really difficult to merge the various spheres of my life in this way. Therapy and the training I’m on have become as important as AA, but so far they’ve seemed like completely separate things that cannot be mixed, which is tough when I feel like I want to share something I got from therapy in an AA meeting. The interesting thing is that some of my counselling classmates happen to share some of my outside interests. One of them is in the rooms, like me; one of them’s gay; another used to work at the charity where I work. I feel pulled towards a greater merging between the different areas in my life; a pull towards greater truth and authenticity; I don’t know quite where it will lead but I’m willing to follow it.

*

The general sense of malaise that has bothered me the last few weeks continues this weekend. It just lies around, like a mess you forgot to clean up. My current list of problems to feel lethargic about includes:

  • another outbreak of acne
  • ongoing, inexplicable insomnia
  • finding a clinical placement for my course
  • having to act as secretary at the newcomer meeting for another six months
  • the heart going out of the Saturday meeting that has been my home group for the past two years

Despite moving into the heart of London that meeting is quieter than it has ever been at the moment. It’s starting to look as if people are deliberately avoiding it. I’ve realised that the room is much nicer in the daytime; at night it feels dark and cold, especially when it’s half empty. Given the likely number of alcoholics in central London that meeting should be packed. I made myself go for dinner afterwards with the group, despite not really having the means, because I hadn’t been for a few weeks and I was intent on finding more chairs for my Tuesday meeting. Ironically I ended up at the end of the table for the umpteenth time, and so it became just something to get through rather than a fun night out. I heard the cool kids at the other end of the table discussing a dancing night out in December. Of course I won’t be involved in any way. Not that it should matter at all, I haven’t enjoyed being in a nightclub since 2006!

Earlier before the meeting I had been asking R (with whom a spiritual closeness is developing very gradually and slowly) about his relationship and how he managed to make it such a success. All year I have spent liking photos on facebook of him and his partner, and apart from being envious I often am just curious about what he’s done to make that happen. Before last year I often heard him share about the same struggles that I and many other gay alcoholics have with love and relationships. His answer on how to make a relationship work seems to involve patience and perseverance. Two very obvious things – and I know I don’t really have them.

I shouldn’t be looking at R and his partner and thinking ‘God, why can’t that happen to me?!’ because it’s a lazy kind of thinking that I tried to leave behind years ago. It’s still my immediate reaction, though, whenever I witness another’s success.

R mentioned that he found his partner initially on Tinder, so I have finally jumped on the bandwagon three years after everyone else and downloaded the app. Despite thinking I had left apps behind I’m fast realising there is no escaping them in this age. The good thing is that men on Tinder don’t seem fussed about sending cock pics and hiding their faces, like they do on the traditional gay apps and websites. In the space of a few hours swiping has become my latest addiction. Unfortunately it’s far too easy to swipe the wrong way!

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I am responsible

Well, we knew it wasn’t going to last, didn’t we!

Did I say before that Tuesday is my least favourite day of the week? I’m beginning to dread it every week. The unusually serene mood that I came home with on Sunday soon fizzled into a more normal state of anxiety as today approached. What I thought I’d learnt, what I thought had shifted over the weekend, shifted back on the morning commute to work. With a long, mentally demanding day ahead of me I regressed again, because this journey is never over, there is no happy end point.

Not only do I have my boring job to contend with on Tuesdays, I have this stupid commitment at the newcomer meeting, which itself feels more and more like work, which means I have twelve hours of duty to endure every Tuesday. After a nice day off yesterday I didn’t feel the least bit relaxed this morning. I could predict how little of importance I’d have to do at the office when I got back, and my prediction turned out to be accurate. The busy-ness of the last few months is over, the creaking disfunction of our team’s management is obvious once again. I had nothing useful to do all day, so I had to stretch out any insignificant tasks that were available to fill in the time, and by 5pm I was exhausted. I can’t tell you how tempted I was at that point to call someone and ask if they would stand in for me as secretary at the meeting; but I couldn’t do that because I had printed out new copies of the meeting script, which the meeting desperately needed. I would have to go.

As ever, my only way of getting through it was by seeing it as a performance. I don’t expect to enjoy the meeting any more. If I can just get through it without fucking up each week I consider it a success. There’s no point wondering why I’ve come to feel this way about it, there is no real reason to loathe it so much; it’s just a feeling I’m stuck with for the next six months. Whenever I think about that six months I almost want to die, it seems like such a monumental amount of time to endure. Six months of acting, of trying to please, of not feeling like I deserve my place there.

