I’m Almost Invited To A Sort Of College Reunion Where I’d Get To Explain My Life Twenty Times In One Glorious Night

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I’ve never been to a reunion… I’ve never had a reason to, having dropped out of high school twice and having been asked to leave College before my first year was over. The head of my Journalism program told me he’d let me back in after I got my mental health taken care of, so I did graduate just with a different bunch of students than those I started with.

That first group, the graduates of the Journalism class I started with, are having an unofficial reunion towards the end of June. I was invited kind of backwards… in fact I actually haven’t been invited yet. There was an email sent out by the person hosting the party, but not to me; a follow-up email from a College friend requesting I be put on the list, then; a third email to me from another College friend letting me know what was going on.

Nothing is ever simple in my life.

I was initially excited at the idea of a reunion. Before I found out it was a house party I had this image in my head of a semi-formal event held in a hall or some kind of neutral arena where I could reminisce with the people I cared about and lost touch with.

But when I read that third email, with its list of potential guests, my stomach tensed up and my hands began to shake at the idea of being trapped in an apartment filled with people who, just to start a conversation with, I’d have to start back at the beginning… “I was diagnosed with manic depression when I was eighteen, blah blah, yadda splork… today I’m recovering”.

When I started College in 1994 I was too caught up in the insanity of my own life, I didn’t have time for other people. At least I had room for a few people, but I didn’t have the patience for more. During my first year of classes I was living in a room at the YMCA, I was dealing with the breakup with the woman I thought I was going to marry and I was untreated.

I can remember there were some people in my class who I thought shouldn’t have been there. When I was 24 I was still an idealist, on the surface I believed reporting was kind of a sacred calling and a large chunk of those people had no right to be there. We all got along, as far as I remember there was no hate. But there was gossip… no one gossips like reporters. And there were very defined cliques.

And I’m absolutely sure a few of my classmates felt some resentment towards the treatment I received from the teachers… and rightfully so, I was late everyday for every class, and the head of the program gave me chance after chance. The only reason I wasn’t kicked out after the first semester was because he really enjoyed a 1200 word feature I wrote on a fading local celebrity, then he gave me my own column in the school/class paper.

I did have a lot of fun during those years, and I have a lot of wonderful memories of those three years. But I also have memories which run the other way, and I’m not sure if those memories reflect what actually happened. I’ve written about this a few times…

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July 27, 2007: ‘My Most Embarrassing Memories Ever… There’s No Way This Could Ever Come Back And Bite Me On The Ass’

“They were little split seconds of embarrassment and shame which, as the years passed, built up to such an intensity where I could feel them physically. Each one of these memories — no matter how insignificant they may seem now — was capable of, at worst, causing deep suicidal examinations and at best moments of shame and worthlessness.”

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December 8, 2006: Mostly We Die Because Of Infected Memories

These memories were embarrassing, they made me wince, and occasionally I even had to strike my head to make them stop. But they wouldn’t, sometimes they would even pop-up while I was awake. They made me want to apologize to those who, in my memories, I thought I’d done serious harm to.

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When you’re recovering from a disease or an addiction you’re constantly looking back on the mistakes, missteps and total fuckups you made while untreated.

And that’s dangerous. Those feelings of regret and shame, even if they appear irrational, are the little shoves towards the cliff.

People don’t walk off cliffs, we’re pushed. Every little barrier we come across in our lives adds up, whether it’s the gentle disappointment of losing an award or the shock from the loss of family and friends. We’re walking in a crowd, trying to get to our goal but each person we walk into pushes us that much further towards the cliff’s edge.

Each event becomes a knot. The pain we cause our family from every suicide attempt, the destruction we cause in the lives of our friends, the self abuse we lay on our own heads… down to the missed apology, the vow we break, the split seam. All of those memories, left misunderstood or unexamined, are dangerous.

Once we’re in recovery and able to think rationally one of the first things we recognize is we do owe people — parents, co-workers, friends — something for having to deal with our untreated behaviours. But most of us don’t know what it is we’re supposed to do, because apologizing for having the disease is not the answer, and if we make one it sounds forced and awkward and embarrassing.

If I showed up to the reunion and started apologizing for things which may not have even happened, or if they did but the person has no memory of the incident at all because they haven’t had a disease which forces them to obsess over the minutiae of moments… I’d just be setting up another, much larger, event to obsess over.

Which is why I think the eighth and ninth steps in AA, “making amends”, is something worth thinking about.

The eighth step on the AA ladder is to “make a list of all persons [you have] harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all”. Step nine is to actually find those people and make those amends.

People make the mistake of thinking “amends” equals an apology, but it doesn’t… because if you’re an addict or, in my case, have a mental disease you don’t apologize for the addiction or disease.

