Gratitude List

I haven’t had a drink of alcohol today or yesterday

I’m pretty busy

People are asking me to things quite regularly

My flat

I live somewhere quiet

I’m involved in service and I find it interesting

Chelsea Worlds End

Sharing from Phillip, Brad, Natalie, Chris

Alison’s friendship

My blog

My new clothes

My jobs

Not being on a diet

TV, especially iPlayer — Silent Witness, Vigil, Informer, Hunt for a Killer, Police Reality programs, Endevour, Grantchester, The Spilt,

Being a slacker

I took a lunch break and went to a meeting

Titus didn’t upset me all that much when he went autistic on me

Susan and Fred contacting me

Being able to problem solve

Giving up obsessional tidiness

Brad — because I could tell him anything, and he’s such fun

Helene — for giving me a space to express myself

Sally — for telling me I’m intelligent and cared about and I have friends

My education

Surrendering vanity

Green spaces and the sea

End of exercise obsession

Skills and abilities

All my books

Listening

The colour of our front door, and the building

All my lovely things

Sunglasses

Tea

Coffee

St Mary’s Church

Phillipa Perry’s writing

Rupert Sheldrake’s ideas

Malcolm Gladwell’s talks

Pure OCD

Not quite sure why I’m feeling down today. By rights, I should be feeling quite good; I just spent £550 on new clothes. Basic stuff I needed: underwear, bras, trousers, tee-shirts. I bought two pairs of SuperGa classic canvas shoes for the winter. I still need some wellies and walking boots and a waterproof jacket, but those things will have to wait.

Yesterday I went round to the house of some new recovery friends I’ve made recently. It was nice. I had to get a bus over there and the views en route were gorgeous. The sea. The horizon and green fields; well, what other colour are fields!

I’ve been round theirs before. Once. For some reason I feel a bit like I’m going round to my relatives when I visit A and J. My nan’s. Perhaps it’s because they’re older than me, wealthy (millionaires) and slightly of the authority type: active in the fellowship, sponsoring women, and, well, wealthy. I do like them though.

I wasn’t especially looking forward to the visit, but by the time I was leaving to go, I was feeling quite pleased I had some friends to see. They have a lovely place as well. Lots of animals: cats, dogs, ducks, chickens. Doves. Lots of space with wonderful interesting nooks and crannies and sacred spaces.

I get on with one half of the marriage better than the other half. The person who invited me was the one I seem to be more similar to. They are quieter and, to mind, less domineering that A. This played out this time around, as I expected. For example, A seemed to shoot me cutting glances on more than one occasion: perhaps I came across as a bit nosey when I touched their wedding anniversary cards that were hanging behind where I was sitting. After I did that A stopped looking at me when she was speaking. This unnerved me and left me feeling that I had overstepped some sort of boundary. Her whole demeanour was brimming with disapproval.

The first time I ever met these two was a few years ago at an AA meeting which no longer exits. For some reason the sense that she got jealous when J was talking to me stuck me like a sledge hammer. J is more approachable, which is why we got to chatting. A kept shooting me suspicious glances. I’m not sure that I always feel this around couples, but I certainly felt paranoid around A and J.

The first time I visited them my paranoia took the backseat somewhat. I still got the feeling that A didn’t like me too well, but it felt manageable. I didn’t feel threatened. This changed yesterday. To be honest I had braced myself for some sort of conflict. The time before, when I arrived and presented my contribution to the meal — two bottles of orangey stuff — A said: why did you bring this? Is this what you drink? She removed it from the fridge after J had placed my squash and juice there to chill.

I was taken aback by this, but I wasn’t all that surprised. Oh, I thought to myself. There it is (the hostility I was expecting). That was why I wasn’t especially surprised when A started to edit me out of her conversation after I dared to handle their wedding anniversary card. In fact the reason I had taken an extra interest was because I knew that it was A’s sobreity anniversary this week and I had been planning to ask J about it so that we could organise her a surprise group card.

Despite my expectations I was pretty bewildered that A was so rude. As with the drinks, they seemed quite happy to ignore all the conventions of hosting a meal in her home.

The person that A was engaging in conversation was pretty new to sobriety. A is very active in her efforts to assist newcomers. They have a lot of mentee’s. Once I considered this factor, I reprimanded myself for being put out. It was clear that A and the new person connected in their spiritual values, more so than myself and A do.

J said: lets go outside for a walk. We strolled about whilst they fed their animals: the doves and the cats. We visited the chickens and ducks.

J and A have a small house outside their front door for the cats to snuggle up in. I’d been talking about getting a cat and it happened that we both went to stroke the moggie brushing up against the miniature roof and our hands touched. This ‘incident’ aroused in me a sensation of transgression. I felt immediately worried. In truth, this sort of thing always arouses a response inside me when it occurs. Had I not been worried about A, I would probably have thought nothing of it. I’m not the sort of person that is attracted to affairs, J is not a love interest, and I don’t view our friendship as composed of any amorous undercurrents. But paranoia isn’t often based on reason.

The visit concluded happily enough and before long we all took off for the local AA group we are all a part of. When the day concluded and I snuggled up in front of the TV to watch the rest of The Informer on Netflix, I felt pretty much contented.