There are particular people who attend the meeting regularly that I worry about. I don’t think I’ve talked about them here before? Anyway, there’s three regulars who I have come to project my fears onto. Three unsuspecting people who I now believe are judging my performance every week. When I see them I can’t interact with them like other members of the fellowship, I can only think about what they’re thinking about me. I imagine they start every week from a position of dislike, and I constantly struggle with feeling like I have to prove myself to them. They have said and done nothing to imply that I must prove myself to them, other than never talking to me.

At the weekend I was convinced that everything was about to get better. Yet again I am confronted with the truth that bad feelings can still swamp me. I am still on this journey, there is no way off the main path, no short cut to the solutions.

I have to keep doing the commitment, seeing it as a role, because I don’t back out of commitments now. I have to quit thinking of it as six months and start keeping it in the week. The task immediately ahead of me is finding a chair for the next meeting. That should be my main concern. It will be all right. I’ll get through it, and when it ends next year I’ll be glad I didn’t give up. I’ve been here too many times now, not to know what happens. It’s understandable that I feel resistance to the commitment, given the responsibility involved; fear is a completely natural response for me. But the sense of responsibility has become too strong for me to really entertain the thought of packing it in. I will most likely hate the meeting by the end of the year, and that’s ok. This hate, this fear, these are just feelings. Feelings don’t override my responsibility to keep going.

It’s about the journey

I’ve got a lot to talk about today!

One word to describe therapy on Friday morning: heavy. Childhood and my relationship with my mother were on my mind, for the third week running. I sank deeper yet into the feeling of hopelessness that surrounds this subject, allowing my sixteen year old self to speak for me. “I can’t cry because what’s the use in crying? No one will listen.” I experienced a real regression into that child state, so powerful I couldn’t access the comforting words that my adult self normally has stored for such occasions. I simply let it all go. One may be left wondering how this is helping me. Those unfamiliar with the therapeutic process may expect me to have moved past the darkness now. If I were receiving standard cognitive behavioural therapy on the NHS I’d have been given ways of not sinking so cleanly into the past. Instead I am delving deeper every time I see my therapist, making myself feel greater anger and sadness as the weeks go by. From what I’ve read and what the therapist has said about it, I understand the need to do the digging in long term therapy.  The facts are that I suffered a trauma as a child, I am stuck in that trauma because I was never listened to as a child, and now that kid wants to be listened to. When I am digging it’s never clear how far I’ve got to go, whether this is it or whether there’s still more to reveal. The process doesn’t seem to be about reaching the end. It seems to be about giving myself the space to keep going.

I left therapy feeling bereft, knowing I wouldn’t see him for another two weeks as he’s on holiday this week. It felt like I’d been picking at my core with a spoon: all the deep, dark fears were exposed and just sitting there. It would have been all right if I could have gone home to lie down, but I had to stay out. I would be leaving London for 2017’s second residential retreat with my counselling classmates later on the same day. I’d known about the weekend for months but I hadn’t thought about it very much until the time arrived. I had my suitcase with me and I would be getting a lift nearby from one of my classmates. I had a few hours to kill, so I went to sit in a cafe in the nearby area where my sponsor happens to live. I texted him and he came to meet me, and we sat together for a couple of hours, keeping the conversation light on the whole. I treated myself to an American style lunch of waffles with bacon and maple syrup, knowing I’d reached my target weight after months of being strict and I could afford to treat myself. The time passed and soon I was getting into a car with two of my classmates.

I sensed a mixture of feelings in the car. We were all most likely looking forward to getting out of the big smoke; to being back in the relaxing, quiet countryside setting of the retreat run by nuns where we had been six months ago back in the spring. At the same time we all knew we were going to be stuck there for two days, with little time to ourselves, and that we would be expected to share authentically and openly some of our deepest feelings. The weekend was sure to be packed full of experiential exercises where we got into groups and talked as if we were in therapy. We’ve been told plenty of times that this whole thing of authentic self disclosure is crucial for the level that we’re at. There can be no holding back. My car pooling buddies were tired on Friday, like me, and they just wanted to relax.

We arrived at the retreat in good time and found our rooms. I was glad to be in the place again, full as it was of good memories, until I got to my room and saw the window crawling with cluster flies. My immediate thought was: when will I ever be free of damned flies? I remembered a previous nightmare experience with cluster flies when I lived with D three years ago. They come in through air vents in the winter because they like the warmth, and they always gather on windows. I had to kill about six of them before I could sit down and rest. I managed to cover the room’s air vent with some tissue, and I didn’t see any more flies on the weekend.

