I am incredibly grateful and fortunate to have got back to this Fellowship last year. My attitude had changed and, during my first meeting back, I knew I was willing to go to any lengths to achieve sobriety. While I try hard to pay attention, be present in the moment and actively listen in AA, sometimes I get a stark reminder that I need to apply what I hear.
The wee signs and slogans on the walls in meetings are there for a reason. I used to want to scream at some of them, others made sense and one in particular 'You are no longer alone' was an unbelievable comfort. I'd often seen the sign HALT: don't get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired. "Simple stuff!", I thought and largely dismissed it, believing myself to usually be experiencing at least one of these conditions at any particular point in a day. How arrogant of me! I think the reason we are warned not to get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired is that if some or all of these states are out of kilter in me, then my thinking and perception changes. When my thinking and perception alters negatively, how I feel inside changes too and before I know it the mental obsession will have me thinking of lifting a drink.
I recently attended an AA convention in the North of Scotland, my first since beginning my recovery last August. I had been looking forward to it for months and was excited about going to a part of the country I'd never been able to visit. One of the fantastic things about getting sober is that I have choices today. I can take opportunities instead of life going on around and without me. I was 'existing' in a hopeless state of mind and body in the midst of chaotic alcoholism, waiting for it to kill me.I'm pretty early in my sobriety and have much to learn. I realise I will make mistakes with certain choices but hopefully will learn through experience. This was one such occasion.
I have spent almost a lifetime battling mental health issues. Some of this has improved significantly yet I still can struggle with social situations, anxiety and feeling very awkward. To prepare for my trip I made decisions with this in mind but these were probably choices based partly on fear. I chose to travel the 300 miles solo by public transport despite the offer of a lift and therefore company. I chose to stay in a guest house 10 minutes away from the hotel where the convention was being held, where most AA delegates were staying for the weekend. I chose to go up a day early and go off by myself to visit some beautiful spots in the countryside. All these things were my sober choice and what I thought suited me best but the point was, I was largely on my own and separated.
The convention itself was terrific. I met some fantastic, beautiful, kind people: so many great examples of how this Fellowship works. I found that I did actually know several individuals to see or have a short conversation with and was excited to meet new friends. That's a big change for me but I can still struggle with how I think/feel I fit in: the fear of either 'intruding' or being outright rejected when my head tells me "I'm unlikeable" or "I'm not good enough". At least I was trying to face my fears by going to the convention 300 miles from home. In the past this terror would lead me to just avoid social interaction or social type situations meaning I was even more isolated. I would then usually drink on my feelings of inadequacy and failure.
In hindsight I would have planned my trip differently but I will use the lessons for the future. On the Saturday afternoon there was flexible time for adhoc meetings or to go sightseeing etc. To my dismay I found a large group were visiting the place I'd already been to when I travelled up a day early. I would have much rather gone as part of something than on my own, although there was nothing stopping me going back with the large group. I declined a group boat trip too and took myself off to John o' Groats on the bus to do some walking. Again I had a lovely time, though a bit rushed due to public transport, and once again I was on my own. As my body went for a walk my head began to go walking but not along the same path!
I should have mentioned that the week prior to the convention I'd barely slept. Prompted by excitement, anxiety and trying to get organised, I'd noticed some of the behaviours and symptoms of my mental health disorder coming back in a big way. I'd not really shared this with anyone. I just kept knocking my pan out going to meetings, getting organised for the trip and staying up night after night not sleeping.On the Saturday I had breakfast where I was staying, went to the morning part of the convention, then rushed off to John o' Groats. By the time I got back in early evening I was really hungry, absolutely shattered, on my own and just trying to keep going. It was a quick turn around before the evening shares and then a band/dance. Alone in my room, I started wondering what everyone else was up to. I wondered if they were all out for dinner in a group, having fun etc, and began to feel very sorry for myself and even feel resentful towards all these beautiful AA people.
In my rational head I know I am a grown-up, responsible for myself and my choices today. I also feel for the most part I fit in reasonably well in AA but when I become consumed with me, myself and I, I usually end up in trouble. My self-centred and self-absorbed thinking was mainly a result of being overtired, hungry and spending too much time isolated when there were ample opportunities not to be alone. These three factors quickly led on to resentment and anger. The Big Book tells me that resentment is the number one offender. This alcoholic cannot afford to be taking resentments, justified or imagined, as time and time again resentment, anger and emotion has led me to pick up.
Paisley Abbey Wednesday
Note from the Editor: The second part of this article will appear in next month's issue of Roundabout.