I realize I’ve always been a bit of an outcast. I’m totally ok with that. In fact I’ve actually embraced it and just got used to the fact that I was the odd man out. Picked last for football? No big deal, football sucks anyways. No date for the prom? Whaaatever, prom is freakin expensive anyways. Wait, actually I went to a shitload of proms…my first few years of high school were terrible, but I did sort of grow into my own but anyways, I adapted, it’s what you do when you don’t know what else to do. You either adapt, or you get destroyed when it comes to being young and you’re trying to be social. Well, I’d say that’s true when you have self-esteem issues, or self-image issues and all of those wonderful, crazy thoughts that go through your head as a child all the way up to, erm…now. So anyways, I learned how to make it work for me because I had no other choice until I couldn’t make it work for me. I think there just came a time and a place where I could no longer balance how to juggle fake smiles, rehearsed laughs and always being on point around people. I never understood how people could just be happy all the time. Were they too faking it? It didn’t seem like it. People seemed and still for the most part seem, genuinely happy and a part of me doesn’t quite understand that very often. So, getting back to it, there came that point where I just really couldn’t socialize anywhere correctly, I just wasn’t able to fit in and of course the best cure for that sort of thing is alcohol because it just so happened to occur right into my freshman year of college.
Now, looking back it just makes sense that I had mastered the art of being a chameleon at my high school. I had gotten comfortable with it, too comfortable and when I decided to go to Valencia College, my whole world changed. I was out of my comfort zone, these were uncharted waters and they were getting very, very rough. I do wish I would’ve just kept at it, learned how to socialize, forced myself to seek out new friends but I retreated into myself, I begged my scared, inner child for mercy and just began to drink it away. Alcohol is a wonderful social lubricant and I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with that. Of course, when you use it for a decade and completely forget how to socialize, how to exhibit normal human behaviors for the most part in a large group of people, when you don’t really know how to pick up or hit on or converse with women now because in the past you’ve always had a bit of the ol’ liquid courage in you it’s pretty devastating.
Over the past year and a half I’ve had to reinvent myself and it’s not been an easy thing to do. At the same time it’s been pretty freeing because not many people get the opportunity to wake up and say “I’m going to try this today and see if I like it.” Honestly, I really don’t know if I enjoy surfing or kayaking or golfing or playing football or kickball or things most people enjoy because I was either 1. too hungover to try them 2. did them drunk and don’t really know if I actually enjoyed them 3. preferred to just get drunk instead or 4. was too intimidated by the thought of doing it in the first place. So I’m in this brave new world now and there’s a recovery community at UCF. I figured, ok, this could be a good opportunity to meet some other people in recovery and the program also includes people who just don’t really care to have alcohol or drugs around them. Sweet. This could be good for me.
Wrong. I hope you were able to get through the boring part. Here’s where the story begins.
So this gathering aka Game Night starts at like 10:00 at night on campus. That should’ve been my first clue that this was a bad idea. On campus. On a Friday night. At 10:00 PM.
10:00 – The directions or the whole thing really about where it was and what was happening there were very vague and I didn’t want to be the first guy there so I kinda hung around a local outside mall for a bit, got a coffee and just shot the shit on my computer and then figured ok, it’s go time, I put all of my anxieties aside because I was nervous as all hell and forced myself to go to this thing.
Apparently there are two locations that this group meets. One location is off campus where they have meetings. The other location is where they meet for get togethers and parties and game nights, things of this nature. I for whatever reason, my guess is the insane amount of anxiety I had been feeling, either misread or misunderstood where the shin-dig was going down and went to a building complex off of school property which was essentially a normal looking office building.
10:30 – There were maybe 3-4 cars in the parking lot and the building maybe had some main interior and exterior lights on but that was about it. Odd I thought but it’s the first get-together so maybe it’s just not a big thing this early in the semester. The door is locked, no go. I drive around to the other side of the building. Other door is locked. Obviously something is very wrong.
So, I double check everything on my phone and realize fml…the event is on campus in one of the whatever recreational rooms at one of the dorms. Now, please understand, UCF is a massive campus and my goal is to get to campus, go to class, and get the hell out of there. I don’t exactly hang out “in the quad,” or just walk around for the fun of it. I don’t know anything other than where the main buildings are for Psychology, Financial Aid, etc. So, the dorms…ok…there’s a ton of them and it’s not like they have exact addresses here so I figure I’ll find the closest parking garage and wing it.
11:00 – I finally get to what I think is the best parking garage to get to my final destination and my credit card gets declined when I try to pay for the 3.00 parking pass…why I don’t know. My card is fine, so F you parking pass giver outer machine. My debit card won’t work either, obviously this thing is broken and the next one is like the next floor up. It takes cash, no big deal so I open my awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Wallet and I’ve got a 20, a 10 and 2 1.00 bills. FML. No big deal…all good…I’ll just take the elevator up to the next one, use my card, get a pass come back down, put the pass on my dashboard, ask where the recreation room is for this particular dorm is and I’m well on my way to meeting people who will be just like me and all will be well.
