Sunday 21st June

I didn’t want to go to the meeting on Friday. My vow to go every week until some kind of “miracle” happens no longer seemed so important, as it was a beautiful sunny evening and I fancied a walk through the park before going home. I walked to the park near work and started in the favoured direction of the lake, from where I could hop across to a nearby station and get the quick train home. I’d done the walk a lot in the past, it was the perfect day for it and I had just the right playlist on Spotify that I could compliment it with. When I got to the park entrance, I remembered that I wouldn’t be able to go to that night’s meeting for another three weeks as I would be on holiday in France from next week. I tried to get it out of my mind, but I couldn’t. A sober conscience, a higher power, I don’t know what, turned me in the direction of the centre of town and I began to walk towards the meeting. I’ll be able to go to meetings in France, and I’ll probably enjoy them a lot more than I enjoy meetings here because I won’t know anyone there. But with this meeting I made a vow; the more I go and struggle socially there, the more I feel this strange need to persevere with it.

I got there and sat down in the middle as usual. I knew nearly everyone, and spoke to no one. The chair was being given by R, a kind hearted man who I’d almost become friends with in my early days. I thought he wasn’t going to acknowledge me, but a minute before the meeting started he came over to give me a hug. I assumed he’d been on his way to greet someone else, was just being polite in passing, but when he’d hugged me he returned straight to his seat, indicating he’d only gotten up for me. I couldn’t quite believe it, that maybe I’d been meant to come to this meeting.

His share was brilliant, and the room was half empty, as it had been for the past few weeks, so there would be plenty of opportunity for me to share back. At a lot of points it would have been very easy for me to jump in. There were some long gaps and from across the room I saw C, the guy I accidentally confided in about some dark thoughts I was having weeks ago after the meeting, looking at me meaningfully. But I couldn’t do it. Those insurmountable thoughts were still in my head: what if what I have to say doesn’t resonate with the room? What if it comes out wrong? What if it annoys someone? Of all the things to fear in life, annoying someone may seem pretty trivial, but in AA I have become obsessed with it. I’ve spent so many weeks piling the pressure on myself to come out with something powerful, funny and memorable, I could never live up to the standards in my head. Being aware that it is all in my head doesn’t make it any easier. While other people are sharing I can think of things that I’d like to say, to identify myself with the chair and with the room, but as soon as a gap appears in the sharing it all begins to seem irrelevant and stupid, and my mouth won’t open.

Why is sharing in a meeting so important? I’ve made it into such a critical thing when there are other ways I could connect with a meeting. Lots of people don’t share in meetings and they seem to get by OK. Well, it may not be that important in the great scheme of things, but since I have spent so much time thinking about it, I can’t help wondering why it is so difficult for me, and why I can’t just jump into the silence like other people do with all sorts of crap on a weekly basis. It’s just speaking, something I do every day. Some people use the opportunity to say grandiose things about sobriety and spirituality; others use it to tell jokes and make people like them; others use it like therapy, while others still just talk about their day as if they’re talking to a friend at the shop. I can do all of those things, I’ve done them in meetings before loads of times. No, nothing bad would happen to me if I were never to share in my life again. But the fact that I am coming up against this wall again and again is a fact that I don’t like.

On Fridays it’s not just sharing that I’m struggling with anyway, it’s the whole social aspect of the meeting. I’ve gone nearly every week this year and still I can’t instigate a spontaneous conversation with someone there. Someone would have to come up to me for anything to happen. I go every week and I sit with this self consciousness, imagining I must have pissed so many people off with my standoffishness over the weeks, and I don’t want to be there but logically I know it’s in my head and so I keep returning, waiting for it to pass. This too shall pass, right?

*****

I went swimming with P as normal yesterday afternoon. Later on we’d arranged to go and see Jurassic World at the cinema. In between swimming and the cinema I had a few hours to kill because he had to go and get some stuff at the shops. I could have gone with him, but I didn’t want to do that and I thought I’d be getting in the way. I went to sit in a favourite café, to while away a few hours with my book.

By half 5 I was getting a bit uncomfortable in my seat, it was getting quite busy and I knew other people would probably want to sit down. I remembered a nearby newcomers meeting which I used to go to last year. I might not know anyone there, which made it more appealing yesterday as I could just go and listen to some good sharing then go to meet P for dinner and cinema.

Once in the room I immediately walked to a seat near the back, passing on my way M, the guy who I was exchanging text messages with and going for coffee with until I went away for work and lost contact with him. Since I got back I’ve seen a person that looks extraordinarily like him in the street near my gym a few times, and I’ve tried to wave, but he’s never waved back, leading me to believe it may not be him. But the last time I saw the person I was almost certain it was him – unless he’s got a twin, which I doubt – he gave me a funny look but he didn’t wave or smile, he just hurried past, not in the way that a stranger would but more the way someone you know who doesn’t want to talk to you would. I know that walk, I’ve done it myself to people over the years.