It wasn’t a good start to the trip. I immediately knew that it wasn’t going to be like last time. Back in the spring I had a much bigger room, and the sun was still shining well into the evening, and I knew my classmates much better. The group was different this time so it was bound to be a different experience. I would just have to make the most of it. Once I was sure I’d gotten rid of all the flies in my room, I went down for dinner.

One of the great things about the centre where the college puts us up is the food. I enjoyed a filling shepherd’s pie with vegetables and talked to some of my colleagues about my nerves for the weekend ahead. Straight after dinner we were ushered into our first experiential exercise. We’d been asked to prepare a map of our lives, something visual that represented us, which we would talk about to the whole group. Everyone had taken the task seriously; some had gone to great artistic lengths to map out their lives. I had gone through a debate of what to include on my map and what to leave out. In the end I had decided to include everything, because I knew it would be dishonest not to, and there was nothing I had to be ashamed of, despite feeling shame. On an A3 piece of paper I’d outlined a large country with eight different counties and a river flowing through the middle. My counties are: sexuality, alcoholism, music, reading, walking, London, counselling & psychotherapy, and travelling. These were the important areas of my life as far as I could tell, the areas that I needed to talk about. I quickly realised that I had never shown all of them to anyone at the same time before. Some friends may know about some of the areas, while other friends may know about other areas; no one has seen my whole life in that way before.

I had the most difficulty in including my sexuality and my alcoholism on the map, so I knew those were the things that needed to go right at the top. I could only include my alcoholism knowing that there’s someone else in the group who has also done the twelve steps. It’s a shame, but if I knew I were the only one I may not have put it on there. Putting it on there knowing I wasn’t alone was hard enough. I had never talked to my classmates about AA and recovery before. You hear so much in AA about anonymity, and the preference for keeping it ‘within the rooms’, something that’s easy to do and doesn’t cause any harm. I’ve done that for ten years because I’ve never needed to share that part of my life with anyone not in the rooms. But when it comes to a map of my life, how could I leave it off? It’s the centre of my life today.

I couldn’t go first during the exercise, I had to wait until at least half the room had spoken before I could get up and talk about my map. There were definite echoes of an AA meeting as I sat there in the circle listening to others speak with great honesty about their lives, wishing I had that confidence. Eventually I had to get up and talk, and I managed to say everything I wanted to say; but I was bothered by an incredibly dry throat that made it hard to speak at some points. I realised that this has happened to me quite a lot recently, especially when I’m talking honestly about myself. It’s happened in therapy a couple of times, it’s happened in AA. To the group it might have sounded like my voice was cracking with tears. I had to apologise and explain that I wasn’t crying, I just had a dry throat; although the truth is that this must be more than just a dry throat, it must be psychological. Why else does it only happen when I’m talking about something difficult?

The exercise was profoundly moving and inspiring, and we all came a little closer in the process. However, by the time it had finished at 9.30 I was exhausted and I needed to take myself to bed. I slept ok that night, better than I expected to. Saturday morning was due to begin with yet more tears and self disclosure in the group, as we were asked to pick a picture from several dozen that had been laid on the floor. Most of the pictures were of childhood toys and books; our job was to pick one that resonated with us. I picked a photo of an Etch-A-Sketch, the must have toy of 1991 that I begged my mum to get me for my ninth birthday. We were all to explain what our picture meant to us. So I spent five minutes talking about a lonely nine year old in his bedroom, escaping a mundane daily life with his Etch-A-Sketch drawings. When others were talking about their pictures there were tears galore, but since I can’t cry in public, I remained dry eyed and fairly calm. I noticed the classic voice in the head saying things like “stop talking!” and “you can’t say that to them!” Afterwards I felt guilty about the things I’d said, like I had brought the mood down with my truth. As if no one else had shared anything just as painful and dark! The exact same thing happens every time I share in AA, so I can know it’s not really true that I need to feel guilty. But I did wish that for once the feelings would just go away.

Our schedule for the day didn’t have any outdoor activities on it, unlike the residential earlier in the year. Understandable, given the fact it’s November and not April. But despite being cold on Saturday it looked like a nice day anyway, and many of us were itching to get outside so we could experience the calming effect of nature. There seemed to be so much work to get through it was tiring to think about by lunch time.

