Friday, 15 January 2010

Meeting one

Speak of the devil - I was told my appointment would be in the post and there it was waiting for me, letting me know to go along this morning.

As you might have gathered from yesterday's posts, a feeling of isolation and disconnection from the group has dominated me recently. I've tried to explain this to people but it seems to be one of those feelings that can only be understood while it is underway, after which it is hurriedly filed away using selective memory to black it out.

Being able to talk about this to someone was very helpful. I explained how since cutting down on the things I do I've had a lot of empty time, and about the challenges that presents. I talked about the day I told my mum and how I struggled with my dad. I mentioned how in the last few weeks no-one has spoken to me about it and how I feel totally on my own whenever it's on my mind, like a forgotten case. She picked up on that pretty quickly and I made sure she knew how much I appreciate having her to talk to. Without her to aim for I think I'd be going mad with no release for my own thoughts, no alternative opinion to counter mine, no new input.

She also thought, after I'd gone on a minutes-long ramble, that it's important to me how people see me. That stumped me for a little while as it came out of the blue; at the time my train of thought was heading elsewhere, but there must have been something I said without thinking. It made me wonder how much I want to change people's perceptions of me, and I did realise I've been getting very frustrated by the efforts I've put in over the last month which only I can see the rewards of. I've talked about it with a few people but then there's been no more feedback and I guess it is frustrating knowing that you've put effort in to improve yourself but no-one seems to notice. Now, and I said this to her, I know that I'm in this alone and I don't expect anything from anyone. In fact the last few weeks have been a course of shock therapy in cutting off ties with people I'm close to, and as lonely as it gets it's better than waiting around for other people to do a job for you. The conclusion I came to was that people's perceptions of me do matter because at the moment I think they're out of line with who I really am and I feel angry that changes I'm making aren't getting me visibly far. As I said to her: "it'd be nice for one person to put something in writing just so I know what they thought about what I'm doing." I feel like a donkey chasing an invisible carrot.

She had quite a lot of encouraging words for me after I showed her my drinking diary from the last week, which was good to hear. Everything's been so downbeat that I feel like the only ever comment about me and drinking is negative, and anything good or normal I do goes without mention. The vast majority of the time I do act normally, it's just the times I go too far I'm working on with her help. One of the habits of my lifetime is making my own problems more difficult for myself by being open and honest about them - I always seem to think that people will appreciate honesty and be able to deal with it, but really it's just telling people stuff they don't want to hear. Take this, for example. I could have dealt with it by force of will, made apologies for the past and gone from there. Instead I chose to detail every flaw in my character on here and go to see an alcohol advisory team, which instantly elevates it in people's mind into a different category of problem. I do keep my mouth shut about the majority of troubles (who really wants to hear them?) and the character flaws of other people, but whenever I say something it comes back to bite me. Maybe I should shut up and keep everything between me and her.

I've been thinking too about how having a drink changes me, and what other people's perceptions of me then are. This was one of the main reasons I went to see those people, because I needed an external sense of perspective on myself and my situation. It is impossible to tell from within - I need other opinions to get to the truth. I think one of the things that people and me have always struggled with is that there's quite a sharp comparison between how much I bite my tongue while sober compared to while drunk. While sober I hold back from all kinds of personal insults, comments and opinions, purely because I like to keep the peace and find it very easy to be tolerant and let things go. I very rarely get into arguments and loath the ceaseless pointless contradictions couples fall into, so try my best to avoid those. A few beers weakens this though and suddenly I'm not the reserved tolerant one, I'm expressing opinions and dissatisfaction with things that normally I would just let go. I'm not like a drunk who "gets a bit loud" and people have a cheap laugh at his expense, I'm someone who's amiable enough to get on with nearly everyone I've met despite my shyness, who after a drink starts challenging people, and I don't think people like the unexpected contrast.

Anyway, that's another thought nugget to chip away at. I recommended a friend have a crack at one of these semi-anonymous blogs yesterday because it's strangely cathertic to express these things to an unknown audience.

Let's finish on some high notes from the past few weeks, anyway. I deserve the odd moment of feeling slightly happy with what I've managed.
  • I had a drink and didn't touch a drop the next day.
  • I went out for an afternoon and just had a few halves with the odd pint, and went home in a fine mood.
  • I haven't made myself ill or missed any work.
  • I kept a clear head and did plenty of revision for my first exam, which went very well.
  • I haven't entered into any drunken poorly-informed arguments.
  • I've avoided drinking during moments of boredom.
  • I went to watch the football, had a couple of drinks then went home, made a brew and had supper rather than go looking for another drink.
  • I've done all this on my own.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Class war

Another thought struck me today related to this, that for the last decade I've felt very much trapped between social classes and it normally leaves me feeling very isolated.

