Gonna Be a Man in Motion…

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.

 

I was Raped. Why do I Feel Nothing?

One of my favorite blogs to read is Revenge of Eve and in one of her postings today, she reflected back on a traumatic sexual assault at 14 she didn’t recognize as assault at the time. I thought it was refreshing to hear somebody say that they were a willing participant in the moment, but that the perpetrator (in this case a man in his 30s) is appalling and should have known better. I think a lot of sexual assaults aren’t as cut and dry as “this person did X against my will” and they need to be talked about.

While I’ve written a little bit about sexual abuse I endured at the hands of a babysitter when I was a child, I’ve not written about another incident that happened to me in my early 20s. This is partially because I don’t think I’ve completely processed it, but also because I haven’t figured out how it fits into the narrative of my life story.

The Incident in Question

When I was 22, I was living on my own for the first time in my life in Portland, Maine. It’s a fun city, and as close to cosmopolitan as you get north of Boston. I had recently been named editor of a B2B trade paper covering the burgeoning high-tech sector of Northern New England. This was about 2-3 years before the dot-com explosion took a nose-dive.

I had to regularly attend tech networking events, and among those in Portland, I ran into a lot of the same people. As a single guy on the lookout for dating opportunities, these were mostly dry wells, as the women were usually double my age, married and with children. However, I did bump into a woman I’ll call Ann, multiple times.

Ann was about my age, maybe a year or two older. She was a bigger girl with naturally bright red hair, bordering on orange. Ann seemed sweet enough, although a bit socially inept, although at networking events with high-tech types, social ineptness was the norm.

After one of our conversations about a mutual enjoyment of tennis despite a lack of motor skills, we agreed to meet in the park to play after work later that week. As expected, neither of us brought a lot to our games, but it was a chance to hang out and converse in a non-professional environment.

We played three or four times before I recognized that this was just somebody I would not be pursuing romantically. I didn’t find her physically attractive and while she was fun to be around, I thought we clearly lacked a necessary spark. After one of our games, she suggested that we both go home, take showers, change and reconvene at her house where she’d make us dinner and she’d pick something up at the video store for us to watch. With no ulterior motives, I agreed and about 90 minutes later, I arrived at her apartment house.

She was just finishing making dinner when I got there. We ate and then made our way to the living room. She got us each a beer and popped whatever movie she rented into the VCR.

My next memory is laying on my back in a bed, both of us naked, with her straddled atop of me. She was placing my limp hands on her breasts and clearly enjoying herself. I blacked out again.

The next memory is waking up in her bed with the clock reading 4:30 in the morning. I was groggy, but since I was laying on the outside, I was able to get out of bed, and gather my clothes from her floor and make my way out of her room.

I dressed in her kitchen and left her apartment. She sent me an email later that day at work telling me she had a good time and hoped we could play tennis later in the week. I agreed, but we never conversed, nor saw each other again. I didn’t even see her at networking events.

Making Sense of Things

My theory is that she spiked the beer and before I was completely unconscious, she led me back to her room where she had her way with me. From an objective point of view, especially if I reverse the gender roles in the situation, it’s hard to not call this experience a rape.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t believe I carry a lot of baggage because of it and I wonder why. The few people I’ve told about this usually look on with horror as I get to the end of the story and uniformly agree it was sexual assault.

I know how many rape victims suffer some kind of PTSD or other trauma from their experience – and while I have both from other incidents in my life – I question why it feels like this one didn’t cause an emotional or mental scar. Isn’t being sexually violated supposed to shake you to the core?

I never consented to having sex with this young woman, nor would I have as I just didn’t find her attractive. She coerced me into it without my approval. That is, technically, rape.

Did this have any subconscious effect on my developing pornography and alcohol addictions at the time, or play any role 15 years later as other repressed memories aided in me spiraling out of control?

Is it possible that this could just be “something that happened to me” and there is no deeper meaning, context or result? I’ve never felt anger or hate toward Ann. It’s more a sense of pity and confusion. I don’t think there’s any answer to “Why did you do that to me?” that I need to hear for any kind of closure. Maybe I shrug off the women-rapes-man dynamic we rarely hear about. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t a child. I just don’t know why I don’t feel more of…something.

Perhaps the biggest scar this incident left is the notion that something is wrong with me for not feeling more deeply about what happened. Maybe someday a door will open in my mind that gives the situation a deeper meaning and context, but for now it’s just going to remain an enigma. I just don’t know what I’m supposed to feel.