Realising this must be my payback for all the people I’ve ignored out of fear over the years, I didn’t attempt to say hello to M yesterday before the meeting started. I could only find a free seat in the row behind him; he must have seen me come in, and so in the remaining ten minutes prior to the meeting there was a chance he might turn around and shake my hand or say something, but he didn’t.

The chair was being given by J, someone else I’ve known and liked throughout my sobriety but who I haven’t been able to connect with for months. He didn’t turn and smile at me either yesterday. I tried to make myself catch his eye, so that he would have to acknowledge me, but I couldn’t do it. I fear eye contact above all things in life.

His chair was great, and I could have shared back but I didn’t. I couldn’t think of anything to say that would somehow impress him, impress the room and make him my friend again at the same time. As the hour wore on I wondered what I was doing there. If I were to just walk out at the end without saying something to either of them, it would have been a wasted hour. The longer I go through this in AA the clearer it becomes to me that I will have to take the bull by the horns at some point. The days of people coming over to me and making my sobriety easy are over. I’m a big boy now. The kind of fellowship I want in AA, the kind I envy people like J and M for having, can only come about from my actions.

When the meeting was over the end of the row was blocked by M and someone else having an in depth discussion. I could have avoided them by going out the other way, but I determined not to. I willingly risked opprobrium as I experimented by putting a hand on his shoulder to get his attention. Let’s see if this legendary AA kindness that he just shared about still extends to me, I thought. “It’s good to see you!” he turned and pulled me into a bear hug. I was so shocked the friendly smile I’d hastily plastered on fell off my face.

It was clear to me I wasn’t being invited to participate in a conversation. He turned straight back to his friend and I was left to exit the room alone. I couldn’t see J as I walked out, and I couldn’t have gone through that experience again anyway. I’d used up all the guts I had for the day.

My friendship with M may or may not have been rescued, but at least I had done something risky. At least I’d tried. If I am to get somewhere in AA, I think it’s going to be through these baby steps. I’m not just going to walk into a meeting and suddenly be everyone’s friend, not this decade. I can do baby steps; it’s a hard, long path, but it’s better than doing nothing.

Sunday 14th June

I’ve been having rather morbid thoughts today. It’s been a really good week but today I just woke up and it was one of those ‘wrong side of the bed’ days. Something funny was in my waters as I got up around midday, switched my computer on and started watching the new season of Orange Is The New Black still in my pyjamas. Prior plans I’d had to go to the gym or go for a walk in the park were conveniently forgotten. I was too tired for exercise; I deserved a rest; who’d care if I stayed in anyway. The new episodes of OITNB are great, but gradually even they couldn’t keep me from sinking further into a swamp of negativity. At 4 o’clock I was even more tired than I had been at 12, and I was thinking of going back to bed.

Luckily a spiritual urge not to waste a summers day kicked in, and instead of falling asleep I put some clothes on and went out. I quickly started to feel better on the train into town. I could reflect on how well I’d been doing this week: I hadn’t had any bad moods at work, I’d gone to the meeting on Friday night again and stuck to the weekly AA plan. There I hoped to see L again, knowing it was his last night here. He showed up just as the meeting was starting, ending a panic that had been building in the preceding minutes. I realised that this is what I’ll need in AA when L’s gone: someone I can rely on to sit next to me in meetings. Without that, I am just drifting. I can share when I have someone next to me; I can feel safe knowing that there is someone who cares there. Years ago in one of my first meetings, someone told me that every person in the room would happily feed me if I let them. The question now is, how do I let them? It remained a mystery to me on Friday.

As the meeting drew to a close I asked L if he wanted to go for coffee. I knew he would be flying in the morning and probably couldn’t stay out late like last week, but I needed that kind of conversation we always have again, even if just for an hour. He agreed to a quick coffee, but first he wanted to chat to someone else so I went outside to wait for him. Waiting outside the meeting hall at the end of the meeting on Friday nights always used to be the most nerve racking part of my week in the old days. I’ve deliberately avoided it for years, because the area outside the meeting hall door is like a school playground for half an hour on Friday nights when the meeting ends. If you’re standing there with someone you’re fine; if you’re there on your own, you’d better find someone to chat to quick before you start standing out like a sore thumb.

Naturally, I was one of the only people on my own amongst that crowd for ten minutes whilst I waited for L. For every second of the first five minutes I wanted to turn and go home. After five minutes I was ready to give up when someone I’d never spoken to before started talking to me. Her first question concerned how to find a local meeting on Saturday night. From there our conversation took a stilted, difficult path until L appeared in the door and I could go. At one point she asked if I suffered from social anxiety. I answered her by smiling – of course I suffered from it. She outed herself as a fellow sufferer too. She laughed as she recalled how many years she’d been struggling with it – 24 years of sobriety, and she still found it a challenge looking someone in the eye.