But my freedom from anxiety returned this morning to haunt me. Scrolling through my Guardian app over a cup of coffee something A had said flashed through my mind: I would have to kill you. They were ostensibly referring to a conversation with a person employed in a local military base. A had asked the military personnel what their job was and their interlocutor had said: If I told you that I would have to kill you.

This sentence had lodged itself in my brain. I thought of the moment mine and J’s hands had inadvertently met when stroking the cat and my mind was filled with dread. Oh, here ‘it’ is again, I intoned.

I think the ‘it’ represents the dynamic occurring at the unconscious level when I spend time with this particular couple. I really don’t think it’s ‘all in my head’. It’s there, not talking, not showing its face, but haunting from the shadows of the dinner table. The return of the repressed.

All of this was very unwelcome. I find myself in a dilemma. One of my options is an old pastime of mine — confession. I want to purge myself of my discomfort. I want it removed from my system. I’m seeing my therapist later today and will probably tell her about it. What a pain! I have such a backlog piling up since the last time we met.

Unwanted thoughts. Obsessions insinuating themselves and disrupting my peace of mind. The compulsive aspect would be the confessing. I mean, there is no danger of myself and J entering into an extramarital affair. It’s not real. I think this is what is meant by ‘Pure OCD’, a condition I have suffered from for many years.

I don’t know why I have this thing. I don’t know what it signifies. I know when it started though — I was about seventeen. It was like being attacked in the head with a sledgehammer, but I think that would have been preferable. It was the absolute worst thing that ever happened to me. I felt like I was being invaded with evil. I couldn’t keep it out. It was why, when I joined AA, I had no difficulty with the God word. I felt like I was possessed by the devil.

Finding that label helped me enormously. It was a real thing — the ‘intrusive thoughts’. I wasn’t the only person that was cursed. Thinking I might have killed someone and forgotten it didn’t make me a murderer. I was ill. I was traumatised. I was certainly traumatised.

It may not be pleasant, but at least I know what it is. The Pure OCD, otherwise known as Harm OCD is back. Another label to add to the list.

What Happened on Thursday? (Part 2)

I’ve handed today’s post over to the resonance of the universe because I’m still ‘on overwhelm’. A subtitle to this post could be: Is this a blog? I’m full of questions at the moment.

Another statement that de-overwhelms me is: My name is Ruth, I’m an alcoholic, and I haven’t had a drink today. When I say that out loud in an AA meeting it right-sizes everything. I then feel like, phew, now have a lot less to worry about. I can prioritise. Not drinking today goes on the top of the list. Then all my other ‘worries’ either melt away, or reformulate into the correct proportion. It’s like putting a genie back in a caddy. The genie being all my mental stuff, however I choose to define it.

A blog is a bit like ‘sharing’ in an AA/NA meeting. In a way, I’m free to say whatever I’d like. Not completely because it being an AA/NA meeting, I’m expected to come out with something that is relevant to the newcomer. Or relevant to someone, if only myself. As I am an alcoholic addict sitting in a meeting, there will be something that’s relevant, even if I just open my mouth and let the words come out. If I did the exact same thing in a fiction workshop that obviously wouldn’t work. Although a drama class might be better as it might be viewed as a performance. So what this tells me is that form, or context, defines content.

I say that because yesterday I wrote a blog post called: What Happened on Thursday? In that post I decided that there was a lot more to say and I would continue along those lines now. But that was yesterday and today my head is full up with all sorts of thoughts and I’m not sure writing about yesterday’s topic is how I wish to proceed. I’m still feeling very fragmented and confused, but I’m not sure that writing a story titled What Happened on Thursday? is going to be that interesting. I’m not sure I want to. The reason for that is because, like I said yesterday, the topic that what happened on Thursday spreads across is so vast.

A bit like an AA meeting, here in this space I can write whatever I please. That’s one of the reasons I like blogging. To me this blog is a bit like A Newspaper of Myself. Or it’s like a ‘daily inventory’ (what you’re encouraged to do in step ten of the 12 steps). I like the idea of writing a daily inventory blog because it kind of kills two birds with one stone. If I say this blog is my daily inventory, then I don’t have to write my daily inventory as well. I don’t think it’s just laziness, although I have been told that I’m lazy, and I probably am.

But if all I do is work the 12 steps, if I’m not ‘a blogger’ as such, then it begs the question: What am I? Or rather, what do I do? The question of what I am, or what do I do, is something that’s been on my mind since yesterday after attending an online AA meeting.

I should say that a 10th step is not meant to be public, traditionally. But it’s isn’t necessarily meant to be private either. That being the case (it not being private) a reader is involved. The 10th step is a spiritual activity, not a job. But I always thought art was a spiritual activity. I think the answer is that it can be a spiritual activity, but then it can also be a political activity. Or a financial activity (see Jeff Koons). That being the case, it’s true that a blog, were it dedicated to the 10th step — continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it — would of necessity be a spiritual activity. Even though my blog would probably be a perversion of the true 10th step.