At dinner I began to feel a bit normal again, knowing there couldn’t be any more deep and painful exercises for them to put us through. After dinner we had a night of fun to look forward to as someone had organised a quiz. Whilst waiting for the quiz to start we all sat in the TV lounge watching Strictly on the BBC, and it was a lovely half hour, bonding over this my favourite TV show. Strangely enough it felt a bit like Christmas as a kid, when you all sit there in front of the TV, laughing and chatting and feeling excited. When the quiz started we got into teams, and one classmate inhabited the role of compere extremely well. We were bombarded with questions about general knowledge and popular culture, something I knew to be my forte. I was able to impress my teammates by answering nearly all of the film and music questions correctly. And these weren’t easy questions!

It was by far the most fun I’ve had all year. On Friday I was complaining to the therapist about how I never had fun as a child, and that’s what’s so sad about it. Well, here I was having fun just a day later, knowing that I can experience today what I missed out on as a kid. I was my real self all night, not just in showing my extensive pop culture knowledge but in laughing constantly, feeling completely safe amongst friends. This is one of the definitions of spirituality, I think.

When Sunday came naturally there was sadness in the air about having to go home, back to the real world. In our last session one of the tutors gave a speech about what we have to look forward to in a counselling career. I wish I could have taped it, it was so relevant to the general mood. She talked about the fact that as counsellors we have to keep working on ourselves forever, there never is a final point where everything is fixed and perfect (I already knew this, but it was good to hear her say it). It’s all about the journey!

She mentioned the reason why the self work is important, that we do it not just for ourselves but for our clients. She said that as a counsellor you will often not know what to say to your client; you may occasionally feel completely stuck and that anything you say could damage them further. Finally she emphasised the point that counselling is not about fixing people (again, something I knew but also something I need to hear more of because I can still forget sometimes!) If you have a client who comes into therapy not being able to see tomorrow, and if you can help them to get just a glimpse of tomorrow, that’s enough. If you can give someone some hope, that is enough. The client’s whole life doesn’t have to change while they’re in therapy, all that’s needed is hope that it can change.

The speech brought us all down to earth and gave us reassurance at the same time. For weeks I have struggled to bring myself to therapy, knowing every week that I’ll probably spend an hour feeling horrible. Yesterday I was reminded that this horrible feeling is the real point of therapy, this is where the work is meant to take place.

As we left the centre I could say that I didn’t feel awkward with anyone in the group, and I came home with a warm, open feeling in my soul. I had shared a significant life experience with eighteen other people, I had bared my soul, and I had no anxiety about the future any more. I was comfortable in my skin; I could feel love for the world, for a while. This feeling was bound to pass, because all feelings do, but while I had it I could enjoy it.

I realised that the last time I felt this way was when I returned home after my first week at university, back in 2001. Having had such wonderful experiences away from home that week, I could return knowing that my life had changed and that I never had to go back to the misery of childhood again. I could see this place with different eyes because I knew I wasn’t trapped by it any more.

*

One thing that’s crystal clear to me is that I have to leave London as soon as I can. When I finally get to start the career of my choosing it can’t be here. I’ll live anywhere, I just don’t want to be in this big, loud city any more. Being in the quiet countryside for two days makes you realise that the noise in your head isn’t all you, sometimes it’s this place too.

The lethargic, heavy feeling I kept experiencing in the past few weeks I’m sure was partly down to boredom with the constant activity and noise. For a very long time I could forgive London for all its faults, but as I grow and change I begin to realise that my journey is taking me somewhere else. I’ve stayed in London for too long and my soul is calling out for me to break away.

When I woke this morning the last thing I felt like doing was going to work, so I called in sick and gave myself a day to recover. I don’t feel bad about this – I was very tired when I got home yesterday and a day of recharging my batteries isn’t going to harm anyone. It’s not like I have a massive pile of work waiting for me at the office. I can be kind to myself today without any sense of guilt.