I said goodbye and went to get coffee with L wondering if I could count that brief conversation with a stranger as a success. On the plus side, I’d engaged spontaneously with someone I didn’t know and shared something quite personal. On the minus side, I hadn’t really made much effort in the conversation; I’d only shared my status as a social phobic because she’d asked me if I was one. On balance, I think it’s good I managed to say anything to anyone other than L at the meeting.

*****

Today when I started my walk I felt pretty normal, nothing unusual. I walked for an hour or so along the river, past millions of tourists, with loud music in my ears to shut the noise out. After an hour the normal feeling was quickly slipping away again for some reason. I’d been planning to sit down in a nearby coffee house and read a book for the rest of the afternoon, but at that point sitting down and reading wasn’t going to be enough. I felt an urge to just keep walking, to get away from the feelings that were suddenly threatening to overwhelm me.

Normally my walks only last an hour, after which time I always start to get tired and I need to either go home or sit in a cafe and drink tea and eat cake. Today, I could have walked forever. The need to keep going and going was so strong, as dark and morbid thoughts floated into my mind like icebergs in a dark and still ocean. I was being haunted by memories of all the disappointing things that had happened in the past few years: the trip to New York in 2010 that was supposed to be a dream but ended up being a nightmare because I kept arguing with my friend there; the mass redundancy at work which saw all of my best friends leave one by one; my needy clingy relationship with G five years ago which ended embarrassingly in a gay sauna.

I don’t know why the hell I was thinking about G again after all these years. I had to shake it off by walking some more. Every time one of these memories would drift in I would speed up my pace, dry the tears that I couldn’t let fall in the street. After a few hours I ended up on the other side of the city, having walked about 7 miles. I suddenly realised that my feet and legs were burning like hell, and I had to sit down. I found a coffee chain and got myself a Diet Pepsi, which I enjoyed like no one’s business. All of a sudden, I began to feel better. I had undoubtedly burned hundreds of calories in the space of an afternoon, at no cost to myself; and I think I had also discovered something important.

My disease hasn’t gone away, it will never go away. But I can beat it by knowing it, and accepting it, with love. The nature of my disease is to try and grab onto any negative thought or image or memory it can, to fool me into thinking things will always be bad, life will always be disappointing and people will always hurt me. The disease itself isn’t these thoughts and memories, it’s just a negative state that sits inside me, waiting for activation. As soon as I stop feeding it with fuel it falls dormant, until the next time. When I sat in that Costa this evening with my Pepsi, watching closely the people around me as they walked and talked and laughed and argued and lived, I was at complete peace with myself. I don’t have to be a prisoner to my problems any more, because they all go away in the end.

Sunday 7th June

Every month I go to an LGBT-themed book group in town, and it was on again Thursday. I always look forward to it because I know and like the people there pretty well, having gone semi-regularly for the past two years. I can’t believe it’s been two years. In the beginning it was nerve racking the first few times, as is everything the first few times, but I soon settled in as one of the group, once I knew who the regulars were and I could be sure my opinions were as welcome as everyone else’s.

As well as giving me the opportunity to read some great gay literature it’s shown me that I can fit into a group, sometimes. I don’t always end up on the outside of every situation. Of course it helps that it’s an LGBT book group – I’ve always felt much more comfortable in social situations where it’s other gay people. Given that, I can’t help wondering why it’s so different at LGBT AA meetings. These days the gay meetings may as well be straight meetings, for all the fitting in I seem to be doing there. I’m aware that I’ve put this block up in my head and it’s not the meetings themselves that have the problem, because the book group has clearly shown I can meld into a group with other gay people when it’s supportive. It remains a bit of a mystery how I am to overcome the block that’s still there in AA.

Is it because of the extra honesty and commitment that AA requires? Could it be that simple? The book group, as “real” as it is, is still just a book group. I don’t have to commit myself to it and I don’t have to go and talk about my most embarrassing problems every month. It’s much easier to talk about what I liked in a book than it is to talk about the visceral dread I wake up with every morning. Which is ironic because whenever I am alone I crave those serious, visceral conversations much more than I crave a conversation about a book or a piece of music. When I’m making friends and going on dates I always without fail wish I could just skip the small talk and get to the serious stuff. I tell myself that I loathe the superficial conversations you’re required to have about what you watch on TV and what political party you support. And yet when I’m presented with an opportunity to talk about spiritual pain on a Friday night in an AA meeting, I balk at it.

*****

The weather has been unusually summery here this weekend, and P and I decided to spend Saturday out and about. We stopped in the park for a while to enjoy the evening sunshine and, as is usually the case now, the conversation came back to what I plan to do later in the year once I leave my job. My mind is virtually made up now – I want to spend three months in France learning French – which is not to say I’m not still capable of swaying when something else seemingly appealing comes along to distract me. Yesterday I remembered a dream I had earlier in the year of going to Greece, and for several hours I debated with P whether it would be a good idea to spend money on a trip there. The three months in France would still be a definite, I’d just do that afterwards.