There are two reasons that I consider this a 10th step. The first has to do with how my vocation as a writer, a ‘creative’ writer began. It began as the project outlined in my previous blog: Love Letters to the Invisible Man. When I began that epistolary practice I conceived of it as an alternative 10th step. As a progression from the classic one that I had used to do — because I know how to do the ‘proper’ version. I have been taken through the steps by AA sponsors. It’s a bit like an artist that begins their training drawing naked people and winds up directing films.

The way I see it is that this blog is a project that began with the love letters and has ended up here. This is the product in the social sense. But crucially, this isn’t For Sale. That bit is very important to me. I want it to be free.

The love letters were unpublished, so were the novels they became, the poetry and all the visual art. All that time I was searching for my form. That journey did in fact begin with drawing. That project began when I stopped drinking aged twenty. As such, it was a reflection of my sobriety, hence the 10th step permutation I’m currently wondering about inhabiting.

I say all this to indicate why I’m disinclined to continue the story about Thursday. Because if I start writing a story, I feel that I’m straying away from the form I have found here. The one that works for me, which is a spiritual practice. For me, and this obviously is only me, novel writing is not a spiritual practice. It’s a literary practice, which is why I spent so long on novel-writing courses. But I never enjoyed trying to write a novel. Actually it pretty much drove me insane, just as academic writing drove me insane. I don’t exaggerate when I say that. I was actually sectioned when I was undertaking these particular writing projects. They made me ill. But saying whatever I fancy on any particular day doesn’t drive me insane, there is no pressure. There is no product. It isn’t for sale. It’s free. Maybe one day that will change, but just for today that is how it is.

Because this bit of writing appears on a blogging platform it is a blog. I love having a platform! It thrilled me to see that yesterday’s post has has eleven views since I published it yesterday. I think every blog post I have published has had at least one view. That really thrills me. It makes me feel content, that I have achieved something in life after all. A lot of the time I have felt that I have achieved precisely nothing in my life. I haven’t even been able to stay sober, despite thirty years of trying. All of that makes me feel very very depressed. I’ve had jobs, but that was never my project. My project, since I started drawing thirty years ago, was to do something creative. I went to Brixton college to study art because I didn’t know what else to do, but I knew that I wanted to do something that was creative. That’s how I roll.

So what I have become is a writer. That really impresses me. Not a literary writer as I was thinking I would become, or hoped to become, with Paul Auster as my role model — he was my favourite author back in the day. I just love stories, but I’ve learnt that I’m not very good at writing stories. I think television is probably my favourite medium, and in another life I think I would have become an actor. I adore actors! But it’s too late for that now and in truth I’m not sure it really would have suited me because I’m an introvert. I think that’s true. I’m chronically introverted, so writing suits me better.

Loving true stories, is part of the reason I love AA/NA meetings so much. And that’s really healthy because AA meetings, unlike writing novels, is good for me!

Have you read True Tales of American Life? It’s edited by Auster (who I have actually met!) I always thought reading that was a bit like being at a meeting. AA stories are always true stories. They involve change — the character has to change otherwise the character does not stay sober. This is how true AA stories are quite literary. Because that’s one of the rules of fiction writing, right? The character has to change. That’s the point. Also, character is fate. That’s also true of the 12 steps. They’re about developing character. Going from being a looser, or rather an unwell character, to a winner, or well person. This essentially involves becoming a person with a good character, if I have understood my 12 steps correctly, and I think that I have. But comparing recovery with literary fiction is not common practice in AA. This is just what i do, because that’s how I roll. I don’t do anything by halves, which is also an alcoholic/addict characteristic.

I feel complete when I combine all my interests, knowledge and experience, which is why this blogging business is the right form for me. Because it also doesn’t stop there. I also get to throw in a bit of psychiatry, a bit of psychotherapy, which is also part of my knowledge, experience and interest set. I want something that brings together all of these bits of myself. It makes me happy, and happy is what I want for myself. God knows, I’ve known enough unhappiness. In writing this blog, with a bit of luck, I can transform all my unhappiness into insight. I think that’s the idea. And now, at last, after all these bloody years I am something: a writer. A blogger. And even if none of you read my blog, I would still be a blogger. It’s out there, it’s here, I found my form.

I think that finding one’s form is a bit like being an angel who falls to earth. As an artist, if you don’t have form, you’re invisible. It’s like not being born, even though you still exist as. But if you aren’t seen, if you haven’t shown up to be seen, then you can’t be said to exist in the world. You only live in heaven. And that is one of the troubles with writing a novel. You can slave away for years, and most likely you will never be seen. You will never be published; I’m pretty sure that of all the novels ever written, most never see the lights of day.

But with this blogging stuff, like wow, you can be seen. It’s published You don’t have to have the right connections, you don’t have to ‘network’, you don’t need an agent, all you need is access to a computer. You need literacy. You need language. But all of these things are pretty common. They are free. And who doesn’t want to be free?

This is freedom. Because it is so I really don’t need to worry about it. I don’t have to tell a story. I just have to string a few thoughts together in a vaguely coherent fashion a day at a time. Hopefully I’ve managed that.

