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The Vine: February 19, 2014

Submitted by on February 19, 2014 – 2:40 PM16 Comments


A few years ago, my life went off the rails in a pretty spectacular fashion.

Years of abusing prescription painkillers led to an arrest and the loss of my job of over a decade. Cut to a year or so later, where the fallout from this has settled and I've gotten things back on track. I promptly got into a major car accident involving massive property damage and talk of how it was a miracle that I walked away from it. (I should note here that while I was at fault, it was due to a medical condition and not due to being under the influence — I was 100 percent sober when this happened.)

Here's the fun part. The above incidents all made the paper, so my name appeared in the paper three times over the span of a year. (Two articles had me as the main focus, one was just a passing mention.) So not only did I get to deal with everything that happened, I got the joy of knowing that the whole town knew all the gory details.

I dealt with this in my own way, choosing not the read the articles in question nor the comments on the online articles, and more or less just trying not to think about it too much, beyond the occasional fantasy of moving out of state and changing my name. I've pulled my life together since, have a new job that I'm doing well at, paying my bills, staying sober, etc.

My problem now is this: I am lonely. My best friend of a dozen years decided he was done with me and won't talk to me anymore (I message him from time to time, but he ignores me). I have other very close friends, but they're married and have their own lives. I do see them from time to time, but it doesn't make much of a social life. I also haven't dated for awhile, so I'm in the market for both friends and dating options.

Since we live in the era where everyone Googles each other, I'm afraid to try to meet new people. Remnants of my past problems can still be found online if one does some digging, and it worries me that it'll scare people off. (I have an unusual last name, so I'm pretty easy to find via Google.) I talked to one guy on OKCupid and we got to the "texting each other" stage. Then he asked for my full name. I never heard from him again. I haven't been very active on there since then.

Am I stupid for hoping my best friend might talk to me again? He's sending a pretty clear message by ignoring my emails. but I can't seem to help but try. (Like every six months or so, not an everyday thing.) Do I have any hope of meeting new people and not sending them running away screaming? Lots of people have a past, but not everyone is lucky enough to have a paper trail of said past that's easily accessible to anyone who cares to look.

If you have anything beyond "sucks to be you," you're a genius.

Insert clever signature here

Dear Clever,

No, you're not stupid for hoping for a rapprochement, but you also have to accept that clear message, and stop reaching out. It's not entirely clear to me what the timeline is on his cutting you off — whether the arrest and the attendant kerfuffle is what caused it, or it's more recent — but it doesn't really matter. He's done, and not respecting the boundary he's setting is only going to alienate him further. It's painful, and it's okay to feel rejected and sad, but you have to feel those things and move on. Some things can't be fixed.

You can take that statement as something depressing, heavy with regret, an indictment of you and your mistakes, and it's important as part of your continuing recovery to take responsibility for your behavior and your part in the hard times you went through, but there's a difference between taking clear-eyed responsibility and punishing yourself — and with the understanding that I know it's not as easy as pulling up stakes, tying your bandanna to a stick, and heading off down the sunny side of the street, I think it's maybe time to move on, literally. That may upheave your support system in a way you don't want to risk, and you don't have to make it a permanent change, but consider putting a state or a time zone or a newspaper catchment area between you and the Google-able headlines. Sure, people can still find it, but physically closing the door on that part of your life might give you some valuable perspective on how much of a role the past has to, or is going to, play in your life now and going forward.

Now, I don't have any firsthand experience with your situation, but I have a bit with being the — meet-ee? The Googler? And my advice based on that is, if it comes up, mention it. Don't start handing out laminated cards or anything, but work it in. Be matter-of-fact, not too jokey, not too doomy. "Back when I was having some problems with X, and fortunately I've moved on from that, but anyway, at around that same time" — or whatever. Own it. The abuse, the arrest, the gathering and rearranging of the shards of your professional life, this is part of you now, and some of it is dark, and there will be people who can't separate you from the diseased behavior — but some of it is good. Some of it is strength and hope. And there will be other people who get that, that it's all those things, that you're not proud of the past but you can't change it, either.

You can't change the way your friend feels; it may change, down the road, but you can't do anything about it either way and you need to stop trying. You can't change the past, but you can change your location, for a while or forever, and give yourself a fresh start. You need a little more distance on everything, and you could probably use a support group; NA isn't for everyone, but a therapy group or some occasional counseling is indicated here, just to help you incorporate these travails and that time in your life as a key part of your life that doesn't define it.

People fuck up and get lost. Have some compassion for yourself and trust that it will be shown to you. One guy from OKCupid is not your destiny.

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  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Everything Sars says.

    Thank God you are intact and apparently haven't caused death/injury to anybody else. Now is the time to talk to your doctors more then ever–both about your ongoing medical issues and addiction issues (they're both medical issues, of course–be sure all the medical professionals in your life have the whole story.) Make sure you feel heard (note–"heard" isn't the same as "magically fixed".) Get advice from them on long term options. NA or other groups where you don't feel like you're one Google away from being shunned since everybody there is in the same kind of boat are worth deeply considering.