P predictably doesn’t think I should waste the money. He scoffs at my idea of having the holiday of a lifetime in South Eastern Europe. He’s just about accepted that I’m going to spend a certain portion of my money on a long stay in France. Anything else is frivolous to him, he’d rather I put everything that I don’t spend on France away for buying a flat.

There has always been this urge in me to travel and discover other parts of the world, I don’t know why. Because I don’t know why it’s there I can’t explain it to P. If I were to explore it for a while maybe I’d find it’s because of the feeling I always had as a child of being trapped. Trapped in my bedroom, trapped at school, trapped in my home city. I can’t explain that to P – he’s never experienced it so he wouldn’t understand even if I came up with the most eloquent explanation ever.

Another thing I don’t think P would understand is the possibility of me staying in France after the three months are up. He’ll be happy if I return here in the new year and start looking for a job at some big native company like a dutiful young man. Unfortunately I’ve started to have other ideas; the possibility of falling in love with France and finding meaningful work there instead has become so real to me I might actually end up doing it. All the sensible reasons for coming back home after a few months – the language barrier, not having friends and family there, the expense – aren’t sticking in my mind at the moment. For once in my life, despite my traditionally cautious character, I’m chomping at the bit to be adventurous and up sticks forever.

It’s hard to know exactly what the path will be. Do I just go to straight to France, look for work and at least keep most of my work bonus? Or do I blow half on it on a dream tour of Europe like I really want to, using the excuse that I may never have the money to do such a thing again? The day I get to decide still seems like such a long way off, and perhaps it’s a good thing because maybe I still need the time to consider.

What’s certain is that I’ve never felt as drawn to leaving here as I do at the moment. All my life I’ve been secretly searching for a path, not knowing quite where to go, taking the first or second thing that came along as long as it wasn’t too risky. Whenever I’ve moved in the past it’s always either been the result of the throw of a dice, a chance to escape from something I want to avoid, or a financial necessity. I’ve never just moved somewhere because I felt drawn to it. This year I have a real choice in front of me and I can feel something, I don’t know what, pulling me to France. I have to go.

*****

I’ve been getting into a daily meditation practise with the help of the Headspace app, which was recommended to me by numerous shares in AA meetings. I can’t say I’ve been the best pupil, given that 5 days out of 7 I still can’t bring myself to sit down and do it for fifteen minutes. But in spite of the haphazard nature of my ongoing practise I’m sure I’m feeling the benefits. I’ve been experiencing less stress at work; I haven’t had as much of my free time taken up with worrying about what’s going to happen at the office the next day; I’ve been able to inhabit my own skin comfortably at times. The last few weeks have been less of a drag, in other words. At the moment I’m on the “stress” pack of meditations which, surprisingly, guides you through dealing with stress.

A big technique involves sitting with the anxiety and letting it be. Not thinking about it, not engaging with it, not trying to question or debate with it – just letting it play out in the body. I’ve understood for years that the key to mindfulness means accepting all negative feelings as they are, but I haven’t really tried to do it on a regular basis until this year. I guess I always shied away from accepting anxiety without question because it felt reckless. Doing anything that doesn’t involve actively worrying feels reckless. Sitting there and letting the feeling, whatever it is, play itself out until it’s gone seems so strange and counter-intuitive, because my mind is used to me engaging with the feeling by questioning it and adding worry on top of worry. When I try to separate myself and simply give it space to dissolve I’m not just changing the record, I’m changing into someone else. Someone wise and peaceful and accepting. The negative voices try and say this isn’t me, going down this path is going to get me in trouble. But there’s no denying that I have seen positive results these past couple of weeks, against all expectations. So I’m really hoping that I will be able to get back to a daily meditation soon, and that I don’t just lose the momentum again like I always have in the past.

*****

The week at the office was going relatively well until the end on Friday afternoon, when my boss managed to annoy the hell out of me by giving me a dirty look. I’d accidentally broken the fax machine by pressing the wrong button. When I saw it switch itself off and refuse to come back on I knew I had to own up to my boss. I tried to laugh it off but evidently she wasn’t in a laughing mood. If she had just told me off for being stupid, it would have been OK, at least I’d have known how she felt. But when she’s in a bad mood she doesn’t say anything, you just get a look that’s supposed to tell you everything you need to know. I can’t stand it. I couldn’t stand it so much on Friday I fell into a dark mood like none I’d experienced in weeks.

I had arranged that night to meet someone at a social group for French speaking gays uptown, but because of my mood I had to cancel and take myself to an AA meeting instead. It’s perhaps an encouraging sign that I know exactly what to do now when my negative emotions begin to take over like blinds coming down on a window.

There was some momentary regret over not being able to go to the French group – I could do with as much French speaking practise as I can get at the moment – but there are times when sober fellowship seems more important. I got to the meeting and I really wanted to be able to sit somewhere where people would surround me, one of the rows to the side of the room maybe, but old instincts took me to the centre where everyone avoids taking seats until the last minute. With ten minutes to go until the start of the meeting I found it easy to sink quickly into despair, as it became evident that yet another week would go by without me engaging with anyone.