So now I have that elusive thing, well, elusive for me anyway: I am a blogger. I have an identity. I’m not only a recovering addict with bipolar. I’m a blogger. Having something to do that I enjoy is what I always longed for. It was the reason I started out on my journey of recovery all those years ago. It was the true reason. I didn’t do it in order to find my soul mate. That was just a symbol for wholeness, for identity, for finding myself, for being well. And that’s why it was a spiritual enterprise.

I also get to share some visual art in the ‘Featured Image’.

Thank you.

What Happened On Thursday?

I’ve been really challenged since Thursday. Thursday was my volunteer day at the local mental health drop-in, and (I thought) the anniversary of my mother’s untimely death from AIDS related illness. Actually I got the day wrong, I was somewhat alarmed to realise. The actual anniversary was Wednesday the 6th of October, which meant I spent the whole of Thursday under a misapprehension.

Part of the reason I remember this date with such exactitude (I’m not usually so good at remembering anniversary’s) is that it is the same day as D’s sobreity birthday. That date I would never forget, strangely enough. I was so obsessed with D. Not that I remember D’s actual birthday, although I think it may be in June/July. But D wasn’t my mother. A mother, has always been there, at least in theory, whether or not that’s a good thing, which, in my case I’m not sure that it was — our relationship was so stressful, troubled, and to be perfectly frank, she wasn’t very nice to me. Perhaps (I’m never quite sure) she wasn’t very nice period.

Everything is such a long story at the moment (she said wearily). This is part of the overwhelm I’ve been in since Thursday. Everything feels so very complicated.

Back to Thursday.

Actually I think I wrote about the events of Thursday here a few days ago. I really did not have a very good day. In many ways it was a good day — I was sober, I had a job to do, much of my day was a success. I made two dishes with one of the guys at the drop-in place; one of my favourite clients. All of the food was eaten. No blood was spilt. I stayed all my hours; arrived on time and left on time. Despite these positive factors I felt bloody awful. The reason I felt bloody awful was that I was (it took me about two days to realise though, to be able to think straight and get any sort of clarity) that I was majorly triggered by one of the clients.

When I say majorly triggered it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to explain what I mean. On the one hand I felt as though I had been hit by a ten ton freight train, on the other, absolutely nothing appeared to have happened at all. It was an extremely odd sensation. If you’d been watching me on CCTV, you probably would have thought I was having a perfectly ordinary day, but this would have been very far from true. My day was about as far from ordinary as it is possible to imagine.

I’d like to tell you about it. In detail. So you would really understand exactly what I’m talking about. But were I to do that it would probably take me all night, and I want to watch TV soon (The Informer on Netflix). I’m not even sure one night would suffice, it may even take a week, or longer. It involves such a very long story, with so many in’s and outs, twists and turns and background information. And this, my friend, is part of the problem with Thursday — it put me sort of outside the realm of human communication. And that is what made me feel so very bad and so very very overwhelmed.

Who could I tell? What should I do? Because something was going to have to be done, and I didn’t feel confident in my ability to make the right choice. Doing the right thing felt absolutely vital. But I didn’t know what it was.

What I wanted was someone to tell me what to do, so that I didn’t fuck up. Maybe I just — wanted my mum — or some version of a mother I never had. But therein lay the problem, or one of them. Who was going to listen to me tell a story that took a week to recite? Nobody has that sort of time. Come Friday, I did manage to call a couple of people, so I was certainly going to at least try and condense the issue, and there were two people at least, who I trusted enough to attempt to impose myself upon their good natures, and allow them to tell me what I must do, but neither of them (would you believe it) were available.

Eventually (on Saturday) I managed to recite a massively abbreviated abridged edition of the Bad Day to A, a woman who accompanied me to my mother’s grave to plant pansies, heather and blue grass. I did this without actually going into the affairs of the day in any detail. I framed it as a ‘work issue’. In a sense it was a work issue. A work issue complete with PTSD attack. A work issue complete with psychic attack that left me bleeding invisible blood. I didn’t completely leave out this part in the narrative, instead I summed it up by saying a very bad thing happened. A didn’t ask what it was, and I didn’t tell her. Instead we discussed the drop in and whether it was a good idea to continue as that was the action I was focussed on: Should I stay or should I go?

As a result of this conversation I decided that the action I would take is to leave my job. To never go back. I would also potentially discuss what happened with my therapist this week and anyone else I felt like telling. And, like I said earlier, I had actually already spelled out the whole grisly business here.

Writing about it hadn’t made me feel better though. I think the effort left me feeling like writing and emotion are basically inimical to one another (if that’s the right word). This added to my burden because writing has always been an outlet for me. It is my go-to safe space. In the past, I always felt that so long as I could write about my feelings, nothing could ever harm me ever again. And here I even have readers, which is basically beyond my wildest dreams. I have found my footing. Destiny has come to pass. There is nothing left to achieve (apart from continuation). I have found my form like a Bruno Ganz angel who tumbles to the earth clutching his piece of armour. So Thursday had even stolen my writing vocation. Imagine that!

It took all the effort under the sun to sit down at my keyboard today.

And all of these things said, I still wasn’t sure exactly what the problem was. This is what I was dealing with as a result of Thursday.

