Monday, October 6, 2014

This Fall

Fall semester of 2009 was one of the worst times of my life. Around Halloween, I got into a lot of trouble for lashing back at the people who'd hurt me for the first time in 4 years. Someone who had no idea at all about my situation tried to tell me that everything happens for a reason and that I wouldn't remember any of this 5 years from now, which I knew was not true. I had to literally run away from her, across the street without looking, to avoid saying something really horrible to her.

Fall of 2010 wasn't much better. I mean, it was loads better because I wasn't a Colby student anymore, but I was having daytime nightmares about Colby almost constantly. Fall was worse because I was still Facebook friends with lots of Colby acquaintances and my newsfeed was FLOODED with status updates like, "Yay it's time to go back to Colby! We love hot chocolate and fuzzy sweaters and cuddly kittens and smiling all the time, Welcome to Colby, the Way Life Should Be, YAY COLBY!!!!!!!!!!!!  Halloween time brought me back to the state I was in the year before, and I had nothing to do. I didn't have anyone to celebrate with or Halloween parties to go to or ANYTHING to make it a fun Halloween. I was having flashbacks constantly and had no one to talk to. My mom had this new attitude like, life is short and you can't spend all your time feeling sad, you need to be responsible for your own happiness. This was not inherently bad because it honestly helped my mom to cope with a lot of things in her own past, but it was detrimental for me. I never got to grieve.

On November 8, 2010, my now-ex boyfriend noticed that I felt sad on Facebook and invited me to go on a walk with him the next day. So we had our first date and that's how it all began. I always referred to this as such a special, lifesaving day for me, the day I met someone who really understood. But he didn't understand. He never really was the absolute validator that I said I needed. What he was was neutral. He didn't have anything bad to.say about what I went through at Colby, but he didn't have anything supportive to say either. All he ever said to me in the line of "supportive" was "You're not there anymore." He never really, truly, on a deep level, accepted how bad it was. When I look back on our first talk, it seems unreal to me how great I thought it was at the time. It's like, you tell someone you've been through hell because of what other people have done to you and don't know if you'll ever feel whole again, and their response is, "*shrug* That's okay, I still like you." But I was straight out of hell back then. Only six months out with absolutely no new life experiences to make me feel like Colby was in the past. And when you're surrounded by people who are constantly putting you down and telling you that your experiences don't matter and that you're just imagining things, having someone simply NOT say anything really bad to me about not liking Colby felt like a miracle. I literally thought that my ex boyfriend's neutral response to my experience was the best I would ever get. I didn't think I'd find someone who accepted it for real.

And just to be clear, my boyfriend was NOT trying to take advantage of me when I was in this vulnerable state. I don't think he really understood where my mind was at the time.

In March of 2014, a new friend and I met in a coffee shop and had our first one-on-one conversation. We shared secrets that we had been afraid to tell other people, and it was a turning point for both of us. It was when we began to feel safe trusting other people again. I wrote my Colby story that summer and shared it with everyone. My new friend really, truly understood my situation on a gut level that no one else had before. We had our semi-jokes and digs about the school all the time. We quote the ridiculous things people have said to me there. Those things were really hurtful at the time, and quoting them now, pointing out the ridiculousness of how anyone could say those things to someone, has been the biggest cleansing ritual ever. This was what I needed all along. I never had someone to just acknowledge how bad it was and talk about it for what it was. I can actually refer to really bad Colby stuff now without having nightmares because I have someone who believes me, I have that affirmation that yes, it really was that bad, and it's not something I should have to prove to anyone. 

As our friendship developed, I began to develop higher standards. I decided that it wasn't good enough anymore for someone to simply not say anything bad. Granted, not saying something hurtful is better than saying something hurtful, but sitting there doing nothing is not the same as being supportive. My Colby experience had fucked with my mind so much that I would be thinking, "Wow, what a nice person to sit there politely while the house is on fire instead of pouring more lighter fluid on it! We should totally be friends!" Yeah, that's how messed up my standards were coming out of Colby. And that's not directed at my boyfriend specifically - that was how I felt with everyone I met who didn't say bad things to me. And let me tell you, when you start assuming that everyone is a supportive, validating person simply because they sit there and don't say anything, you're going to get betrayed. A lot.

I always say that my boyfriend got sick of me, which was true, but I never wanted to admit to myself that I was having problems with his behavior too. Because with my higher standards, I could see that he wasn't the absolute validator I thought I was dating. It didn't mean that he was a bad person, but it became very clear that he did not have any of the top qualities that I need a person to have in order to date, or even to be very close friends. Those top qualities haven't changed for me, but now I could see that he didn't have them. He would never give me the validation that my friends were giving me. Not even on the very basic level of always referring to Colby as a horrible thing. Last October, he threatened to break up with me literally the same week that I had planned a Halloween party with all my friends and already had his apartment decorated and we had planned to wear costumes that went together. He said I could still have the party, but he knew I wouldn't really be able to do that. It was also shortly after I had launched the sex blog and was intent on making that my new serious project of focus. Way to make everything come crashing down. I never told anyone about this because I wanted to just have fun with my friends at the party.