Even if I’d wanted to approach someone for some pre-meeting sober conversation I wouldn’t have known how to get up, walk over to someone and open my mouth. Being normal was as mysterious to me during those moments as it was at the age of five when I went to school and met other kids my age for the first time. There were plenty of people in the room who I’d spoken to before, including even a couple of former sponsors, people whose homes I’d been to. They felt like strangers to me, all because there had been a gap between the present and the last time we spoke, during which I’d allowed minor resentment and mistrust to develop.

It’s in moments of the greatest need that a higher power intervenes, or so I’ve occasionally found. I was looking at the floor thinking about morbid things when someone tapped me on the shoulder, and there next to me was L, like a miracle. It must have been a couple of years since we last bumped into each other. He sat next to me Friday and the conversation came easily. I didn’t have to worry about whether I could trust him, whether he was judging me or whether I was saying the right thing; it was just a natural, easy conversation between two old friends.

As soon as the meeting started I knew I was going to have to share. Although I may not have seen L in years he knows me probably better than anyone in AA, so he knows about my struggles with sharing, and he especially knows my struggles with sharing at this meeting. I knew I wouldn’t be judged if I chose not to share that night – but with someone next to me I felt a bit more, I don’t know, engaged with the meeting than I normally do. It felt safer than it normally does, mainly because there was another alcoholic there who actually knows me for once. I wasn’t completely isolated from every single person in the room, for a change.

Halfway through I managed to put my hand up and pretty much every doubt and anxiety came out in words during the next five minutes. I had no plan for what I was going to say and it was terrifying, but I just kept on because once I’d started what choice did I have? People were nodding and smiling, which is always a good sign, when I talked about my eight year long journey of ups and downs with this meeting. I’ve heard many people share in the past few months about how terrified they are of opening up there, so I shouldn’t have felt that what I was saying was terribly controversial, but I did, because that’s where I still am. But at least I said it.

Afterwards I didn’t have the whole room congregating around me trying to congratulate me on my bravery; I wasn’t offered any telephone numbers or invitations to do chairs in other meetings. I guess what I must accept now is that all of that won’t just happen overnight. To get to the stage where I’m everyone’s friend I’m going to have to keep working hard at it, probably for the rest of my life. I’m going to have to keep sharing, every week if I can. I may not make new friends every single time I go there. It may be months before I’m able to strike up a conversation with someone new there; but there could be a week where something I say just happens to strike a chord with someone, and I may just happen to get talking to someone in the seat next to me, on the off chance, at some point. I don’t want to miss that opportunity.

I could at least rely on my friend for some socialising. We took a table outside a nearby late night cafe in the heart of the entertainment district and talked for hours about, well, everything while every shape and colour of life in the city walked by. I talked a lot about my plans for moving to France and he took a sensible tone: I should think about budgeting carefully and how much easier it will be to get another job here in the long run than it would be there.

Years and years ago when I first knew him I’d have wanted to argue about it. Things could have gotten quite nasty. I was amazed to realise that I’ve changed a great deal in that respect. These days I can talk about my plans and listen to people question and give advice without wanting to bite their heads off. I can talk about many things, give an opinion and get a response without feeling attacked – essentially I can interact with the world on an equal and confident footing now. That’s not to say I never have moments of feeling attacked any more, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to be mature these days.

It’s entirely because of that I was able to enjoy his company so much on Friday. Just knowing I can still have that kind of friendship in AA – that I can still have a good night out with a fellow alcoholic – is a great comfort. I honestly thought I’d lost all of them. It may be many years before I know and trust a whole group of people in that way again, but Friday has encouraged me to keep going, to keep trying.

Saturday 30th May (meeting night 2)

I really didn’t want to go to a meeting tonight. I’m basically only going to meetings so I can see how long it takes before I finally break this barrier between me and the fellowship. Friday hadn’t been a success in any sense of the word. Could I share in tonight’s meeting? Have a conversation with someone? Take a phone number? Get invited to coffee? All these are pretty normal things that people do when they’re trying to get well in AA. Once again, it was like trying to speak Japanese tonight, even though I’ve managed most of these things at other times in recent weeks. Since I got back from the work trip I haven’t quite met the success that I was meeting before the trip. Which really sucks because I feel like I need to be part of a fellowship now more than ever.

At one point tonight I did partly wonder if I could accept my recovery just the way it is at the moment, going to meetings and not really making friends but listening and taking home some form of message instead. Then I spent the rest of the meeting desperately wanting to share and connect with the people around me, and I knew I could never be content knowing this will be what meetings are like for the rest of my life. All I want is for it to be how it was five, six years ago. I wasn’t a different person back then, I was just as introverted as I am now, yet it still amazes me how many coffee invitations I used to get at that time.

It’s occurred to me that the friendship circle I surrounded myself with five or six years ago wasn’t real, which is why it didn’t last and why I find it so hard to establish another one. These days I’m trying to establish real connections in the rooms – fairweather friends won’t do any more – and I’m trying to be honest and vulnerable and share what’s really going on for me for the first time. All of which is incredibly hard after eight years of skating around the edges of vulnerability.