This occurred to me tonight when, after my exam, I made my way to a pub near my home to catch as much of the Rovers-Villa semi-final as I could. (That was a conscious decision - I was avoiding watching it at the nearest pub to the college and then ending up hanging around in town drinking afterwards until the bus home.) There can be few more obvious juxtapositions than a two hour psychology exam essentially forcing me to discuss why people are fucked, followed by an hour sat on my own watching people who are fucked.

What struck me was that I've always felt somewhere inbetween the working class I was born in to - the people who drink socially in the pubs I like - and the middle class - the people I've always intellectually more associated with. I've never been that close to my family apart from liking how they can, without a second's notice or a hint of awkwardness, gather for any social occasion and totally relate to each other. That is something that very few middle class, geographically disparate families I have ever known, have been capable of doing, and it's a very warming thing. On the other hand, from an early age at school I always associated with the clever lads and am still great friends with them to this day - and they're all from middle class backgrounds. My girlfriends have been from that background, too; I'm attracted to intelligence before anything else, I know by now.

What I've put myself through is a torn life between the fantastic honesty and utterly genuine warmth of my family, tempered by their requirement for beer and complete lack of relation I feel for them often, and the intellectual and comic rewards I've always sought from my friends, partly cancelled out by their own detachment and individualistic views. Pub-going people are by definition blessed with social skills, warmth and a genuine temperament few possess, but equally they have a fondness for laughing too loud at simple jokes and taking the edge off most humour. The more gifted people out there have a knack of seeing into your soul with a wise comment, but are more than fond of patronising comments and sorry put-downs. Somewhere in the middle is who I look for but I've ended up with this huge mass of friends and family who I can relate to in one way or another but few of whom I feel any real kinship with, and I've been using beer to fill in those gaps.

I often think that just "taking it as it comes" is the best answer, but the fundamental issue with that is that if that ability isn't born into you, and you're one of those people who want to make a difference and give answers to people, you can't just take things like this as they come.


Interesting look at the "contagious" nature of self-control, which is an aspect of what I'm struggling with.

Ploughing on

Not the easiest of times recently. I've been exposed to some of the risk factors I recognise, but I've come through them okay. A death in the family and not seeing my girlfriend much - one, my family's inclination to drink at times like this, and two, the absence of the usual things to do in the evenings and a feeling of isolation. It was potentially a bad combination but I stuck it out by creating something for me to do that took away the worst pangs of boredom and loneliness; last Sunday I went on a very chilly walk around part of town with a friend, looking at old pubs mentioned in an online group I visit. I took a few photos which I'll get online at some point and had a good natter with a mate - something I've been missing, as I expected, being able to share a problem with someone who gets where you're coming from. It was everything I wanted and have been aiming for, the kind of social drinking that people do without a second glance - a gentlemanly walk around a few quiet pubs having halves in some and pints in others, no need to rush anything or anyone pressuring me, finishing up with a curry and a trip to the cinema and not a negative thought in my mind. Along with being busy revising for an exam tonight, that kept me sufficiently occupied not to do much but be on my own with books and notes, really.

This whole thing is proving to be a bit of a mission of self-discovery and from the last fortnight I've learned that the idea of suddenly stopping is too much for me and just makes me want to go completely in the opposite direction. However, contrary to what I'd previously thought, when I carefully position beer in my life, for example this week by having a quiet weekend at home so that I'd enjoy my Sunday afternoon out with a mate, I can moderate like a normal person. Crucially I was also able, again, to stop it turning into anything more than that afternoon, and this time on my own; I had a few drinks on Monday night, but only because my mate's dad had just died, and it didn't get late. Slowly I can feel my instinctive opinion changing from that insane urge to just keep going, into thinking more about the consequences; changing that instinctive feeling is very important as it's what guides a person when they've had more than a couple of drinks.

I haven't heard from the alcohol advisers since December 21st so I'll be ringing them today. They were supposed to ring me to schedule an appointment in the new year, but it's the 14th now and no word, and the snow's died down enough that they must be back up to speed now. I've felt very isolated in the last few weeks and sometimes feel the pangs to just give up because everyone's left me to it, but I've held them off just waiting to have this person to talk to. That's the problem with drinking. People always look after themselves first but a pint's always ready to listen. Not that I believe in that, by the way, I'm just making an observation on the nature of it. The counterside to that, of course, is that a pint is like having a mate who just nods to everything you say and never tells you when you're wrong or gives friendly advice - not much use at the end of the day.

It is a slow and unpleasant process, but I'm slowly phasing out time around some people. There are people I know who "get it" and others who don't. I'll never have any influence on them so my answer is to cut down the time around them, for better or worse. This week should perhaps remind me that there are people out there with problems they can't beat who deserve more sympathy than me, and I'm in this on my own anyway.