    And yes, move on, physically, if you can. If you aren't legally required to stay in your area, consider it. Make saving money towards that goal a thing. Give yourself something to think about.

    Punishment is quite insidious in our culture, and the punishment model of treating addiction is still going strong. While you aren't and shouldn't be expecting medals or absolution for your past mistakes, constantly using them as a stick or excuse for present miseries will only lead to a greater stuck feeling at best and relapse at worst.

    It's a new day. You still are you, but don't have to be just an amalgam of your former self's errors.

  • HLM says:

    Clever, if you're not currently volunteering at some kind of food bank or shelter, think about it. Volunteering can be a good way to move toward several goals: establishing a new role for yourself, meeting people in a less-judgmental place than OKCupid, and offering help to people (or critters) who need it more than you do at the moment. You don't have to pick a venue that's themed to tie into your past problems, nor do you need to use your own story to explain why you're there; you just show up and do the work and maybe talk to the other volunteers.

    Sars is right that you're not guaranteed a return to the life you had before all this stuff went down. Volunteering can give you structure and perspective as you work on shaping the life you've got now.

  • Megan says:

    Meeting people over the internet means that they are a tab and a google search away from those old stories, and they don't have any interpersonal interaction to counterbalance it. If you meet people in real life, they might not know your last name for weeks. By the time someone googles and finds you, you've given them something else to think of ('right, but she always gets here early and sets up and she was the one that came up with that clever solution when that thing happened. Doesn't seem like she's still using.').

    No more hiding behind a screen to meet people. Go where they are. Be real to people before you are a story to people. You can do it.

    Good luck. I am impressed that you've struggled your way out of your hole.

  • Maria says:

    I second the moving on, and if you can make it work out to go to a bigger town, so be it. Then you have a built-in reason for getting active and putting yourself out there. Volunteer, join an activity club of some sort, take lessons in something you've always wanted to learn. Can I go all Don Draper on you? If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation.

  • Maru says:

    Well, now I'm going to sound like a grandma here, but if you are lonely you could join a group of people with the same hobby as you. Crafting? There are knitting, scrapbooking, quilting groups. Reading? Book clubs. Outdoorsy stuff? Social clubs often have tennis leagues, ski outings, etc.

    What do you like to do in your off time? What have you always been interested in learning? Do you have a community college nearby? At worst, you will have a distraction from loneliness. at best, you will meet friends who share your interests.

  • Katie says:

    Sars mentioned a support group or something like it, and that was my first thought, too. It sounds like you don't know any other people in a situation similar to yours, but they are out there, trust me, and some of them probably live near you!

    Also- good for you for getting your life back together after all this. Best wishes.

  • Suzy says:

    What does your sponsor say? (Hoping that you have one….) Everybody in recovery is in the same spot as you, some more, some less, but good recovery communities are able to sit in non-judgement, and that experience is helpful at getting your feet back under you. Though it sounds like you're doing a great job leaving the bad times behind you, you can't and shouldn't erase them from your being. They are PART OF YOU. The idea of moving away for a fresh start sounds enticing, and may be helpful at jump starting your social life, but in my opinion can't be viewed as an escape from your past. Yon past can't be kept secret, so try getting out ahead of it by YOU being in control of how it comes out (always from you, never from Google, for example). Acknowledge your story, and the earnings from it, while still demonstrating every day that you are different now. It'll take time and be hard, but it will get better. And good luck: your hard work will be so, so worth it.

  • Suzy says:

    *learnings not earnings*

  • Amy says:

    I would advise getting ahead of the news when you meet new people. I wouldn't put it on the front page, but make sure it's in the first issue.

    I once dated a guy who told me he had been in prison on our first date. He told me what he had done, and explained the repercussions of his actions that would also affect me. (No driver's license) He also told me about what he was doing to get his life back on track, and was pretty honest about the fact that he was aware of the possibility of relapse, and couldn't make any guarantees. Ultimately, our relationship ended as a result of things not related to his previous issues.

    I respected him for being honest, but when I'm honest with myself, it really was strike one. That said, I suspect that had I gotten to my habitual checking of online court records without that conversation, it would have been 23 strikes, because that was the number of counts that he had been charged and convicted of. Sometimes, when the news comes from someone in a moment of honesty and vulnerability, it is much less of a thing than if it had come out from a 2 AM search on Google.

    You already have your opening line. You used it for the TN letter. The fact that you're aware of how badly off the rails your life was, and that you're working on it will mean something to the kind of people that you want to meet.