So I didn’t manage it once again tonight. I exchanged a few polite words with someone just before the start of the meeting; I spent ninety tight-lipped minutes in my seat; then I left without saying goodbye to anyone. I loathed myself on the way home. The next chance I’ll get to connect with any alcoholic will be next week.

The great irony is that often people – some of whom you would never expect to be shy or nervous about sharing – talk in the meeting about how difficult they find it to share honestly, especially when they are many years into sobriety. Tonight someone with about twenty years shared with great eloquence and wit how he wishes he could be more eloquent and witty; how he envies others who in his mind will always be cleverer and funnier than him. He described sitting through countless meetings feeling anxious and depressed because what he wants to say never sounds as good in his head as what others are saying. I could have said all the same things. He may find it as difficult and depressing as I do, but the difference between us is that he always shares anyway. For some reason I can’t get past the fear. I honestly don’t know how someone opens their mouth and says those things. A caring sponsor may say to me “well they just open their mouths and speak.” After all these years I still can’t believe it can be that simple. I don’t want to believe that the answer to all my problems has been staring me in the face all along, because that would just be ridiculous, wouldn’t it.

Friday 29th May (meeting night)

After one of my busiest ever weeks at work I wanted nothing more than to go home at 6, lie down for a few hours and then binge watch old Friends episodes on Netflix. I could have done that, but I didn’t, because really I knew I couldn’t. Apart from the three weeks abroad I’ve forced myself to the big Friday meeting every week recently, in this ongoing attempt to restart my recovery. I let my feet take me there tonight against all self will, knowing I’d be doing the right thing and not the easy thing. I’d be giving myself another opportunity to mingle with fellow alcoholics, share parts of myself, perhaps make new friends. All the things that my sick self loathes. Do I really have to go again? it asked me. I went, knowing I would feel awkward and judged as soon as I got there, because that’s how my sick self always feels there.

As usual I chose a seat in the middle of the room, the part which always stays empty the longest while everyone else sticks as much to the edges as they can. The feeling of being silently judged for my flagrant anti-social behaviour sat with me, even though I know full well outside of the meeting that no one judges anyone there. In that room I don’t even question the feeling, I just do all I can to shrink and be invisible; at the same time I’m aware I have to make myself visible there if I am to gain anything from it. It’s an incredibly stressful dilemma that I often find myself in there.

Wanting to be left alone and yet craving some fellowship all the same, I was moved when two people separately came up to give me a warm hello and a hug just before the start of the meeting. It looked like they were genuinely happy to see me, though I didn’t know either of them well. I nearly took it as a sign from my higher power that I was perfectly safe and welcome at the meeting. Except I didn’t.

The meeting began and the chair was given by a man who radiated joy and love. He had an infectious smile as he spoke, a bright twinkle in his eyes; a great, attractive human warmth. He didn’t say anything ground breaking but the whole room hung off his every word and wanted him to go on forever. He talked about the miracles of recovery, which included a loving life partner, and the ability to travel and do chairs in other countries. We were witnessing something beautiful – if you had to see only one AA chair in your life, this would be the one.

I wanted to share back in the meeting as much as ever. This man had achieved all the things I dream of in sobriety – I felt compelled to tell him. Like last week, and most of the weeks before that, fear kept my mouth shut tight. Other people had to share the things I wanted to say: that they identified with his difficult background, that they found his humility endearing, and his description of his relationship as inspirational. Dozens of people got to connect with this man on a deeply human level, while I sat frozen near the back, unable just to say a word or two that would get me plugged in. As the meeting drew quickly to an end my heart beat got faster, the pressure to open my mouth got stronger, I kept waiting for gaps to appear in the sharing and then when they did I couldn’t squeeze myself into them. Five minutes before the end the biggest gap yet appeared; I opened my mouth and began to say “I…” before I was interrupted by someone with a louder voice and a more persuasive ability to command attention. It was the most I’d said in the meeting in about two months. It was all I’d say tonight.

I suppose it’s progress, given that I couldn’t say anything the last few weeks. I have the rest of my life to learn how to share again. To calm my agitated mind, I worked out that if I live another fifty years then there’ll be 2,600 more chances to get this meeting right. Sounds like a hell of a lot when you think about it. What’s there to worry about? Well, if I think about how many thousands of meetings I’ve already been to in nearly eight years – and I’ve only made this much progress in all that time – it’s not so encouraging. Doesn’t seem like so many chances after all.

One shouldn’t be giving oneself deadlines, but every time I go to this meeting and I fail to connect with it, I experience the sense of another missed chance more and more keenly. To make up for not sharing I could have gone up to the chair at the end tonight and shook his hand, thanked him for being so wonderful. He couldn’t possibly have minded. Or I could have forced myself to linger and have a conversation with any other alcoholic in the room. Even just a few minutes of meaningless small talk would have done it. But I couldn’t. I silently excused myself on the basis that I’d done enough just by going to the meeting when I didn’t want to. As soon as I’d walked out I let the disappointment sink in, realising not for the first time it would have been so fucking simple just to talk to someone.

