Sunday, March 22, 2015

An Unexpected Teacher

If you look into the heart and soul of any relationship- be it a friend, a family member, or a potential romance- you might find yourself. Or, at the very least, you might discover pieces of yourself.

Sometimes, you may discover those pieces slowly over time, over the duration of the relationship.

Or, BAM! They may hit you upside the head like a two-by-four.

And that two-by-four hurts. Badly.

I’m still smarting from it; yet, very grateful for the encounter…

…and for the relationship itself that led to the encounter with the two-by-four.

... and to the young man on the other end of this relationship.

About four years ago, shortly after my divorce, I joined a few gay social (okay, hookup) apps to try and make some friends. I wasn’t trying to hookup and when I realized what was going on, I ended my memberships. I’d met a couple of men via them, some of them decent, nice guys. But, most of them were after one thing only, even if I said I wasn’t.

A young man messaged me on the last app I was on and we began chatting. At first, I was a bit resistant; as he was very young and my gut reaction was he was looking for a daddy, if not a sugar daddy. I thought he was cute, but wondered why he wanted all those facial piercings and stretched ears. As I didn’t want to be a daddy in the biological or gay senses of the word, I was guarded, but interested in what he had to say. After all, just chatting can’t hurt, can it? So, we kept chatting. Soon, he made his move and suggested fooling around. As there was over 1,000 miles between us, I didn’t see how that was possible, nor was I interested, so I politely declined. And he respected my wishes, and he never brought it up again. So, we continued to just chat.

Further on, he shared an intimate secret with me. He had a substance problem. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay, yet something held me back, something wouldn’t let me leave. After all, I reasoned, he was so far away and I could end it anytime I wanted. After all, just chatting can’t hurt, can it?

As we continued chatting, now almost nightly over the first year, I began to look forward to them. They helped ease the loneliness. Sometimes the chats would be superficial, about our days at work, or sometimes he shared his escapades with me. I kept asking myself, “Why is he telling me this? We don’t know each other, it doesn’t matter to me what he does.” Then it hit me, he was hurting, reaching out for help, whether he knew it or not. I offered what support I could not being a trained drug counselor, and I felt I did my best, if not more than I should have. He tried to go clean, but shared each relapse.

I took each relapse hard, I was very hurt. I had failed him; I wasn’t doing enough to help him solve his problems. He had rejected me. I told myself to leave each time, but still I couldn’t. And still, I couldn’t understand why. What kept me tethered to this young man who was causing me such pain?

As we chatted over the years, he shared with me some of the lyrics he wrote. I saw something in them. I saw glimmers of hope. Then I saw it, deep down he wanted to come clean. And maybe the Universe brought us together for me to help him get clean, to help get him to his destination, to help him continue his journey. This was either a grave responsibility laid on me, or would be merely a byproduct of our friendship. Either way, it was very humbling if that’s what the Universe saw in me.

At one point, he was arrested, and put in a drug treatment program. He went because he was forced to, being court ordered and because he didn’t want to go to jail. I tried to keep him upbeat about it as we celebrated his 30 day, 60 day, 90 day, and six month progresses

We also shared moments in our personal lives. He shared dates he went on, I shared about my divorce and the emotional and financial aftermath. I would share the few dates I went on (if they indeed were dates) and he shared his breakups. We talked about our coming out, our dysfunctional families, how and why he turned to drugs, and why I never did. We talked about the suicide of a potential boyfriend of his, the death of his baby brother, and the passing of my beloved dog and cat. We were there for each other.

He graduated his treatment program one year ago, and has remained clean since. We have continued chatting, and we both have enjoyed discovering who he is becoming; a talented young man, full of strength and creativity.

Yet, through it all, I was discovering someone else.

I was discovering me.

I have discovered, and come to accept, I am not responsible for his, or anyone else’s, actions. If he chooses to throw it all away and use again, it will be his choice, and as long as I know I helped as much as I could; I could (and would, this time) walk away with my head held high. Though I would greatly miss the dear friend he has become.

I have discovered that if, in the middle of a chat session, he suddenly disappears and I don’t hear back the same day, it doesn’t mean he’s discovered someone better than me who may want to fool around. His phone simply may have died, or he simply fell asleep. I’m learning not to take things personally nor make assumptions.

But, the biggest discovery of all, was that I had to go through the pain of his relapses. I had been reading a book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, by Pema Chödrön, ©2012, Shambhala Pubs., when the two-by-four hit.  Pema Chödrön, an American born Buddhist nun, writes in this book that, according to Buddhism, we have a fixed-identity where we see ourselves as either good or bad, worthy or unworthy, this way or that way. People show up in our lives and they either just help us along, i.e., our friends, or they challenge us in how we see ourselves, i.e., our ‘enemies’. I never saw this young man as an enemy; yet, he has challenged me on how I see myself. In fact, he has challenged me more than anyone else. I came to see I was a caretaker, a fixer of people. Yet, I could not take care of myself. And that was why I couldn’t let go of him, he wasn’t fixed yet. However, it was I who wasn’t quite fixed. In learning to not take care of him, I was learning to take care of myself. And if I didn’t learn this lesson, I would be stuck in that emotional logjam until I did, if ever. And that was why he was brought into my life, for me to learn this about myself through our relationship.

And the beauty of this is; we have talked about this. I have shared this lesson with him and he lets me know when I’m either taking care of him or not taking care of me.

I have also shared with him I was no longer hurting when I thought he might be tempted, but was now afraid for him that he’d start using. The pain of my help being rejected had now turned to fear he’d start using again. He suggested that I be afraid, that I own the fear, that I let it dissipate over time, not to rush it. And that he learned that lesson from me. It stings a little when your words come back to you.

It seems we both are learning to communicate with each other.

Needless to say, we have grown quite attached to each other. Facing emotions he has masked with drugs for so long is very frightening for him yet, he is taking that step. I’m proud of him. I am facing emotions I have masked with fear, yet I am trying to take that step. He says he is proud of me.

We believe we were brought together for a reason, or two. Where life will take us, we are not sure.

People come into our lives for a reason. Some stay for a day, others for a lifetime. Yet, some stay for only a season.  I hope we continue this journey together for a long, long time.

I’m very proud to call this 22 year old man in recovery my friend, and I’m very grateful to have learned this valuable lesson about myself because of him as well.

And I’m grateful we can continue to help each other on our respective journeys and that the Universe has brought us together.

After all, just chatting didn't hurt, did it?