Waiting

As I have a duty to make the tea at the meeting on Saturday, I thought I would just try and get through it yesterday, because I’ve done it before, and whether I felt any close bonds with anyone wouldn’t be of relevance to the service. Despite the resolution I attempted to make the other day about not pinning so much emotion on the fellowship aspect of meetings, I still pinned emotion on it yesterday because it’s so hard not to. Given that I’ve experienced wonderful fellowship at the meeting in the recent past, it’s hard to let go of that and just be ok with one or two ‘hellos’. It’s really disappointing to say but I think the move to Soho has damaged the appeal of the meeting for me. And I was one of those who voted eagerly for it to move there. It just isn’t the same as before. Most of the same people are still going, but with some of them it feels like they’re just waiting for their commitments to end so they don’t have to go any more. And as I said last week, the room isn’t as comfortable, and it’s too noisy with the bustling traffic outside. You know you’re in the heart of Soho, a place I’ve spent far too much time in already in my life. I never realised how well placed the meeting was south of the river, an area that’s still central but not so central that you feel the weight of London on top of you. The river always gave it a spacious feeling; whereas now, despite the big windows in the new place, it feels claustrophobic, thanks to the constant crowds and traffic outside.

It wasn’t so bad that I only got a few ‘hellos’ yesterday – to be fair, people treated me as they always do, which is perfectly nicely. The people who always ask how I am still asked how I was, and the people who value my service still thanked me afterwards. The same opportunities for conversation that are always there were still there. But a bad start to the meeting made my mood collapse and it was nearly impossible to get it back.

I’d turned up at 5.20, hoping to get in the room early so I could switch on the hot water boiler in enough time for it to be ready once the crowds started showing up. Unfortunately the door to the place was locked at 5.20, and no one was there. Five minutes later when the secretary showed up, he didn’t know the code to open the door, and nor did anyone else. It could have been a disaster. After several minutes of frantic phone calls to anyone who might know the code, the secretary finally got hold of it and we could get in.

By the time we were inside it was twenty-five to the hour, giving me little time to set everything up. There was already a line forming for tea when I switched the boiler on. As if being late wasn’t stressful enough, I couldn’t find the tea anywhere. The centre is supposed to provide tea, but someone had either thrown it away or they had run out, because it was gone. I only had coffee and a selection of herbal teas to offer people, which was annoying. Most people took the news well, but the odd shocked reaction of “What? No tea?!” told me it had upset the day of at least a few.

I was livid when the meeting started and things didn’t improve much during the next ninety minutes. Although the tea fiasco wasn’t my fault I felt that some must blame me for it (I had no evidence for this, I just assumed) and it separated me from the meeting from the start. I struggled with that separateness throughout. I wanted to share about it, because that would have been the best way to connect, but as I still have this aversion to sharing honestly, I couldn’t. I could only think about how contorted anything I said would sound, as I tried to squeeze in some positivity.

I finally addressed my relationship with AA in therapy this week. We talked about this separateness that has always bothered me. At the moment it seems only to occur in meetings where I’m doing service – there is a fear of failure and embarrassment involved. I’m always expecting things to go wrong. When things go wrong, as they did last night, it piles on the stress, confirms my separateness from the group. I want someone to tell me that I’m all right, I haven’t failed, I’m still a part of things, but no one does that because I don’t let them. I don’t share, because sharing honestly about the struggle would leave me even more vulnerable, so no one knows about it.

I examined why sharing authentically is such a problem. It seems to relate to the fact that most sharing in AA is spun positively. If a chair has been positive then the whole meeting is more likely to follow that theme, and it can feel threatening to break with that theme. Although I hear the people who are honest and who say that it’s not all rosy all the time, those voices can get drowned out by others who say that recovery is wonderful, it’s not as dark as it used to be, the steps have changed everything. And I don’t know what to believe sometimes. I can see the remarkable changes that have happened in my life thanks to the steps, yet sometimes it’s clear that my feelings about the world haven’t changed much at all. The miracle for me was purely external. Internally I remain separate and isolated, as I was at the age of three or four. It’s very hard to explain that in a five minute share in a busy, happy meeting. So I’m left wondering what the point is in sharing.

Last night I allowed myself to be dragged down by the feelings to the point where I thought: if I didn’t come to this meeting any more, who’d miss me? Obviously, this isn’t a good thought to have. Whether it’s true or not it makes it even harder to be there, because there can be no absolute proof that I would be missed, unless I were to actually disappear and be chased by friends there. The idea of leaving becomes ever more tempting in those moods. This is where I was four years ago when I started to leave AA, and it’s scary to feel that way again after all this time. I suppose I thought it wouldn’t get so bad again so quickly. There must be something in my make up that does this to me. Something that convinces me of my separateness even when I hear other people say that they feel the same way.