What “amends” means is “for every wrong we have done, there is a right we may do to compensate. We must develop a sense of justice, a spirit of fairness, an attitude of common sense…”

It means it’s more important to work the knots out of your brain than it is for the other person to forgive you. We have unresolved issues we haven’t been able to work through because the disease prevented us from acting rationally. And now, months and years into our recovery, those issues are the reason we can’t sleep.

Now that I’ve been thinking about it I really only owe one person in my first journalism class an apology, or maybe an attempt to make amends. Maybe a simple explanation. Although there are four people in the class I graduated with — one friend and three girlfriends who got caught up in my manics — who I definitely owe an explanation, an apology and an attempt at making amends…

I’m not exactly sure how to make amends with someone, especially someone who doesn’t like me, but I do see this as something worth exploring. Maybe it’s more important we at least “develop a sense of justice, a spirit of fairness, an attitude of common sense…” with ourselves first.

I doubt I’ll be going to the “reunion”, but I’m glad my friend sent me the email and I’m really stoked to be back in touch with my friend from back in the day.

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...thanks.

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About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression in 1989, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. I have an 8-year old son, and a 4-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at saltedlithium.com....
This entry was posted in Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Health, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Mental Health, Ottawa. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to I’m Almost Invited To A Sort Of College Reunion Where I’d Get To Explain My Life Twenty Times In One Glorious Night

  1. aikaterine says:

    I have never been fond of reunions, too much…stuff. It seems like a time for people to get together and one-up each other again – just like old times.

  2. exactscience says:

    I am still in university so reunions are a long way off but I know the sting of not graduating with my class. Being held back one year was okay as it meant I ended up with some folks who had been held back in previous years but this second year means I will be in a completely new class which is the suck.

    As for making amends, I think that you are right it isn’t always about saying sorry, I think it is more at being at peace with what has happened and where apt letting people know what happened.

  3. bromac says:

    Yeah, Thor, I agree. Got no time for it.

    I left high school and never looked back. My University was so large that I don’t think a reunion would serve much purpose. Not for me, anyway.

    This is a tough one. Making amends. And, oh, the wincing. I feel ya on the wincing, and head-slapping. UGH-the self-loathing these social blunders create is terrible. Just a feeding frenzy for the chemicals.

    Tread carefully on those memories, Gabriel.

  4. Lydia says:

    Wow, you’ve given me something to think about! This isn’t the way I understand the 8th and 9th steps. I believe that it does involve an apology, and we don’t want to end up saying something like, “I’m sorry,but _______” and fill in the blank with I’m sorry but I’m sick, I’m sorry but I didn’t know better, etc.

    I will be giving it more thought.

    Meanwhile, reunions? I went to my wife’s 20th high school reunion, which was like being at my wife’s 20th high school reunion. I bought tickets for mine, but when my significant other backed out, I chickened out. I still regret it and wish I had asked my best friend to go with me.

  5. thordora says:

    hells no. I don’t want to face the people who mostly spurned me to begin with. That’s frustrating enough on Facebook, constantly muttering to myself “You HATED me, why should we be friends?”

    But I’m an anti social jerk, so take that for what you will….

  6. Gabriel... says:

    Hi Thordora and Aikaterine… I think the plan is turning around. Since they’ll all be in Ottawa for the weekend, I’m planning on inviting some of the friends I had in my journalism program to meet up the day after the pseudo-reunion.

    Hi Lydia, exactscience and bromac… I’ve read a lot about AA, participated in the recovery of a friend in NA, and have had several long discussions with many people in both programs. When I first started associating my own recovery from mental illness with their recovery from addiction, which was pretty recently, I starting looking at the 8th and 9th steps as potential problems for me.

    I don’t believe I should be apologizing for the out-of-control behaviours forced on me by the disease. I know in the history of addiction research the acceptance of addiction as a disease is a very recent decision. So for most of the history of AA/NA it made sense that the behaviour from addiction could be something to apologize for… there was a “fault”, as in “this is My fault”.

    But in 1991 the American Medical Association finally gave into the evidence and classified alcoholism (addiction) as a disease “under both psychiatric and medical sections”. So I don’t believe addiction or mental illness is something we should be apologizing for anymore than someone with cancer should be apologizing for having a tumour.

    However, because the memories of those untreated behaviours is something that haunts us during our recovery, making amends — in terms of understanding what we did and possibly making a wrong into a benefit — is something definitely worth exploring.

  7. I’m strongly contemplating not going myself.

  8. Gabriel... says:

    That’s weird dude, I was just thinking seriously that I was going to go…

  9. It’s a mood thing. It also depends on whether or not I can handle being around midge.

  10. Pingback: Two Weddings A Brunch And A Savage Beating « …salted lithium.

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