It was on Saturday night that it finally twigged. I had a label: PTSD. I thought: you’ve been triggered into a major attack of PTSD. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

It was like I didn’t know who I was anymore. My whole memory system had shut down. When I looked in the mirror, I no longer recognised myself. I couldn’t think. There were a hundred trillion things and nothing at all whirring around my head all at once. It was like a flash of illumination — ah, it’s PTSD. An event that, since I had started to get my brains back late on Saturday, and the offending incident occurred Thursday morning at 10.15, had taken all that time to recede. This is what you are dealing with, I told myself. This is what it is.

The flash of illumination calmed me down a bit. After that I started to feel a little more OK again. But I still didn’t exactly feel that I had the problem licked. Far from it. I had still been placed strangely beyond words. Beyond the reach of the bridge of language that connects me to other human beings, especially people I want to be connected to. I still didn’t feel like I could write. I wasn’t even sure, and I’m still not certain, that what actually happened on Thursday at 10:15 was really the thing that was unravelling me.

I feel knackered now I’ve said all that. I don’t feel able to write more about it today. So what I’m going to do is to come back to this story on an ongoing basis, until I feel that the matter is settled. Hopefully that will be tomorrow, but I cannot guarantee it.

Until then my comrade. Until then.

Bad Angels

I fell like absolute crap today. I’ve done everything I can to help myself: been for a walk, eaten, prayed and mediated, called a couple of friends (who weren’t available), asked for support with an issue I’m struggling with. So then I realised that the one thing I haven’t done is written my blog. Will that help, or is how I’m feeling today something I cannot change?

I have a feeling that what happened to me yesterday holds the key to how I’m feeling now.

Yesterday was deeply challenging. I went to my volunteer job in a local mental health drop in centre and had a bad experience almost immediately.

It was the anniversary of my mothers death. I’ve been putting various practices to try and create a healing space around my inner world as it relates to my deceased mother. I’ve been trying to provide myself with some comfort. One example being remembering positive experiences from childhood. I’ve written a couple of blog posts about this. I bought some things to create a little space of remembrance in my room: flowers, boxes for pictures of mum, an oil burner with lavender — a scent that she liked. I plan to visit her grave tomorrow with a friend, to tend it, and plant some new plants.

I spoke about all this in my therapy on Wednesday. It made me feel a bit unsure that I’m not discounting the reality of my experiences in some way: my mother treated me badly, abused me, neglected me and never stopped mistreating me for all of her time on earth. But still, I did love her. She was my mum.

Back at the drop in centre yesterday a hostile guy there causally mentioned that “that house”, meaning my mother’s house, had been sold. It would take to long too go into all the details surrounding this: the hostile guy, my mother’s house being sold, how I didn’t know about it, and so on. But it really was a shock to hear a near complete stranger tell me this, as though it really had nothing to do with me, as though I was on par with him, in hearing this news. It felt so toxic. That conversation.

The fact that my step father didn’t think to inform me he had sold my mothers house which he only owns because my mother didn’t leave a will and it defaulted to him when she died. He practically accosted me in the street to give me all sorts of information that isn’t especially my business any more, but didn’t think to tell me about something that definitely is my business.

I’m really angry about it. I have no way of contacting this man, and don’t even think it would probably be a good idea, if I did. I’ve had harassment and threats from this man and his new partner in the past over the issue of my inheritance. Getting in the ring with mad people is always a bad idea, I think. But maybe that’s wrong. Maybe I should confront him.

Had I had a responsible caring actual mother I would not be in this situation. None of the things that happened yesterday, a day that would have been difficult enough, would have happened were it not for my mother. That’s just a fact, and it means that I’m still experiencing toxic ramifications because of how she treated me. Including her death.

It’s like encountering evil spirits. Bad angels. The confusion, The gaslighting. More Gaslighting. Quite appropriate for approaching Halloween perhaps.

This isn’t my only difficulty at the moment. I’m lacking support in some challenging situations. I feel very weighted down. The weekend is looming. I must admit, I don’t really know what to do about my problems right now. They feel overwhelming and complicated and like there are no answers. Then again, maybe this is just how life is, often and sometimes, but I just never really understood and accepted it — Life on life’s terms.

Can I still be OK with me, even when other people are not OK with me? A few people have told me that this is a beneficial attitude, moving forward, I think they may be right.

Writing is What it is

Could writing be a way of coming to terms with loss?

Reflecting on my recent need to conjure a past ‘love’, in this case an actor: ‘M’ who I met through my recovery meetings, a friend of mine — P — happened to read this blog and sent me an email about her thoughts on the matter.

I had reported that the last time I saw M he ignored me. We were standing at a tea hatch in Dulwich waiting for a pre-meeting cup of tea. He said hello to the friend I had arrived with but ignored me. I had looked over at him, expectant of a greeting, he saw me and looked away. P wondered if a relationship with someone moody would have been a good thing.

P also wondered if perhaps I wasn’t meant to get involved with M, just to ‘explore the idea of it’. I think this is or was my approach at the time. I just enjoyed the fantasy and never worried that much because I had my sights set on someone else. Someone probably even more moody and elusive than M.