So this past summer, I was at a folk festival with my friends, when my friend (from the coffee shop) said that we had to have a huge Halloween party this year because this would mark five years since my horrible Halloween experience at Colby, and the night that that girl told me that none of this would matter five years later, because it's five years later now and it absolutely still matters. I was elated at this thought - the fact that my friend actually remembered that this October would mark five years. I hadn't even thought about that myself! But yeah, in 2009 I had the worst Halloween ever, and last year I had that breakup scare, although I did still have a fun time with my friends. This year, we're going to have the best Halloween ever!

So, I was thinking back to my Halloween of 2009, and how my friend Eli and I became friends around that time. I remember that we got close shortly after my Halloween incident, and that was when we really became friends. We actually had a specific conversation where I told Eli how I a lot of people had betrayed me and I didn't have anyone to talk to, and Eli said that ze would be my friend. We decided that we would be friends. I was recently thinking about the timing of this, and of when my boyfriend and I had out first date, and realized that the timing was close. Eli said that ze could check zir notes to find out the exact date when we had the conversation. You know when the exact date was? November 8, 2009. The EXACT SAME DAY that my boyfriend had asked me out one year later. Wow. That just...I don't even know. It feels so surreal to think about.

Here's the interesting thing: I always referred to the day my boyfriend asked me out as the day that he saved me from the Colby prison I was trapped in, but once I connected with other friends who were truly validating, I realized that that was never what had happened. Granted, I did meet some of my closest friends because I started dating my boyfriend and we had lots of fun times together, so he still gets some credit for pulling me out of a state of complete dysfunction and inactivity. I'll give him that. If I had been feeling great inside when we met, I probably would have seen him as someone who'd never keep up with me and all the fun stuff I planned to do. But I wasn't feeling great, so he helped me out of it. But at some point, I realized that I had built up that first date to be more than it was. Any person who wanted to hang out with me and do stuff when I was lonely would have helped me a lot, but he had never saved me the way I thought he had. Not like the way my friends had. The whole, "I don't know if I'd be here without you," has more to do with my own obsession with him - being able to get really deeply focused on something non-depressing - than it does with anything that he actually did to support me. I never meant it the way that I mean it with my true friends.

I remember the first time I meet people, but I also remember significant moments when we really connected and felt like now we were friends. When Eli and I first met, I had decided that I was done making new friends at Colby. Pretty much everyone I talked to hurt me and everyone I had trusted betrayed me, with a few exceptions. I decided there was only one friend on campus that I felt safe with, and when I couldn't eat meals with her, I'd eat alone, which was often since she was busy. But Eli kept pursuing me and wanting to sit with me, so I let zem. Ze was clearly interested in being friends, and that wasn't something I got a lot of at Colby. Especially not in the state I was in senior year. The conversation I had with Eli was very different than the one I had with my friend in the coffee shop. With my other friend, we were both sharing similar experiences that we were afraid to discuss with other people, and we felt a connection right away. Eli and I didn't exactly have shared experiences, and I wasn't scared to share with zem. I was in a mindset of pushing people away before they got too close, but Eli was drawn in, not pushed away by what I shared. I told Eli that ze was one of the only people I could talk to and how no one else would let me express myself and so many people had betrayed me. Eli pointed out that this was not so much a compliment to them, but a really bad thing about everyone else. I didn't know Eli very well at that point. I was literally trusting zem because ze seemed to be accepting me for who I was and hadn't said anything hurtful to me, even though ze hadn't experienced the same things I had...kind of the same way that I trusted my boyfriend in the beginning as well. Not that the two of them are similar at all, but there are similarities in the situations. It's kind of a cool parallel, when I think of it now. That November 8th can still be a happy day for me. I used to think my boyfriend had made this time of year a positive time again, but it never really felt that way. But when I think about that date, when I think about where I was in fall of 2009 when Eli and I met, THAT was someone actually saving me. The same way my friend saved me in March 2013 and I've felt cleansed of Colby ever since. Of course, things were still horrible at Colby, so it wasn't like I was doing well by any normal standards. I don't think anyone who knew me then would have said I was okay. But I was better than I would have been if Eli hadn't been my friend. I don't know where I would be if we hadn't met, and I mean that. When I look back now at my Halloween of 2009, I can actually remember the very special connection we had back then when we decided to become friends, and that is what makes this time of year a good time again.

This year, we are going to have the absolute funnest Halloween ever with no breakup threats, no getting kicked out of school threats, and no flashabacks - just ghost stories, painted pumpkins and cider donuts. But most of all, true friends.

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