In spite of the temptation I didn’t leave the meeting without speaking to anyone. I made myself stick around and find fellowship that I would enjoy. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy a burger in a packed Soho restaurant, so I asked N and R what they were doing, and luckily they were up for a Chinese on the south bank. Returning there would be just what I needed. As soon as we got there it was like old times; my mood completely lifted for a while.

Once I was back home I was thinking about the negative stuff again, after I made the mistake of looking at facebook and seeing other people’s happy lives. At any time of the day, facebook is a guaranteed mood killer. Every time I’m on it I get to see other people having fun with their friends, doing the exact sort of thing I don’t get to do. I told my therapist the other day that I never seem to have fun any more, and it’s true. I haven’t danced for nearly a year, haven’t been to a party for nearly eighteen months, haven’t been on holiday with anyone for the same amount of time. I know I’m just complaining now and there’s always a different way of looking at it, but the fact is I’m lonely, really lonely. The only reason I keep going back on to facebook, even though I know it won’t do me any good, is to see whether I’ve missed anything, whether anyone has mentioned me or invited me to anything. Nothing like that ever happens, so I should get rid of it for good, because my life certainly wouldn’t be worse without it. But I can’t get rid of it because I’m addicted to it, like millions of other lonely people, I’m sure.

I became angry with the therapist on Friday because he had no answers for me. All he could keep saying was that I needed to sit with the lonely inner child that is experiencing these feelings, be compassionate and patient with him. I just wanted some practical advice for how I can enjoy AA meetings again. For better or worse, AA is where my social life is now. Some of the time I’m quite glad about that, other times I find it tragic. I thought about P again yesterday, what he might be doing. I go on his facebook profile occasionally just to check. It’s always the same sort of thing: checking in at bars and restaurants with the same tiny group of mates, presenting a very modern image of happiness that I know isn’t real. We’ve both ended up victims of life’s harshness, and it looks as if we can’t do much about it.

*

I’ve still had no word from T this week, so that’s it for us then. Devil’s advocate may say: “yeah, but you haven’t contacted him, have you!” I have no time for devil’s advocate today. I don’t want to contact him, and it’s clear that he is equally not bothered, so I’m moving on. I’m grateful that I got to enjoy a few nice afternoons this year. If I’m keen for that to continue, I’m going to have to think about logging into the gay website and going through the palaver of awkward first dates again, since that’s the only way to meet available men now.

The truth about online dating is that it can be even more soul destroying than spending hours on facebook – but when you live in a society that makes romantic relationships seem compulsory, there isn’t much of a way around it. I don’t know what else to do – I still want sex and fun in my life. So I have to drag myself through another string of performances, wait endlessly until something clicks and I realise I’ve found what I was looking for. That may never happen, but I’ll still keep waiting.

Maybe it’s ok

It was a tough weekend, emotionally – and then I woke feeling strangely elevated on Monday, the most unusual day of the week to feel such a thing on. It was almost as if I had ‘worked things out’. There remained a baseline of anxiety there (not a day of my life passes without it) but something had definitely lifted. I managed to be pleasant and normal at work, and then in the evening I managed to share truthfully in a meeting. Now this is really strange, because I hadn’t even been sure about going to the meeting until I was making my way there. Even stranger is the fact that by Tuesday evening, I was feeling down in the dumps once more at my regular Tuesday meeting.

At these times I can never put my finger on exactly what my mood is. The ups and downs of the past few days have been confusing for the ‘mixed bag’ feeling that they’ve contributed to. My mood wasn’t completely elevated on Monday, nor was it completely off yesterday. I have no idea what was really going on.

The thought of the weekly ‘performance’ that I was going to have to put on as secretary yesterday was really beginning to drag. There was a real sense that I had somehow become trapped in this role, especially as I was trusted with extra responsibility this week to look after the money taken, because the meeting’s treasurer was off. But despite all that I remained determined to stick with what I had committed to. I’m the one that had trapped myself.

Today was a day off (no college this week) and I had the rare opportunity to go to two meetings in a day. Neither was really planned in advance, and sometimes turning up at a meeting spontaneously can feel better than going to one where you’re expected. I had the freedom to stay or go depending on how I felt – and I chose to stay for both.

There were loads of people at both meetings I could have spoken to but didn’t. There was an acquaintance at the second meeting who looked like they were having a hard time and could have done with my help, but I didn’t offer it. So there was the perfect opportunity for me to go home and beat myself over the head for failing to connect with my fellows, yet again. It would have been easy to reach out to anyone I saw today, technically – the problem is that I didn’t want to today. I can either feel terrible about that, like I often do, or I can do something else.

