A lot of people say I’m arrogant. Idiots. I’m often criticised for being egotistical, but when you consider how talented I am, it becomes clear to any rational person that my false humility is, indeed, perfectly pitched. In fact, I don’t think I get enough credit for how humble I am.
Yes, that is a self-aware narcissism you are detecting there. An aggrandising, delusional self-absorption of which the flip side is, of course, a deep sense of personal insecurity. This ego expansion and contraction is painful and something from which most human beings will suffer, to varying degrees. However, for those of an addictive disposition, this violent oscillation, between feeling like you are god’s gift to becoming utterly bereft of self-belief, is often the engine room of their fragile personality – when they are not taking care of themselves. I am not taking care of myself.
On a personal level, this has been a wild year, where every gamble I’ve ever taken in my life has begun to pay off. The thrill of the chase, that dream in the distance, to which I lost many an afternoon in a distant dwam, pondering “what if”, is beginning to materialise. That fantasy, where I would have a beautiful, loving, caring partner, a child for whom I would happily die, and the kernels of some sort of career doing what I love – writing – is now what I am waking up to every day of my extremely unusual life.
Worryingly, due to unforeseen circumstances, I have struggled to adequately maintain the spiritual fences which fortify the conditions for that happiness and success to manifest in the first place.
If not for the gift of sobriety, a gift I have been too ungrateful for, I suspect you would not be being subjected to these words today – I realise, for many of you, that, like sobriety, would also be a wonderful gift.
But for those of you, like me, who say yes to too many things, out of fear that an opportunity may elude you, that someone will think less of you, or simply because you need to keep yourself occupied through fear of a self-lacerating onslaught from your own racing mind, then even success, in whichever form it takes, can be difficult to savour.
Sharing honestly, about how we feel, and what we are struggling with, is one of the best ways to relieve ourselves of these personal burdens. A worry shared is a worry halved, as the old saying goes.
Then again, confiding in another person is not always easy. Sometimes our problems feel embarrassing, shameful even. People cheating on their partners, concealing addictions from their families or colleagues, or even little things, like not handing in that purple note you found lying on the floor of the bus one day. From the banal to the more consequential, it often seems sensible to keep such matters to ourselves, either because revealing the truth is difficult, or because we feel anxious about burdening someone else with the weighty interior of our true emotional selves.
After a while though, the cracks will begin to appear. Those instances, when we keep what troubles us bottled up, eventually manifest as stress, mental health problems or the resumption of unhealthy coping strategies to manage our stormy inner worlds.
Last week, I started smoking again, not far off the second anniversary of quitting. For someone like me, with a history of addiction, this is a flag of the reddish variety.
But my problem feels crass to share. It feels detached, boastful even, to admit. My problem is that my once chaotic, seemingly hopeless life, is now going so well that I was not adequately prepared for it.
In the last two months, since the release of my book, which I will not plug as this column may already be nauseating enough for some of you, I have gone from leading a logistically straightforward life to being all but washed away in a tidal wave of praise, criticism and unending correspondence, racing toward the shore of my sobriety.
Many dream of their work coming suddenly to wider public attention. In truth, it’s quite frightening.
Every day, I receive a constant stream of emails, notifications and phone calls, usually requiring an answer to something of import, from which I cannot untangle myself, through fear that, despite obvious signs to the contrary, this sudden surge of interest will fizzle out. As I clutch at the flotsam of my life, subsumed by this tidal wave, I gasp desperately for oxygen, trying as gracefully as possible, to ride it out until (what I hope will be) a break over the next few days.
Maybe this isn’t a real problem? Perhaps my elephantine ego has cunningly hijacked this column, to compose an elaborate humble brag?
Perhaps this is all just a high-risk weight-loss strategy? I’ve dropped nearly 5lbs in two weeks – despite being declared missing by my local gym.
Yet, for all these new challenges, I am grateful that such a dilemma has presented itself. My old dilemma used to be how I was going to conceal the fact I was drunk while working with vulnerable young people. And how I would still the shame and guilt afterwards.
What I need to remember is that this seemingly, soon-to-be “successful” adult was once one of those very young people; frightened of everything, hyper-vigilantly navigating a noisy world, underscored by the belief that I am undeserving of success, happiness or love.
So please, I implore you, try to be kind to yourself this Christmas, by sharing what ails you, no matter how ludicrous, insignificant or utterly cringe-worthy it may seem. Because that is what will, I pray, make your Christmas that little bit happier.
Thank you for listening. I feel better already.