Thursday 28th May

I may have mentioned it before but, just in case not, the company I work for is soon to change its ownership and at some point in the next couple of months, I stand to benefit financially. Considering that I was unemployable at the beginning of my journey in sobriety nearly eight years ago, it’s an honour to be in this position now. But it means I must make some big decisions this summer. Namely, do I stay where I am for the sake of convenience, or do I leave like I’ve always wanted to?

The day of the changeover draws ever nearer, and the decision that I have to make gets increasingly harder. I should have already made the decision, shouldn’t I? Well now I’m half tempted to ask for a career break, instead of handing my notice in altogether. The reason is that I keep thinking about what’s going to happen next year, when I start running out of money and I have no job. I won’t want to look for a new job at least until after the new year, and by then I’ll have eaten well into the company bonus. I definitely want some time out of work – but do I really want to leave a secure job totally behind, when I’m entitled to some unpaid leave?

Over the weekend I was out with P and decided to talk to him about it, even though I can usually guess what his advice will be. We’ve spoken about this subject a million times over the years, he’s witnessed all of my changes of heart, and all the time his opinion has been that I should do anything to keep my job. He thinks if I can just take some time out then return next year feeling better about things, it would be prudent in the long term. He doesn’t understand when I try and explain why I often feel that I just have to leave, regardless of how much better things may be now than they were a few months ago. Honestly, things have been so much better this month than I thought they could be, because I’ve had the freedom to pick my own tasks, and it’s given me some real responsibilities in the role. It’s made me think that maybe I could stay where I am long term, if I could just have a break and go to France for three months like I always planned. P now thinks this is a no brainer, as it will guarantee me financial security into 2016. But there remains that rebellious part of me, the part that’s still so angry at what’s happened this year, and the fact I’ve had to hide my feelings all year.

Even though I’ve really enjoyed facing the new challenges that the role has brought me this month – learning much about myself in the process – it’s hard to suddenly commit myself to staying in this role after months of waiting to leave. All year all I’ve wanted is to get the money and go – I’ve felt stuck for so long. It’s too tempting not to take an opportunity when it comes along to see if I can survive out there, away from the convenience and security of this job which I’ve spent so much of my adult life in.

*****

Today I was given more pause for thought on the matter when a friend from our sister office announced that he’s got an interview for a job here. All of a sudden he’s set his heart on it, even though it would mean uprooting across Europe. I have to say it was quite a shock to hear his enthusiasm today, because it would just be such a big move. Then again, he’s young, he doesn’t have family responsibilities over there; and he’s ambitious. It’s hard not to support that.

If by some crazy twist of fate he ends up coming over here and I end up choosing to stay, it could be a blessing for me. I’d no longer have to be friendless in the office. My daily life would no longer be so full of silence.

Thinking about all of this has lessened my determination to quit somewhat, and I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.

Of course for the sake of authenticity I should only make the decision based on what I want, not what someone else is doing in their life. If I’m to be truly authentic, I probably ought to stick to the decision I’d already pretty much made, which was to leave next month after the money comes in. Before today I knew in my heart that I had to go for so many reasons. To suddenly forget those reasons just because one person might get a job here screams co-dependency, does it not? My AA head is warning me: just don’t go there.

But then I think about this old need of mine to keep as many friends as I can get in my life. Why not change my plans for someone who is a true soul friend? I don’t have to stay in the job forever, I could just stick it out another six months until something better comes along and we’re close enough to keep in touch outside of work. Then again I’ve been putting off leaving for so long, am I really going to say “I’ll just wait another year” again?

As always, it would be great if my higher power could give me some kind of sign what to do!

Saturday 23rd May

I returned to the meeting last night after a month’s absence. I didn’t want to go – I didn’t want to face another meeting where I would have to force myself to smile and be sociable. I knew I had no choice in the matter and I went and said hello to everyone with a heavy heart. Naturally I headed for a seat in the emptiest part of the room, right in the middle because everyone else had clustered in groups around the edges as usual. A few minutes later A came and sat next to me, which was a great surprise. A and I used to be great friends; I went to his flat once in 2008. I always enjoyed talking to him in meetings but yesterday there wasn’t the same connection there. It’s been years since I talked to him properly. I didn’t see him for years until recently when I started going to the gay meetings again. While I was avoiding them he was one of those people I thought I wouldn’t want to see again, because I associated him with that group who supposedly abandoned me. In reality it was me who abandoned them, but in my head I always liked to think they should have done something to stop me from drifting away so easily.

