Barbecue

Yesterday I was dreading a visit to my Aunt M’s house in Surrey. The family is so normal, and I don’t mean this as an insult to them in any way, they could appear in a photo next to the word in the dictionary. It’s not their fault at all – they are like millions of nuclear families out there – just when it comes to me, I don’t naturally belong there at all. M wanted to see me and I was happy to see her, and it’s nice to be in regular touch with her again. This time for a nice change she decided to invite me to the house for a barbecue. I can handle M perfectly well on her own and I was hoping it would just be her at the house in the evening, but as I got closer to Surrey on the train I suspected it wouldn’t just be her. No one does a barbecue just for two people. When we arrived there was her husband and younger son R, neither of whom I’ve seen in many years. Both of them the epitome of heterosexual masculinity, labourers by trade. If that was the only thing I had to worry about, their maleness compared to mine, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s not just that: it’s the whole set up. The large suburban semi-detached house, the garden with its lovely new summer house at the bottom, the dog. Everything so dreamily TV-like, so perfect.

When I was younger and visiting there much more often I used to love it, although I always felt a little out of place, and sometimes I’d be crying silently at the end of the day when it was time to leave. Yesterday my child still loved it, but having become so aware of the tragedy of that in the intervening years, I felt wholly separate and unable to enjoy myself. Normally when I meet M for coffee somewhere our conversation is so free and open, but with the rest of the family there it was stilted and superficial. I didn’t know why I was there. I always felt the same visiting dad and his family at their house; I feel the same to an extent in all social scenarios. The feeling is the most pronounced with family because I’ve known them all my life, and I have been a stranger to them all my life. I don’t want to say that it should have been a lovely evening, with great weather and food and company that was genuinely glad to have me there. It’s a cliché to say that it should have been anything when my feelings dominated it so much.

R and his dad were a little more distant from me than M at first, but eventually they were talking to me as normally as anyone, once I’d proved myself with a bit of effort. I made a huge effort to appear that I was enjoying myself, and it paid off. No one noticed anything, or if they did they probably just put it down to the shyness that they’ve always known in me. No one would have worked out that it was an ordeal from start to finish. I felt so strongly that I wasn’t meant to be there from beginning to end, I don’t know if I can ever go there again. At least until something fundamental switches in my head and I can stop doing this to myself.

A great shame, isn’t it. And here’s me, trying to become a therapist! What irony! I hate what I’m having to write today, but it’s all true. A part of my personality remains stuck in the 1980’s, when everything suggested that I didn’t belong and I wasn’t wanted in that environment. And this doesn’t just apply to visits to leafy Surrey. It applies to all intimate relationships. Whenever I’ve found myself getting close to someone romantically the same thing happens.

The thing about relationships is that nothing is ever going to change unless I take some action. I have put off for years facing this ultimate truth. The solution is with me. I can deny it sometimes, I can pretend that one day some magical person will come along and do all the work for me, it’s what I’ve been waiting for since I was thirteen. As an adult I know that magical person doesn’t exist out there in the world. I have to be that person. As a child I’m still waiting.

If I want to get involved with C, as I was making so plain on Saturday, I have to tell him. Nothing’s going to happen until I move forward, and I hate that. These feelings of not deserving it never go away! Constantly saying “here we go again” doesn’t help. It’s so easy to ‘just ignore the feelings’ but I have let them guide me all my life. If I can’t even enjoy a barbecue with my family, how would I share my life with someone?

That Christmas feeling

Friday was the day of the interview for the counselling diploma, the next level of training that I’m hoping to embark on in September. Interviews are always nerve racking, but this one was far less stressful than you’d expect, and certainly not as bad as the one I had back in December for the course I’ve just completed. There were only twelve people there on Friday, some of whom I already knew from the certificate course that I’ve been on since January; most of the others were from another certificate class that had been taking place at the same college. When the tutor that we had grown to know so well since January walked in and announced that she would be interviewing us, it set my group’s minds at ease even more. We didn’t know she would be the main tutor for the two year diploma course, which made it seem a bit like destiny that we were there.

The interview took a similar format to the one in December. The first task of the day was a group task, where we had to get together with people we didn’t already know and discuss a brief case study. It wasn’t hard. When it came to the main group discussion, I thought I put my points across well, describing the approach I would take with the case and what I thought the real problems were. I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable with speaking up in groups now, far from it; but there was a supportive group atmosphere that helped. We were all there for the same reason, we all wanted each other to do well. After that we had a written exercise, then in the afternoon, individual interview slots. Because I knew the tutor so well, it was much easier to give thoughtful and honest answers to her questions. She had already seen my progression on the course, she already knew how much I wanted to proceed to the next level.