This habit I have of occasionally not engaging with fellow alcoholics, and by extension not helping those who may be in need, has been such a massive hindrance in my recovery because I’ve spent so long feeling guilty about it. The guilt has to go. One way of overcoming it would be to constantly take the plunge and say hello to people whenever I see them; another way is simply not caring. Maybe it’s the fog clearing, because I’m beginning to see that I’m not the only one who has a part in it. Those people didn’t reach out to me either, so it’s not 100% my responsibility all the time.

By conceding this I’m not abrogating all responsibility in the matter. I just have to find a way of going to meetings and getting what I need, without feeling like a criminal every time I leave having not spoken to certain people. Caring so much about this in the past has led to massive resentments, and it’s definitely one of the things that drove me out in year six. As I keep saying, that can’t happen again. It’s also one of the more embarrassing reasons why I don’t share in meetings as much as I’d like to – if I’ve failed to be polite to one person in a meeting it can play on my mind to the point where I daren’t share in front of them, in case I exacerbate the offence. It’s silly and it has to stop.

If I can just go to a meeting, do any service that I’m committed to, share what I need to share and then go, that would be my ideal world. The whole fellowship thing is still really important and making an effort to engage with people is still a key part of my recovery, but there will be times when it doesn’t happen and I need to let that go. This weekend for whatever reason it didn’t happen; I knew there would be times like that when I returned to AA two years ago, times when it wouldn’t always be amazing. I now have the job of accepting that as it is.

*

I’ve had no word from T this week, no suggestion of another meeting, and surprisingly I think I’m ok about it. He was at home in the Czech Republic last week, returning over the weekend at some point; if he was keen to arrange another meeting I would have thought I’d know about it by now. Reason suggests that I could contact him myself to arrange something, but today I’m not feeling any particular urge to get in touch with him. So perhaps that’s a sign of where this is ultimately going.

Yes I suppose it wouldn’t be horrible to see him again, we’d surely manage a nice time like we did before; and one shouldn’t take silence as an indication that he’s lost interest. It could mean absolutely anything. But I’m nowhere near as upset about this silence as I would have been three weeks ago, I always knew that the distance between us would become an issue, and maybe it’s finally come to that time when it’s too much of an issue to continue. And maybe I can cope with that.

The long journey

There’s a lot of talk in society about mental illness at the moment, and it can only be a good thing. People are taking notice of the fact that there are invisible diseases. Conditions that can be hidden, and that have no easily identifiable cause. I’m entering a profession that purports to look for the causes, and I wouldn’t be doing it if we lived in a world that hadn’t started to take mental health seriously a while ago. Yet I continue to hear messages about mental illness that don’t sound right to me, messages conveyed in adverts and documentaries that try to contain the answers in brief segments. Some of these messages include:

  • the notion that real depression can’t be caused by something going on in the sufferer’s life, it has to be chemical
  • all sadness has to pass, it can’t be ongoing because then the sufferer is just a burden

I take issue with these ideas because they go against my lived experience. I have suffered with what I would call depression for a significant part of my life, and generally I haven’t had to look hard for the links with things that have happened to me; in the eyes of one of the mentioned filmmakers I can’t call it depression then because it’s not chemical. I live with sad feelings on a regular basis that come and go without ever really passing, and so I wouldn’t be much use to the producer of an hour long documentary about mental illness, because I wouldn’t have anything positive to say about it. In the advert for one of these shows recently they had a series of celebrities talking about bereavement, and while the things they had to say were devastating and real, there was a sense in the tagline and the whole atmosphere of the show that their grief was in the past, they had moved on and therefore everything was all right.

I don’t doubt the sincerity and the importance of these programmes for a minute, but I believe that hearing the same old message about depression (it’s a chemical imbalance, it doesn’t last forever) minimises the experience of those who don’t fit the narrative, and makes it so much harder for us to identify our problem as depression. If you don’t think you can classify what you’re going through as depression because you can identify exacerbating factors in the world around you, factors which may be very hard to eradicate, you’re far less likely to seek help with it.

*

Part of my problem, as it has always been, is that I’m not sharing in AA meetings. I’ve been saving it all for therapy. Which doesn’t help because I have essentially removed the quickest way I have of connecting to a meeting and the people in it. I could have shared last night about how I was feeling, but as per usual I felt bad about potentially bringing the mood of the meeting down, and I left feeling the very same isolation that I struggled with as a newcomer.