11:15 – Elevator is broken. I walked up the parking garage ramp because there were no stairs on my side of the garage. I’m sweating like a whore in a church on Sunday. I throw the stupid parking pass on my dashboard, sit in my car for a few minutes with the A/C on and just consider if I even want to do this anymore. The event ends at 1:00 AM.
11:30 I’ve now made it to some random part of UCF that I didn’t know existed. I’m surrounded by what appears to be 14-16 year old students. I wasn’t aware that UCF had a high school program. I’m guessing they were freshman that were actually 18-19 years old but I think the older you get, the younger young people appear. I’m going to have to put a pin in that and maybe see if I can do an experiment of some sort to see if that theory is true. I believe it is. I ask directions from a few of these youngsters and I can feel them looking at me as if I might be a professor or a janitor. One of the two. I can sense pity, like “How does he not know where this rec room is? Maybe he’s suffering from memory loss due to his old age…that’s so sad.”
11:33 I think I understand the language of the younglings. Some of it didn’t sound like English, or any language from the planet Earth to be honest and I continue making my journey to my destination. I am now determined. I will meet with my people, we will break bread together damnit. I have come too far to give up now. It will happen.
11:35 Fuck this shit. I wanna go home.
11:40 I ask for directions again but this time I stop in an admin building, they tell me it’s literally across the way. Like, literally 30 paces from where we are standing. Sigh, the admin desk is also run by these young individuals who I don’t fully understand. The contempt or sorrow they feel for me is now nearly causing me to boil over with anger. I hear them laugh as I walk outside. I am a grown ass man. I am accomplished, respected (by a few people, sometimes. I think.)
11:41:30 I walk into the room and just sort of freeze. There are a good amount of people in there. I’d say about 40-50. One group is playing a super sized game of Jenga. Is this a thing? It looks pretty dangerous. The thing toppled over and probably could’ve killed or maimed a small child. Another group is playing with pokemon cards…at that time I felt my eye twitch a little bit. I kept walking further into the room and there was another card game of which I wasn’t fully aware of. I believe it was similar to Pokemon but worse. Then, I stopped. Looked up and did a complete 360…I was completely surrounded by these beings, kind that I had been seeing all night. The younger than average looking, prepubescent, saplings that seemed so foreign to me. I grabbed a Coke out of one of the coolers they had, sat on an empty couch by myself and just stared at the floor.
11:45 Somewhere between 11:41:30 and 11:45 PM on Friday, August the 25th, a small part of my soul died and I realized I was old. I could no longer be the “outcast,” and be ok with it. Or be the outcast and drink or the be outcast and find a few other outcasts to hang out with. I felt as if I was surrounded by my peers, fellow people in recovery yet still miles away. It as a terrifying, unreasonable, unfair experience.
11:47 I walked out the door without saying a word to anybody.
As I walked back to my car about a million things went through my head. These millennials were having fun. A lot of fun. For the first time in a long time I actually truly felt regret for turning left when I should’ve turned right when I was their age. Or taking the path less chosen or whatever analogy you feel like putting in there. It’s all the same. I feel like I knew better but I didn’t. Like I could’ve stopped it but I didn’t know how. It was college, I was young, everybody was doing it, it was just part of the experience. Yet, I still hated every minute of my drinking when I was in college and not only that I didn’t really like myself that much either. I didn’t like the people that I was around most of the time. I didn’t like the fact that I had to drink to feel accepted, I didn’t like how much money I spent on it, I didn’t like driving home drunk and hoping not to get pulled over, I didn’t like feeling hung over, I didn’t like hoping that people would accept me because they were also drunk and maybe if they were drunk I would be good enough for them. Maybe if they were drunk enough they would lower their standards enough to accept me because I couldn’t accept me. These kids as goofy and young and as bad a taste as they have in recreational card playing are obviously willing to put themselves out there and take the risks I was not willing to take and for that I have to commend them and I was quite jealous and angry on the walk back to my car.
12:00 I got in my car and started on my journey home. It’s about an hour drive and I think that is one of the only benefits of being so far from campus. It does give you some time to reflect on the day. Maybe I should’ve stayed and really given those kids a shot. After all, I do have experience. I have lived a life that they are probably hoping they don’t wish to. Maybe mixed in somewhere there were some older people my age and I just didn’t see them. My guess however is that for the most part those who live on campus only do so for the first year so it was probably mostly freshman and those who run the organization. I’m not in a position where I want to step up and run a thing like that.
Anyways, it took me a few days to write this one up. It hit me pretty hard and pretty deep. I’m sure there are other groups or whatever where I can meet people who are a little closer to my age group or whatnot. I think the biggest issue was my expectations. As a recovering addict – or just addict in general we tend to have major expectations of people or things, events etc. If they don’t go according to how we expect them to, it can be a massive disaster for us. We’re control freaks by nature, we expect way too much of people and also of ourselves. It’s something that every addict has to be very aware of in order to recover and I think I definitely let my guard down on this one. It was a good learning lesson however and one that I will remember for quite some time.
Remember, you’re never alone. Including me.