I engaged in polite small talk with him for about a minute until someone on the other side of the room called him over. He got his bag and happily moved away from me, leaving me to feel rather embarrassed. The person who’d called him over, G, must have felt bad for me because a couple of minutes later he also called me over. I didn’t go because there were no seats free next to them, and I thought I was too tired to move anyway. Technically I could have moved – I could have sat near to them in the nearest free seat, and I wasn’t so tired I couldn’t walk a few metres to join them. But privately I was annoyed with both of them and I wanted to hang on to that feeling of being abandoned.

For the next ten minutes until the start of the meeting I didn’t look at or talk to anyone. It could have been 2007 again, when I did the same thing nearly all the time. I wanted someone to come and rescue me but at the same time I didn’t want anyone to come near me. I sorely regretted being there; but even as I was thinking about how much better I’d feel relaxing at home I knew this was the very reason why I had to be there. It’s disappointing to still find meetings such a struggle; how much longer will I have to be on this part of the journey? The weekly test that this meeting puts me through doesn’t seem to be getting easier but it will never get easier if I give up now. Something’s telling me to keep going, to put every disappointing week behind me and keep pushing myself on until I have a week that feels like a success. I hate to think that could be years away – it would just be so nice if I could feel like I’ve made it by next week.

What I realise every time I pay attention to the seemingly successful people in AA is that I already know how to be one of them, I could be like that and have friends next week if I really tried hard. This journey I’m on is entirely about me, there’s nothing that needs to change in AA itself for me to feel different. I could go to that meeting next week and greet lots of people like an old buddy, I could sit with G or anyone I want, I could hang around afterwards and invite people out for dinner or coffee. I could have a wonderful night any time I choose to. It’s this feeling of not being ready that keeps stopping me – this sense of not being sure that they’d welcome a new me yet. In my most lucid moments it’s so clear to me I’ve got to get some balls and be that person, it doesn’t matter how people react. So far I haven’t ever managed it in eight years. But I keep dragging myself to the meeting, just in case there’s a miracle one week.

The one scary thing I can just about make myself do at the moment is share in meetings. Last night I had the same burning desire to open my mouth that I always have, but it wasn’t to be an expressive week for me. There were many gaps when I could have said my name and taken the floor, but every time I was about to go the doubts flooded in and told me that what I wanted to say wasn’t worth saying. I believed the doubts last night as much as I’ve ever believed them, so I came out of the meeting feeling a bit disappointed all round. It’s really hard to see the progress on nights like last night. I keep coming up against the fact that the progress I need to make now is only going to come through hard work. I’ve taken it easy for too long. The connections and friendships I want aren’t going to come unless I somehow find a way through that barrier and make myself vulnerable, again and again.

I’ve avoided vulnerability all my life; I’ve always taken the safe route when it comes to being open with other people, even in my AA halcyon days when I was new and sharing all the time. I wasn’t sharing honestly back then, I didn’t know it but I was just saying what I thought everyone wanted to hear. Most newcomers do it. The hardest thing about where I am in recovery now is that I can’t hide behind platitudes and phrases any more, I have to expose what’s really inside me otherwise there’s no point being there. I’ve heard old timers and other people with long term sobriety say it: they find it increasingly challenging to share in meetings because they have to tell the truth now.

I’m terrified of the things I feel I need to say in meetings these days because it always seems so negative and not funny enough. I’m terrified of offending or boring people. I want so much to be welcomed into the fold and held by a group of alcoholics that care about me. It seems to me that the only way in is to expose my pain to them and it goes completely against my nature to do that. To be blunt and raw, to tell a room how close I’ve come to destruction, even in so-called sobriety, it seems counter-intuitive. Normal people-pleasing rules tell me that I ought to attract their friendship by being positive about everything. My eyes tell me that’s not true, but my heart keeps going back to the old rules I learnt in childhood, when no one got anywhere by being honest.

What keeps happening is I let out a little bit of honesty in a meeting, I get embarrassed and run away at the end without saying goodbye to anybody, because I don’t want to give them a chance to do anything so embarrassing as empathise with me; next week I’m embarrassed that I didn’t say goodbye to them the week before so I don’t look them in the eye; I begin to imagine that my anti-social behaviour is offending them and so it becomes even harder to dare connect with anyone. I’ve repeated this vicious cycle in many situations throughout my life, from school onwards; every time it repeats it’s not just similar to before, it’s always the same. I keep doing the same thing again and again not because I don’t know what else to do, because I fear if I break the pattern I’ll suffer rejection and humiliation and I don’t know of any fear more powerful for an alcoholic than the fear of rejection.

It’s certainly going to be a long journey and I guess I’m using this blog now to document my weekly visits to this meeting, which is one of the city’s biggest and therefore scariest meetings (to an alcoholic introvert like me, anyway). Some might think it unhealthy to obsess this much over one particular meeting, it is just a meeting after all and there a hundreds to choose from in the city where I live. It’s become a yardstick of my recovery and part of me’s finding it quite interesting to watch what happens there on a weekly basis.

I hope things will get easier soon but they may not. Maybe they’ll get better and then get worse, then better again. That’s usually the way with me. See you next week!