At the end of the interview she gave nothing away about my result, but I walked away feeling positive. Doubt remains about the number of applicants and the limited number of spaces available – it’s disconcerting to imagine them having to turn people down, people who are probably well deserving of a place, and I could end up being one of them. I allowed myself to guess that I had a 60% chance of being accepted: a good chance, but I wasn’t going to be too complacent.

Yesterday, Saturday, was the final day of the certificate course that we’ve been on since January. So it was bound to be emotional, as some of us genuinely got to know each other quite well. In a place where you are asked to open yourself up and share your truth, an atmosphere of mutual respect naturally grows. For some, you could almost call it love.

I was in the lift with the tutor who had interviewed the day before on the way up to the lesson, and I could tell by her smile there was something she wanted to say. “I shouldn’t be saying this, but you did really well yesterday. Make of that what you will!” I can’t think why she would say such a thing, other than to reassure me that I’ve got a place on the diploma. My doubting child didn’t want to believe it could be true – she must have been saying it as a consolation, a kind of “don’t worry about what happens, you’ve still done well.” As we got out of the lift and walked the rest of the way to the class in silence, my adult came in and reasoned that she wouldn’t have said anything if the result was negative. She would have known it would be getting my hopes up. My confidence in my chances grew to 70% instantly.

There had been points in the course when all of us experienced intimacy with each other. I kept thinking back to that weekend in April when we went away and spent the weekend together in the countryside, how lovely the whole thing was and how easily we bonded despite our initial doubts about it all. It would be sad not to have that on Saturdays any more, even if I am glad to be getting my Saturdays back and though I probably will be progressing to the next level. We formed a unique group and now it’s over. Goodbyes are never easy.

We pretty much spent the day saying goodbye to each other. I suppose it mirrors the end of the counselling relationship in some ways: every counsellor you see isn’t going to be available forever, so maybe it was something we needed practise for. One of our ‘ending exercises’ involved sharing something personal with the group that we thought summed up our experience: most people chose a song, a poem, or a paragraph from a book they liked. The whole encounter felt very tender and loving: when do you ever get that in real life? Unlike everyone else I’d chosen to bring a drawing that I’d done in the week, of a little kid smiling up at his parent, who’s got their arm firmly around him. It symbolised the new relationship I’m trying to have with my inner child, one that’s loving and accepting instead of critical and resentful. Like everyone I was nervous when it was my turn to show & tell – I was preparing to say something very honest and intimate, something I had never said before. People responded with genuine affection and understanding. It was nice.

At the end of the day the tutor’s final words to me were: “I’ll see you soon!” My confidence in being back in September rose again to 80%. For a few moments I almost thought: “this is it, this is happiness!”

My confidence in being accepted onto the course won’t reach 100% until I’ve received the result of the interview in a couple of weeks. I still can’t let myself get carried away here. Too many early experiences of being let down. To think I could be a professionally qualified counsellor in two years is incredible. It doesn’t seem real.

Most of the class were going to the pub to celebrate the end of the course and put off those final goodbyes a little longer. I chose to be authentic and go to my home meeting instead. I can now recognise that I don’t like pubs, and it would have been hot and uncomfortable standing for two hours in whichever busy central London pub they chose. I hugged and said farewell to them at the college entrance, reassuring those who were applying for the diploma course with me that I would probably see them in September. I really hope we will all get on. It doesn’t look like there are as many applicants for this level as there were for the certificate, and we’re all good enough.

As soon as I got to my meeting I was glad I’d gone there instead of the pub. After such an emotionally unbalanced day I needed the reassuring hand of AA to calm me. I was distracted throughout the meeting by fantasies of September, of starting the next level with all those friends from the certificate that I’d just said goodbye to; dreams of spending the next two years getting to know them even better until we qualify and decide to open a practice together. They were wonderful thoughts, but like alcohol, it’s very easy to get carried away with fantasy. I knew I was doing it, and in the last half hour of the meeting I forced myself back into the room. A few of us went for curry afterwards and I talked about the course among other things with friends who have other stuff on their plates.

