It’s funny the aspects of myself that whilst living a sober life I am now confronting. There is of course the big “in your face” aspects which I have written about already but sometimes it’s the subtler ones that go unnoticed but never the less are just as important and character building as their more obvious counterparts. Take texting for instance; we all do it and some of us use it as a main form of daily communication. I mean I am guilty of sending messages that are so long that it would have been far simpler to have actually called the person. So why didn’t I? Because sometimes the notion of actually conversing transforms into a huge effort and I can actually hear the words in my head, ‘ I can’t be arsed!’. I mean really? ‘I can’t be arsed!?’ Hmmm…
When I was growing up we had one telephone. It was located in the hall and sat on a telephone table which had an attached padded seat with a lid that lifted up. Inside this hollow seat you could store directories, newspapers, magazines or whatever you liked. It allowed the caller to comfortably sit whilst chatting. In our flat the emotional heart was the kitchen but the locational heart was the hall hence why it was placed there. The hall was also freezing having no form of heater. The flat which I grew up in was in St Patrick Square a top floor tenement in the Southside of Edinburgh. Great central location but in the winter it was Baltic . We had no central heating or double glazing and truth be told no fixed bathroom until 1988. I use the word “fixed” as we had a bath but it could be usually found propped up against the box room wall when not in use. I am sure you get the idea. So when talking there was no real privacy and no option of chatting anywhere else other than that seat. There was no answer machine and for most of the time no way to find out who the last caller was if you missed it. Just the basics but yet it did everyone just fine. It seemed to be more of an event when the phone rang. There was no way of knowing who it could be unless you were expecting a call. Conversations were more concise because you were charged by the minute with none of the deals you get now of free minutes and phone packages. When the itemised bill came in it would cause no end of stress as every call was accounted for and woe betide if I had made a call to a friend that lasted more than half an hour.
Life before mobile phones in many ways made you more responsible. If you made an arrangement to meet someone you kept to it. Once you left the house there was no way to let anyone know you were running late. If you were you had to face the grumpy face when you got there although it was usually me that was doing the waiting. I decided to get my first mobile in my final year at drama school in 1998. Even then I only used it to make some calls but not many as it was very expensive, I only had 20 minutes free call time per month and only to the numbers of the same network. My first monthly rental was something huge like £39 and living on my own in London I soon realised that I was solely responsible now and didn’t have my family to help me out on tap if need be. But it all changed the following year when I discovered that you could do a clever thing on my mobile- Text! After that my world would never be the same again. I was texting to say hi, to say bye, to inform I’m running late, or equally that I’ll be early. It had started to become a major form of communication for me but what it has also done over time is tap into insecurities. The need to be acknowledged, listened to, responded to, a show of interest or care. I can remember some of the messy text conversations I found myself in whilst I was drinking then waking up the following day rereading them and feeling mortified. Being sober is helping me put the breaks on a little with this kind of “self harm” in a way. Back in the days of the telephone seat I didn’t speak to my best friends every single day. I might have seen them on the Saturday night, called Sunday for a debrief of night before and then maybe not speak again till a few days later. When I lived in London I spoke to my family a couple of times a week. Now I feel inundated with the pressure to constantly communicate, give regular updates and reaffirm that I have not forgotten about them always endeavouring to reply immediately without really having thought about what I want to say but through all of that time and energy wasted in typing, re typing, reading over it again and again and again checking what I have written sounds good and won’t be misconstrued and then of course fretting when I don’t get an immediate response I want to go back to the telephone seat and a less communicatively pressured time.
I am bringing back the telephone seat or at least it’s communicative ideal. When I lift the lid of the seat I don’t want to pre empty what’s inside it, I want to take the time to look. I don’t want to speed dial my Mum or Dad not giving it a seconds thought, I want to dial their number each time because they deserve to be remembered. I don’t want to lose the will to live at the thought of actually engaging in a conversation, I want to look forward to sharing each other’s news and knowing that you are validating and acknowledging each other.
For me though what’s really important in the telephone seat of life is how you are listened to. I felt for most of my life that I was not listened to which most likely underpins my insecurities around this type of communication. You can’t make others do what they don’t want to or can’t do. We all need to take responsibility for ourselves. I no longer want be on this never ending pilgrimage of fighting to be be heard. Listening has always been an incredibly important thing to me and growing up and all through my life I felt marginalised when it came to being truly heard. That my thoughts, feelings and opinions were of little importance which made me feel insecure deep inside although outwardly never showing it but I am now realising that my strength doesn’t come from affirmation of others but from myself.
Through these past 11 months I am beginning to untangle the communication cable and am breaking down the crossed line with myself. As the old BT advertisement used to say:
‘It’s good to talk’ but I think it’s better to listen.
Nighty night x
Ps 328 days