Last night, I had dinner with the person who I would say was likely my closest friend between 2000 and 2003. I think the last time we sat across from each other was 2005. I didn’t know what to expect.
I’ll call him Joe to maintain his anonymity and because “Joe” is a short name to type. It wouldn’t make sense for a hypothetical name to be Bartholomew. Too long. Anyway, Joe knew me in the years before I was put on my bipolar meds, when hyper-creative, super-energetic manic was my norm.
I don’t think hierarchy-wise, Joe was my boss, but I first met him in early 2000 when I went to work for a small trade newspaper company. He was the editor and I was the staff writer for a monthly paper covering the northern New England high-tech sector. For the most part, it was just he and I putting the paper together.
Last night, I wasn’t the 24-year-old man-child who knew he was destined for huge things sitting across from Joe anymore. It was a 43-year-old guy who not only got kicked in the ass by life over the last decade, but recruited, lined-up and paid the ass-kickers overtime himself. Joe hadn’t seen me since before the magazine publisher and city councilor days. It also meant he hadn’t seen me since all my legal stuff connected to the addictions went down.
In a brief email he wrote while we were organizing the dinner, he said, “I don’t know many of the details, but I do believe we all make mistakes and get beyond them, so we don’t have to talk about any of that stuff if you don’t want to do that.”
It was a nice offer but the moment I sat across from him at the restaurant yesterday, I said, “OK, here’s the deal, I talk about this stuff all the time. Most of the time I talk about it for educational purposes because I’m writing about it or giving interviews. I almost never hear a question I haven’t already been asked. I don’t want you to feel bad for being curious, but I also have to say, if you got nabbed for what I did, I’d have SO MANY questions for you!”
He let out a nice long laugh, realizing if the situations were reversed, he would be willing to talk to me about it and would expect me to have questions.
For 45 minutes, we talked about the case and what happened. It was nice because I didn’t have to be 100% politically correct and choose my words ultra-carefully because despite our time apart, we still knew what the other guy meant without having to add lots of disclaimers or clarifying statements.
We were at a restaurant that – like every other one in Maine lately – is a brewpub that makes its own beer. Joe was super-apologetic to learn I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in my system since April 1, 2014, saying he would have suggested a different place. I told him what I tell everybody, “It’s my issue, not yours. Drink up.” Thankfully, I’m not tempted to drink in this kind of environment because it was never really my typical getting drunk scene in the 25 years I did that.
Perhaps understandably, I dominated the conversation, but like old friends do, we turned back a bit to remembering many of the people and times from when we were younger. Somewhere in the distance, behind the rumble of a faraway locomotive destined for the West, a jukebox played Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”
As I mentioned, Joe knew me even before I started being treated for bipolar disorder. That was the period of time in my life that I romanticized when I decided to pull myself off my meds in early 2013, which I believe was the removal of the keystone that led to my life toppling in the following months.
I would say 85% of the drinking I did in my life was medicinal and directly to feed the coping mechanism of the alcoholism. But 15% was still recreational. I experienced the kind of drinking that “normal” people do who don’t develop problems. This 15% took place in those first few years of the new millennium when Joe and I would hit the town often with a whole cadre of young people who were part of Portland, Maine’s burgeoning tech scene.
Joe and I recalled several stories from those days fondly. Would I want my kids to have roles in stories like those? Of course not, but I’m sure they will and won’t tell me. It was young adults finding themselves, making dumb mistakes, and having a good time learning in the process. I think it’s a place in time many young people find themselves. Despite having no money and not knowing where your life is going to head, you feel a freedom for the first time that you never have, and looking back, never will again. It’s the St. Elmo’s Fire life against The Big Chill life I’m living now; 1980s movie reference of the day award goes to me.
I said goodbye to Joe at the end of the night and we agreed to get together again soon. With the lack of actual friends in my life these days, I’m going to hold him to it. Mentally and emotionally, it was a great thing for me.
Driving home, I started to think about sharing those “war stories” from nearly two decades ago. In AA, and almost every mode of therapy I’ve been through, they advise against glamorizing stories from your drinking days. I think the fear is that if you romanticize what a good time it was, you may want to recapture it and think the only way you can is to hit the bottle. I also think that the recovery community believes hearing old stories that involve joy while engaging in alcohol lends one remember alcohol in a positive light.
I can’t change what happened 18 years ago, and I don’t know if I’d want to. I know that alcohol contributed to poor decision making that in the right light, creates a funny story. Sneaking around fishing docks at night with several people who are drunk, trying to be quiet because one person (not me) wanted to steal a lobster trap to make a coffee table is absolutely stupid and illegal. But if you were there in the moment and knew the people involved, it might elicit a smile, as it still does with me.
What I was left wondering on the ride home was if that kind of fond reminiscing is wrong. Should I be trying to put a negative spin on events every time I drank during those specific years? I was already well into alcoholism and drinking for the wrong reasons when I met Joe, but I think that if I was capable of “normal” drinking, those years were the window when it happened and Joe was one of the people it happened with.
Am I supposed to retroactively see those times with red flags and as warnings I didn’t admit, or despite the fact alcohol played a huge role in my demise 10-11 years later, is it OK, or dare I say even healthy to remember them fondly?
I curious what other people think. Please share your two cents.