This morning, after getting settled into my desk at work, I saw a Facebook message pop up from an old friend named Joe, who I met way back in 2008. We hadn’t talked since 2011, and were no longer friends on Facebook. His message: “Hey there.” I Replied, “Hey,” not really sure what to expect.
For some background on Joe, he and I met online shortly after my high school boyfriend (also ex-husband) and I broke up. We dated very casually and hooked up a number of times, but nothing substantial really came of the situation. When I initially started seeing my abusive ex Eric, Joe was still somewhat in the background. Eric was already displaying abusive behaviors before we “officially” started dating, and at one point, I ran to Joe for help. But, as is common for people who are starting down the path of an abusive relationship, I eventually returned to Eric, made things “official” with him, and Joe stayed mostly out of sight until a few months later when Eric forced me to confess to cheating on him with Joe – even though we weren’t officially dating when Joe and I last saw each other.
It’s all just a big old mess. And it’s a part of my life that I’ve tried really hard to reconcile for myself, mostly because it’s only in retrospect that I can see how scared, confused and uncertain little 19-year-old-me was about everything. Emotionally and psychologically abusive relationships can cause immense amounts of damage, faster than one might think. Joe was an unfortunate participant in my meltdown.
I hate to say it, but for a long time after Eric and I broke up, I tried to avoid Joe and his attempts at getting back together with me. He represented a time in my life that was fraught with pain, confusion and a desire to escape myself. He represented a time when I did things I wasn’t proud of. He was a distraction to me when I broke up with my high school sweetheart, who had previously cheated on me. Later on, he was an “out” from the increasingly shitty situation I’d found myself in with my abusive ex. He let me find comfort in human contact that wasn’t part of the repetitive cycle of anger, fear, and apologies. Beneath it all, I know, he had a soft squishy heart, and in my own pain, I neglected to see that I was poking, prodding and mashing it up. And when it comes down to it, Joe was never anything but kind to me. I failed, time and time again, to recognize that.
In our weird but brief conversation today, he mentioned that he wished he could take me on a proper date. He reminisced about our first kiss in 2009. And he said he always felt sad and scared for me, that he wished he could’ve helped me more. This really caught me off guard. Here was a guy who, for the most part, I hadn’t given much thought to over the course of the last 9 years, save for the few sporadic times we saw each other, all at different points of my life being in disarray. And there he was, after 9 years, still affected by it enough to send me a message out of the blue and bring it up.
Even though I wasn’t actively drinking during the time that Joe and I first dated, or when I was dating my abusive ex, the events in my life and my own coping mechanisms (or lack thereof) were setting me up for the eventual onslaught of my crazy drinking days. Every year, I became more and more of a mess. Then, for a short while, I was less of a mess, but still a functional alcoholic: I graduated college, got married, got a great job, etc. But still, I drank, and still, I was a mess on the inside.
For better or worse, my divorce and the difficult year that followed it helped me look at the mess and start to make some sense of it. Sobriety has helped speed that process along immensely. So when days like today happen – when a person from my past pops up and gives me that gentle kick of a reminder that I’m not so far removed from that sad, scared part of myself as I think I am – I am humbled. I’m still a little sad, and scared. Those messy years of my life haven’t somehow been erased, just because I’m on the upward path. I shouldn’t be so easily fooled into thinking that I can make those pains go away, or that I can undo the shitty things I did to Joe, and people like Joe, who got caught in the path of my own self-destruction.
Ah, even more reason to love the clarity afforded to me through sobriety. It’s not everything – but it’s a whole lot better than nothing at all.
Today is day 230. I won’t take it for granted.