It was a mistake I’ll never forgive myself for.
By the time it had happened and, groggily, I slowly awoke to the slimy feeling of shame and guilt sliding over my face and dripping down to coat my body in its filth as I stood, shaking, at the bus stop waiting to catch my train home, our relationship was already over. I had developed a penchant for hard drinking and drug usage which took me away from our home and him, instead implanting me in dive bars around people I had considered my friends doing things I had told myself time and time again I would stop doing. I never stopped, instead diving deeper and deeper into a dark oblivion in which there seemed to be no way out. It was a bad time. It was a horrible time in which I suffered a severe depression and, being away from home, felt as if I had no one to talk to. Looking back and far away from where I once was, I’m able to see the situation for what it is which causes me to feel intense shame and guilt, but has also made me appreciative of the person I’ve become and the decisions I’ve made since then. Cheating was a mistake I own, but one I haven’t, and probably never will, forgive myself for. It’s a mistake that has haunted my dreams and continues to wrack my body with guilt every time I think back to our relationship, see his name, or even think of San Francisco.
Having been high school classmates, we only began talking until after we graduated and, after what seemed like a romantic courtship only read about in fairy tales and love stories (we were teenagers, give us a break), began dating. It was my first real relationship, the first time I had ever loved someone, and the first time I had ever let my guard down around someone who hasn’t my family. It was an experience that forced me to grow, pretend to be an adult living an emotionally mature life, and for the first time, consider the feelings and experience of another in relation to my thoughts, actions and behavior. What I really loved about the relationship was the sense of humor we shared and our ability to both love each other romantically and platonically, as if we had been friends since we were children. We were able to make jokes only the other could understand, think up fantastical scenarios that involved our current settings, and felt comfortable being creative around each other, something which resulted in several artistic projects together.
After 3 1/2 years of dating, I graduated from college and he finished his AA and was ready to get his 4-year degree. We had made the mutual decision to move to San Francisco, it being a place I had always dreamed of living in and was finally ready to make a reality. After a year of saving, we made the move up north, found a small studio to live in and began what we thought would be our new, exciting lives. But the move had been harder than I had expected. In San Francisco, I felt wholly alone and while I had battled depression as a teenager, the depression I found myself sinking into in SF was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I was lethargic, apathetic, and unable to bond with him the same way we had bonded back home. This was worsened by the fact that I had set unreal expectations for myself upon our move. I had expected myself to write more, get published and develop, almost overnight, the life I had always dreamed of. Something that seemed incredibly accessible given that I was finally living in the city I had always dreamed about. Then, with the people I had met at work, I found myself spending less and less time at home, instead allowing myself to be carted away to parties and bars where the drug and alcohol usage I had struggled with as a teenager and college student grew much worse and became less controllable. And before I knew it, the weeks turned into months and we continued growing further and further apart, rarely speaking, rarely seeing each other and when we had, having nothing to talk about. At the time, I knew my behavior was out of line and everything I was doing was wrong, but I just couldn’t stop. In my darkness, I had lost all self-control and will. I knew I was diving downwards towards rock bottom and I could see what rock bottom looked like, but I didn’t have it in me to pull myself upwards and avoid crashing altogether.
And then it happened. Having grown quite flirtacious with a coworker of mine, I took up his offer to go to the local park and “hang out” together. While there, we had had some drinks and then decided to make our way to a bar down the street. Then, keeping up with my MO of the day, we ordered a bowl each and drank and drank and drank until the last thing I remembered doing was stepping out for a cigarette and then, once I regained consciousness, I found myself in his apartment having sex and felt incredibly guilty, nauseous and ashamed all at once. After it was over, I hurriedly put my clothes back on, had a cigarette and then left for the comfort of my own apartment, a comfort I could no longer enjoy as the apartment served as a reminder of the hopes and dreams we had shared, but had destroyed.
On the train ride home, I felt nothing. Empty. Void of feeling. Hollow. Having sobered up at the thought of what had just transpired, I returned to an empty house (he was at work), took a shower and slept for what I had hoped would be forever. I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing him, or holding his hand, kissing him, hearing him say “I love you”… All of that sickened me, forced me to flee for the comfort of my blankets and hide until I was someone else, somewhere else. At first, I avoided him altogether, taking shifts in the morning knowing he would be working nights, I stayed with my friend, continued going to bars and tried everything I could to not have to look into his eyes and lie. With us having grown so distant in our relationship, it was as if nothing had changed, but I secretly knew that everything had changed. We weren’t just two people going through a rough patch in our relationship. It was over. It was undeniably over and there was now nothing we could do to save it. It wasn’t long after that night when our relationship ended. Having addressed my incorrigible behavior and inability to control it, I had called it off afraid of the harm I would inevitably inflict on someone who was as innocent, pure, kind, loving, and forgiving as he was.
So, we broke up and I continued to sink further and further into a depression I was sure had become permanent. After two years of wandering and doing the same thing I had done my entire time in SF, I met someone else — someone so much like me that it had felt we had been connected by something much stronger than superficial interests. While we found a sense of comfort in each other’s humor, interests and personal background, a part of me always felt as if it had been our mutual miseries and pain that really brought us together. He, much like myself, also dealt with unresolved mental health issues that led to a pattern of addiction in place of medication. And while we started a relationship that was, at first, incredibly unhealthy given our unique ability to be enablers and users, we eventually moved and sought treatment in order to better ourselves and our relationship.
Once we moved to Los Angeles, we changed our lifestyles drastically. While it had been easy for him to swear off alcohol, I required an ultimatum (either I seek help or risk losing him forever) that forced me to, for the first time in years, reevaluate my life and the effect my actions had on those that love/d me. So there it went: we stopped drinking, using and smoking; changed our diets and fitness routines; started Transcendental Meditation in order to help with our anxiety and depression; and, have been seeking a professional psychologist that will round out our new lifestyle. While it hasn’t been easy, I am now able to look back at the person I was and be proud of the person I have become to myself, my family, and my partner. I am now able to make conscious decisions that take into account the feelings and experiences of others, something I had given up in San Francisco.
But even with the changes I’ve undergone, I still feel an overwhelming sense of guilt over what took place that one night. The thought of it makes me revert back to a negative mode of thinking in which I question whether or not I’m a good person, whether I’m making the right decisions, and whether I deserve anything good that happens to me. But whenever I bring this up to my partner, he reminds me that I am human and that humans are prone to mistakes large and small. And while it may seem like a cop out to take this platitude as my absolution, it’s true. We all make mistakes, all of us, but what separates us as individuals are the ways in which we respond to those mistakes. You can make all the mistakes you want but if you’re not learning from them, you’re not growing and what’s the point of living if you’re not willing to grow?
There are millions of people who have hurt someone in their life during one point or another, but what separates the “good people” from the “bad” are their ability to feel remorse and to recalibrate in order to map out a better life, one in which your experiences, as well as those of others, are being taken into consideration. Now that I’ve come out again into the light, having spent so much time cold and shivering in the darkness, this is the single most important lesson I’ve learned: that life requires self-awareness, assessment and recalibration. Life is a series of mistakes in which we are grow from and that’s what makes it so damn painful at times, but also incredibly beautiful.