I can’t say I profoundly miss him. We were never close enough for that. I suppose I just wish that we had had more of a relationship. It’s just a random type of wish floating about, in part generated by a recent affair I had with my doctoral supervisor, a retired professor who I had had VERY BIG feelings for. A person I never expected ever to see again, let alone have an affair with. I think the unlikeliness of such an experience made me feel a sense of anything being possible in the arena of lost love. That being the case my mind is apt to wander into the land of M, however fleetingly.

Writing is a way to recreate a reality that’s gone, or just temporarily absent. It’s pretty impossible to write about something one feels indifferent about. Then again, sometimes it’s equally hard to write about BIG experiences. Because they are too close or painful. One can stir up the past, rouse trauma from the depths by going over it again and digging it up.

‘Time is just memory mixed with desire’ as Tom Waits says. We remember the things that touched us in some way, for good or ill, and those things make up our lives and subjectivity and identities.

One of the things I loved about M was that he was a Storyteller — an actor. He seemed to have this great curiosity about life and his experiences as they unfolded. I loved listening to him speak. He made existence seem a bit more magical. Nevertheless there was often pain, feelings of betrayal and not feeling good enough associated with M. It would be too tedious to recount them here, but really, I did idealise him and this wasn’t especially reciprocal.

Maybe part of it was that he had done something I secretly longed to have done — trained as an actor. Worked as an actor. I could imagine myself in that role; I grew up in theatre land, and my drama teacher at school desperately wanted me to stay on for A level and go to drama school. She thought I had a real ability. She even attended a meeting with my mum and my head of year to plead with me and mum to take her seriously. I really liked this teacher and looked up to her, but I didn’t take her seriously. I was in too much of a state (alcoholism) to imagine even going to school anymore, hence the meeting. My head of year was reprimanding me for my lateness and absence. After this meeting I dropped out of school.

Through M I was able to envisage an alternative life in which I was wholly other to what I became. I would have been skilled, extroverted and financially successful. I would have had a career I excelled in, instead of all these fragmentary bits and pieces of creative pursuit I appeared to have been lumbered with; paths that leading nowhere much.

But when I knew M I was trying to write. So I also felt an affinity with him as an aspiring Storyteller. Paul Auster was my role model, and M looked quite a lot like a younger Auster. M symbolised the dignity of storytelling as a profession at a time when I didn’t know many artists. He was like a work of art. Every time I saw him on TV or in an ad I felt like I had been visited by an angel (being by nature quite a romantic).

There’s another sense that in writing him I hope to conjure some part of him into my life. To invoke him. As if by the magic of writing I might be a bit like God and be able to influence reality. I had a fantasy of him reading my blog and thinking: Hell yes, I too miss this person. Or just the simple synchronicity of the universe might send him my way. Well, I’m not holding my breathe, but I’ll let you know if it works.

Writing is a box for my dreams, whether or not they are worthy. The alphabet, language doesn’t pass judgement. It just is. It is what it is.

Remembering Mum

I’ve been focussing my attention on loving memories of my mum the past couple of weeks. Happy memories. I want to honour the good in her.

Since I’ve been in therapy (years and years) I’ve had to get real about my childhood, and that brought up a lot of anger. And then, in addition to that, my mother never changed and the pain just continued. That said, it wasn’t all bad, at all. There were happier moments along side the grins ones. And because my mind tends to focus on the grim at the expense of sunlight, it pays for me to consciously attempt to remind myself that she wasn’t a bad mum at all times. I think she did genuinely do the best she could manage.

I know that she felt appallingly unloved by her parents. She was adopted and it affected her a lot. My mum sought out her birth mother in the hope that she could get some of the attention she needed, but was only hurt more. I know how much pain all of this caused her.

She was very young when she gave birth to me. Mum wasn’t attracted to healthy partners, and suffered from this all her life. She never knew how to look after herself, never mind me. I always knew this, but I still needed her love and being deprived of what I needed wounded me as well.

It does hurt to be stuck in anger at her. It feels like she’s a part of me, and so having all that disappointment and aggression to carry inevitably gnaws away at my own self esteem. I am quite a lot like her.

It’s the anniversary of her death this week, and with all of these thoughts and feelings going on I’ve been wanting to visit her grave and tend to it. I don’t think anyone else does, and I want to translate my feelings of love towards her in a more concrete way. Trim the plants, plant some new ones, maybe light a candle for her. I think this would help me although it also fills me with worry and dread to imagine heading up to the church and attending to her grave.

I’ve thought about asking a local friend for some support, but then perhaps it’s something I need to do alone. It will give me time to reflect and remember her with love. That is what I had inscribed on the slate that marks her grave. Remembered With Love. And that’s my project at the moment. But crikey, it’s taken me so many years to arrive at this point. Better late than never, I guess.

12 Step Recovery and Manic Depression

I went to a meeting earlier. There was a lot of talk about this and that, as there is at any 12 step recovery group. I won’t say which 12 step recovery group as I don’t think it’s all that relevant to what I’m going to say. It’s a new one though, a fellowship I haven’t ventured into into previous lives (I’ve visited quite a few of them).