One of the friends, C, is the guy I’ve had a crush on for the past two years. I’ve never wanted to take it seriously because it has always seemed obvious that it will go nowhere. Last night when it was time to say goodbye he hugged me extra hard, congratulating me on completing the certificate course and my prospects for continuing; then he said “aww, I don’t wanna let go!” still hugging me. Which I thought was odd. Could there be a reciprocation of feelings there? No, I daren’t entertain the idea. I’d have known a long time ago if he liked me in that way. Unlike me he’s a confident gay man who knows how to get what he wants, or so it seems. You could say that since I never give my feelings away in this area there’s a fair chance that he has kept it secret too. But that just seems like more fantasy thinking.

I still went home feeling like a kid at Christmas. The two things I want seemed to be in my reach: getting onto the diploma, and a real chance of something with C. Soon, those nice images of a happy future were turning sour as reality kicked in again and I remembered all the reasons why a relationship with someone like C would never work. I needn’t list them here again, but I will anyway because it feels like the child in me needs reminding.

  1. I’ve had a bad case of acne for the past five years – who’d be attracted to that?
  2. I have tummy problems that mean I can’t stop passing wind at night
  3. I still live with my mother
  4. I don’t enjoy penetrative sex and I find it nearly impossible to orgasm in the presence of another person

Just one of these things would probably make a real relationship with a normal person like C difficult to achieve. Together they give me no hope whatsoever. I supposedly went back into therapy this year to deal with this – to see if there was some way of lifting these psychological barriers – but last night the more I thought about it, the more impossible and stupid it seemed. The ‘kid at Christmas’ feeling was well and truly gone, and consoling myself with the thought that I’ll probably get onto the diploma course couldn’t help.

The game is up

The theory of transactional analysis could be life changing for me. I don’t have the time or the space to go into every detail of the theory now, but since I’ve now read two famous books on the subject (Games People Play and I’m OK – You’re OK – both excellent and highly recommended) I believe it’s important enough to warrant a discussion. The theory says we all have three people in us: a parent, an adult, and a child. Moral values, self criticism, ‘beating yourself up’, all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ come from the parent. Feelings and emotions come from the child, statements like ‘I want’ and ‘it’s not fair’. Logic and reason reside in the adult, always the path to the middle ground. The adult mitigates the conflict between parent and child, analyses the data from each and hopefully makes wise decisions for us. The data in the parent and the child comes from the past, what we learnt in childhood; the adult exists in the now, in this moment.

I say it could be life changing because I don’t want to get over excited, but it provides a specific language and structure for vague psychological concepts that I always suspected to be true. It seems to be an accurate description of the problems I face in life. Maybe I struggle because I pay too much attention to the fear in my child and the criticism in my parent; my adult is thus ‘contaminated’ with tapes that were recorded a long time ago in the past. The mentioned books go into many examples of how these problems play out – all ring very true with me. Suddenly the mood swings I experience have an explanation: I’m replaying moods that I first experienced in early childhood when I learnt I wasn’t ok. That sort of sounds obvious on paper, but I’ve never had a proper framework for my personal psychology before. This ties in with the old recurring dream I keep having about school, why the flashbacks and the feelings of dread associated with them remain so vivid. Everyone has a part of their personality that is a child; mine was traumatised and replays scenes from the past when reminded of it. Until now I always knew that it was trauma, and that I was stuck in there somehow, but I didn’t know I could change. The writing says it’s in the nature of ‘the child’ to replay the past. People who are happy are either people who as children were free and safe and loved unconditionally, or people who’ve overcome a troubled past by practising at being their adult. I used to scoff at the idea of aspiring to being logical and emotion free, because I thought I could never change, I’d always be dominated by an over sensitive and emotional child. The book I’m OK – You’re OK describes in detail the painstaking but nevertheless possible path to emancipation from those chains.

All the theory I’ve learnt about in the course prior to this still holds true, as does the psychological work I’ve done in AA over the years. All of it seems to fit together nicely. It’s like being given a key to another door deeper inside, one I never approached before. In Games People Play, Eric Berne says that the solution to this contamination is complete awareness, a focusing on the present moment where we can appreciate life as it is. We need to strengthen the adult part of our personality so that we can get out of the past. This seems to chime so strongly with what AA believes it can’t be a coincidence (even though in his book Berne sort of criticises AA for being another kind of ‘game’ – I don’t believe he knew much about it in the course of writing).

A question of love

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funny old week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Session 6 / nail in the coffin

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

Day of anger

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

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

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

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

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

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