I need to share the truth wherever I can; but that’s not easy when I have a voice in my head that constantly tells me I won’t say the right thing and I’ll upset people. At the spiritual meeting this morning I managed to speak, only because it was a very small meeting and everyone kind of had to to fill the time. I talked in a general way about the feeling of isolation that’s been creeping up on me. It’s a start, but it definitely won’t be enough to see me through tomorrow. When I wake up tomorrow I’ll have to start again with my program, do the same amount of work to keep myself sober as I have done every day for the past ten years.

This feeling of not wanting to bother is so powerful because of the pervasive misperception in the world that once you’ve worked out how to overcome a difficult feeling, that’s it, you don’t have to work on it any more. At least that’s the idea I’ve grown up with. Getting used to the fact that life will be constant work – that I will never reach a place where I’m cured, no matter how ‘well’ I seem to get – is a long journey.

A dip in mood

That low feeling was back today, and it’s easy to see why. I was looking forward to getting to my regular Saturday meeting, but when I got there I wanted to be anywhere but. A few weeks ago I was really excited about the move to Soho, but now that it’s there permanently, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel the same. I missed the old place today. Specifically, I missed how the meeting was two years ago, when I was just returning to AA, and there was a big group of safe coffee buddies there every week, encouraging me to join them. Apart from R and N, none of them regularly go to the meeting any more, haven’t done for a while. Now that it’s in Soho I doubt that coffee group will exist any more. There’s still the ‘burger gang’ (can’t think of a better name for the other group that sticks rigidly to its burger restaurants every week) but I have never been as confident with them, and that continued tonight.

I don’t really want to be negative, but while I’m at it, the acoustics in the new home aren’t good, and it’s not warm and cosy like the last place.

At this point I’m hearing the voice of AA, saying: a meeting isn’t a success because of the room it’s in, it’s down to the people!

Yes, that’s true, but I’ve spent so much of the last seven years in the area that the meeting’s just left, I think it’s going to be more of a wrench leaving there than I thought it would be. It was about the same when the meeting left its original home in West London all those years ago. Around that time was when I started to really drift from AA, I think. I remember getting really bored with the meeting when it first moved south of the river, and I began to feel bored and resentful in AA on a regular basis. So I must be vigilant that it doesn’t happen again, because of all the pain it ultimately led to.

Tonight I was skating closer to the edge than I have in a while, and I don’t like it. After the meeting I could easily have followed the burger gang to dinner, but since the last few times I’ve gone have been a bit of a disaster I was less inclined to make the effort in the moment. The crazy thing is that I was hungry, and I ended up on my own in another burger restaurant just round the corner from them. Mad or what?

I can justify this all I want, but when it leads to nihilistic feelings such as ‘what’s the point of going to AA?’ it’s not good at all. I’m not saying I actually entertained such a thought tonight, but there was a feeling there that I haven’t had since 2015, one that could drive me away from the fellowship altogether. It’s the same old story: when I’m in an off mood I can’t stand seeing and hearing other people who are social successes. All the sharing in the meeting had been about the wonderful friendships that AA encourages, and I knew it would be the same with the group at the restaurant, and it was all too easy to avoid it.

Again I hear the voice of AA: to be a social success I must do the work, it isn’t just going to happen to me.

Tonight I just didn’t want to do the work, it’s as simple as that. I didn’t want to force myself to go with the group, I didn’t want to burden them with my problems. It was much easier to say goodbye and leave on my own than sit there for an hour pretending to be ok. If I could have been genuine, gone with them like I wanted to and confided in someone about not feeling ok, that would have been wonderful, but it didn’t seem possible.

God, it’s so hard to be with people when I’m not in a fantastic mood! So I isolate myself and end up craving the company. On the way home on the bus I was listening to some Saturday night music and I caught myself thinking how nice it would have been to stay with people and suggest a night of dancing. I’ve no idea why such a thought occurred to me – since I officially decided that I would never go to a club and dance again a long time ago!

One final word from the voice of AA: clearly if I keep analysing my social performance in these situations I’ll find myself not up to scratch, and of course it’s going to make me feel worse. I see other people doing fantastically well, within seconds I’m comparing my life to theirs, and it hurts. If I was able to see only the positives I’d have a much easier time, and I’d probably go for a burger every single week. I keep waiting for it to get easier to ignore these moods, so that I can do the fellowship thing without all the thinking. It scares me that I could keep waiting forever.