So in order to be of service at one of these new meetings I have to have been a certain amount of time clean from my DOC (drug of choice) and have a sponsor with whom I’m working the steps. But I’m not doing that, i.e. I don’t have a sponsor, and I am not working the steps with the sponsor I don’t have. I’m slightly disappointed in this set of affairs, I mean, I’d like to be of service. But I don’t want to go through any steps again.

I’m still attending my local face to face group and there I do participate in service, so I am doing service at one 12 step group. Maybe that’s enough, and I volunteer to do the readings that get handed out in the new recovery group & that’s considered to be service.

Today I said in the new meeting that I’m not inclined to get another sponsor and go through any steps again because the last time I did this it was so gruelling. And it really was. No word of exaggeration there.

I also had to share in the meeting that I have relapsed a lot — just not for ten months (yipeeeee).

But then I got to think: well why is that? I’ve done such a lot of recovery work, why have I continually relapsed? I then realised that the reason is because of my Bipolar disorder. And the reason why I relapsed again, after the last time I went through the twelve steps and it was gruelling ++ is because I had not accepted my Bipolar disorder. The reason I know this is that I wasn’t taking any meds. So I ended up going through the steps with this sponsor when I was mentally ill. And going through the steps with this ego-deflating, gruel-making, sponsor when I was mentally ill with Bipolar Disorder did not make me well. Sure, I ticked all the boxes, which made me feel good about myself temporarily. I unpacked every fold of my brain and its twisted up thinking to that woman. I apologised to those people my bipolar disorder had negatively affected. I had a sense of having a clean slate. But I stayed mad: manic, deluded, spending madly, insensitive, grandiose, highly compulsive.

So what should I have done instead? I should have taken the meds, even though they made me fat. That’s what I should have done. But instead I stopped taking them. I thought “alcoholism is Bipolar disorder” and I’ll just be like everyone else in the 12 step program I went to then. But I’m not like everyone else. Everyone else doesn’t end up in the nut ward 5 times with no substances involved. I have to accept it.

I don’t have to accept that I’m addicted to my drug of choice; I accepted that a long time ago. I HAVE TO TAKE MY MEDS.

Now I would say I pretty much have accepted it my manic depression. And I think it’s been harder than accepting my addiction. I was just too used to being manic/depressed. It felt like me. I didn’t like feeling normal. I didn’t like being sane. I wanted DRIVE. I wanted OBSESSION.

I hope now I’ve accepted my manic depression I won’t have any more addiction relapses or trips to hospital. But time, like it always does, will let me know.

Forgiving Mum

One reason that I have not been sitting down to type out my daily confessions here is that I’ve been avoiding the main topic my psyche at present: my mum.

My take on forgiveness has always been a bit spiky. I felt/was massively betrayed by my mum in my 20’s. I won’t go into it now, suffice it to say that my mother’s actions pretty much destroyed me. The rage has dissipated now. Not just because my mother has died. It just burnt out like forgotten a bonfire. The anger was supplanted by a feeling of blanket despair. A depression.

Thinking about the matter of forgiving my mother, made my realise the depths of my love for her. I had loved her so much that when the catastrophe struck, and I could no longer experience those positive emotions about her, I was left with a burnt out psyche — as though I had had my inner world attacked by an arsonist. As though a bomb had been detonated. I just didn’t know who I was any more. A major part of me, my identity, just evaporated almost overnight.

So, as I was considering the matter of forgiveness regarding my mother I started to recall the happy memories I had inside the archives. Her vulnerabilities. Her uniqueness. The frizz of her hair and skin on her hands. The funny jewellery she used to wear. Her feet. I thought about her as someone who was hurt and frightened. Who wanted to be loved.

I wanted to write down as many happy memories of her as I could, to keep alight my bonfire of forgiveness: The times she set up the kitchen table in the mornings for this splendid breakfast for us, naming our house as a French hotel, in her witty way. Playing the piano. Playing the accordion. Playing the saxophone. Her electric blue boiler suit and dark red woollen leg-warmers. Her furry ankle boots and strange home-made leather bag. The way she’d wrap her hair up in a woollen scarf. How she would leave Santa Greek halva and a glass of red wine so I had the time to believe in Father Christmas.

She must have liked Christmas because when I was little she put immense thought into my stocking. I got Chinese paper flowers that bloomed when you put them in water. I got chocolate money, satsumas and a fortune telling red fish that curled up in the palm of my hand.

My mum loved reading and liked shopping on Charing Cross Road back in the day when it was lined with bookshops, mostly second-hand. She especially liked Watkins, the famous new age bookshop and Foyles. She’d spend hours reading in the shops. Obviously I would get bored, so she’d buy me a TinTin, which I would always have read before we finished her shopping trip. A adored TinTin.

My mother bought books on Buddhism, Gurdjieff, Jung. I remember that we had a book on the shelves at home called, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens that always made me wonder. My mother would very often sell the books back to the shops when she had read them.

I remember going up in the lift at Foyles, which had those cast iron trellises around them, up to the fourth floor so my mum could buy her scores and music paper. I remember the piles of books in Foyles, finding a book called Irony, wondering what it was about and how clever you would have to be to understand it. I remember the paper tickets and booth where you had to queue up for some reason.