    I also have some things available on the internet that might make people I want to date think twice about dating me, and so I'm keenly aware of the point at which I become googlable. Fortunately for me, I've moved around a bit, and have a very common name. So, it takes a fair amount to find me, and you have to sort through a children's book author, an advocate for inmates' rights, a bunch of lawyers and half a dozen professors of various sorts to find me. I tend to have the conversation from the perspective that not all the things that have my name attached to them are me, and ask people I date to verify that they are indeed reading something about me before they make judgments. That also gives me the chance to have the "yes, I research lesbian stuff" with guys that I'm interested in dating, or the "yes I was married to a guy" conversation with the women I'm interested in dating.

    Also, get thee to a meeting! I wouldn't recommend dating someone from a meeting that you'd like to continue to go to, but it is a good way to make friends who understand your situation.

  • Megan says:

    I didn't say how sympathetic I am that your best friend isn't replying to you. I could see that being a constant source of hurt and regret and simply missing him. Contra Sars, I don't think texting him once or twice a year to say 'I'm still sober, I will always be here if you want to be friends again' is that much of a burden on him. But I do agree there isn't anything else you can do about it.

    I am sorry. It is a real loss.

  • Beadgirl says:

    I was all set to give some advice in addition to Sars, but HLM and Maru beat me to it. So I second them. Go out and do stuff you enjoy, help out the less fortunate, take a class in something you've always been interested in, etc. At the very least, it will give you something to do other than think about your problems, and it will give you a way to interact with people without having to be so self-conscious.

    Good luck, whatever you decide!

  • Kristin says:

    Clever, congratulations on getting and staying sober, and pulling your life back together. Regarding your best friend, while I agree that leaving him alone and respecting his space is what you need to do, if you want to send a letter of apology, regret, I miss you, whatever, to his snail-mail address, I think that's OK. He can open it or not, respond to it or not, but at least you can put your feelings down on paper and have some closure on that.

    As far as meeting people goes? Volunteering is a great idea. As is regular attendance at a religious institution of your choice. Join a gym? A book club? Animal shelters are often looking for people to take adoptable animals to certain social events…that's one way to both volunteer and network – I live in DC and have met (and NOT dated, FYI) many politicians that way, believe it or not.

    And if you do attend meetings, mention that as your entree to talking about your prior hoohahs. You know – "after this, I've got an AA meeting, but maybe we could get coffee?" Casual disclosure, gets to the point without making it a drama.

    Best of luck.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Contra Sars, I don't think texting him once or twice a year to say 'I'm still sober, I will always be here if you want to be friends again' is that much of a burden on him.

    With love, it's not the texts. It's that, after years of putting up with the disease's bullshit, Best Friend may feel that he's STILL not important enough to be heard on what HE wants, which is not to have to deal with her anymore. HIS request for space is not being respected. I've been where he is; that's how I felt. I understand, as I did then, that there's a difference between the person before recovery and after, but the person before recovery wore me the fuck out, and I needed some time to get over being (justifiably) angry and hurt and exhausted, and to deal with my feelings about that person and about the disease. I took the time, the relationship is mended, but…you know.

    I'm not trying to make Clever or anyone else in recovery feel bad, I'm really not. I'm proud of y'all, and of course Clever misses BF and that's hard. I have compassion for her, and we don't really know the timeline, or whether he asked for space or cut her off forever or what. But on behalf of BFs generally: we forgive you, but we might stay mad for a while and you gots to back off.

  • Barb says:

    A good place to make new, lifelong friends that won't judge you for your past -
    AA or NA. Probably not the answer you were hoping for, but true, nonetheless.

  • Clever says:

    Hi, letter writer here.

    Sars, I know in my heart you're right about stopping communication with my (former) friend. And I do for awhile, but then I get it in my head that maybe now it's been long enough and I'll actually get a response. But I never do.

    The time line went: arrest happened, friend stuck by me throughout the entire ordeal and after. (By the way, the legal issues are no more. Everything was dropped and record sealed, so that's over and done). Then a couple years back I relapsed and that was when he decided he was done. I cleaned up yet again, got a job at a rehab center(I still work there), but he hasn't spoken to me since.

    For reasons I won't go into here, I do not currently or ever plan on attending AA or NA. I've found other methods that work for me, as far as staying straight goes.

    I appreciate all the comments and advice. This is honestly really uncomfortable for me but if I want things to change I suppose it's necessary.

    Thanks, all.

  • Maria says:

    Clever, I'm sorry that you're lonely. I hope you do get dating, and find even one new friend.

    I think where your old friend is concerned, you might be stuck with remembering the good times and grieving the loss. I think that the hope of starting that back up, as good and warm as it feels, is holding you back. You want to get love from this person, but maybe you should give love. I think going no-contact is what he wants, so give him that. Probably what happened is, it felt good to help you once…but to keep on and maybe face more relapses did not feel good. As far as he's concerned, he can't give you that assurance that he'll be there no matter what.

    I'm hoping your future will be sweet. It sounds like you're ready for it.

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