I remember her giving me money to buy pie and chips opposite the tube near our house. I remember the small rose broach I got her one Christmas and the look of delight in her delicate blue eyes, the way her pale marble skin wrinkled up with premature crows feet.

The way she’d always buy me too expensive special things, clothes, so there wasn’t enough money to go around and she couldn’t manage to do ordinary things like washing our clothes.

I remember walking up Tottenham Court Road with her hand in hand, taking me to my favourite shop of all time: The Reject Shop, where you could get all these amazing bargains. The way it was getting dark and all the Christmas lights, or shop lights, twinkled in the night air before we headed down to the theatre where she worked. The way she always took me everywhere.

I remember her dressed up as a pharaoh in bright Lycra and with a large pipe around her neck, holding cabbage leaves to eat when she was a dinosaur. I remember her scooting through school assembly on a broom on Halloween and everyone telling me what a great mother I had. How I was so lucky the way I got taken out of school to travel to see the world.

I remember her playing the piano at night as I lay in my room knowing that nothing bad could ever happen with her next door with her sounds of Bach and Beethoven. I remember her Keith Jarrett records and Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I remember Joan Armatrading, Whatever’s for Us. I remember Hotter than July and Sweet Honey in the Rock. I remember the way she loved Gospel music and singing in the gospel choir.

When I thought about these things I found in the place where there had been only pain and despair, or a blank numb emptiness, something softer emerged. There was joy. Love. A part of myself I had been estranged from. A sort of homecoming. The missing part of me. It was almost like my mother, like an angel, had come to say hello to me.

Maybe that’s what people mean when they talk about the healing power of forgiveness.

Serenity Prayer

Serenity Prayer

I went to an online 12 step meeting earlier. There were a lot of newcomers, so for me it was a good meeting. I enjoy listening to newcomers talk because I sense an authenticity and lack of polish that people who are later in recovery lose. That said, I try and think about how I can be of service to people who have less experience of being clean than I have. Less years of trying. I don’t know how helpful that is to others, but I think it helps me because it means I’m assigning value to my experience, whether or not anyone else does.

Now I’m at that age, with years of trying to recover behind me, where I do have some experience under my belt. That means I have a greater sense of my own limits and ability to get what it is I think I want or need.

The serenity prayer always used to make me feel a bit confused. I understood it at the level of not being able to change that I’m an addict, but beyond that, I was pretty much mystified. Now I can see that was because I didn’t actually know what I had the power to change, and what, above and beyond being an addict, I didn’t. I only got that through experience.

Take M. M was a guy I knew in my recovery from 2006 — to about 2014. It’s actually pretty confusing to think about M, but lets just say that I wanted a relationship with him (to keep it simple). It isn’t that simple, because I was kind of ambivalent, but deep down, I really wanted to go out with M.

I used to day-dream about him. I wrote countless stories about him. I loved to see him in a meeting, which is how I knew him, and to hear him share. I tended my memories of M like they were a precious ore. The fact that he asked me for a coffee made me feel like I must be really cool. Every time we crossed paths it was like magic.

Now I’m going to make an about turn and say: I wasn’t in fact available for a romantic relationship with him because M was actually nice to me, so I wouldn’t have chosen him. In the end, he stopped being nice to me, which really hurt, but for a long time he treated me like a human being, unlike the bloke I was obsessed with. That man was wonderful/terrible, like mum. Nonetheless, M was a good fantasy safety-net, when Wonderful/Terrible was getting a bit threadbare or absent. I must have spent hours thinking about M.

Back then I didn’t know the difference between what I could change and what I couldn’t change. For example, I lived in hope that one day Wonderful/Terrible would love me. Surely I could do something to change reality? I imagined that if I could just wear the right lipstick, pair of jeans or jacket. If I could become a novelist. If I was 100% reliable and committed to my recovery. If I was always nice to him. If I never demanded anything or got angry. If I was always available. One day he’d love me back. I actually kept all that effort at control up for six years. We were friends (until I got pissed off and turned my back on him).

Having been through all that, and more, I now know that you can’t produce romantic love. I can’t, anyway. I haven’t been able to do that in spite of some very dedicated attempts.

If I’d known back in 2006 what I now know I would never have stuck it out with Wonderful/Terrible. I would not have chosen him to fixate on. I had a proper friend in M at least, until I didn’t, and he would have been a much better fantasy romance (as that was all I appeared capable of).

The thing is I didn’t know then what I now do know. What a shame that is. And now it does feel too late to meet the love of my life. I just cant work up any enthusiasm for that project now. It burnt me out.

Before I sat down to write this blog, a thought I had was that M would never have gone out with me; I had wondered about it and wondered about it and time had told the truth. But the actual truth, I realise now that I have actually unpacked the issue, is that I will never know because I never took the risk of trying to find out — until it was too late. And that is what I can’t change. The last time I saw M he completely ignored me, and I can’t say I blame him, to be quite honest.

But I don’t need to write a novel about it. I can just let it go. It’s something I can’t change. The end. Finito.