It was time to make a life changing decision, one that most 20 year olds are not necessarily prepared to make. There is a lot of uncertainty at that age. We’re new to the ideas of freedom and independence and we move a bit spontaneously. We don’t always think about the consequences of our actions. Instead, we live in the moment and worry about figuring out the details later. Most of us are not ready for marriage, children, or long term commitments. Even if we think that we are in that moment, we are likely to feel foolish later on, as the majority of us have not had enough life experience to define our priorities for the future. We’re kids. And we’re exploring the world alone for the first time without a clue what the good Lord has in store for us.
The state of my relationship challenged me to grow up a bit faster than I was really prepared to do. My girlfriend and I needed to make some choices about our future. The long distance travel was not going to suit either of us for much longer. And I had already made that situation increasingly difficult on her because I was so adamant about not returning to California. I was selfish in that regard. I blamed the place for my disorder. Clearly California wasn’t the cause at all. But it took me years to realize that and accept the fact that the disorder was a part of me and that it would follow no matter where I was in life.
I had decided that I wanted to accept the offer to attend UNC in the fall. It was the best choice that I could make at that stage in my life, and I was blessed to have the opportunity. After all of the setbacks that I had faced…I needed to go. My girlfriend supported me, and we began researching ways for her to be able to continue to pursue her future career in nursing in North Carolina so that we could stay together. She ended up settling on a small school about 15 minutes outside of Chapel Hill – she applied and was accepted. From there we found a single bedroom apartment not far from UNC, and we made our plans to move in together and start a future with one another.
I had made tremendous progress with my anxiety in a relatively short period of time after returning home. If you had seen me in January, you would have never recognized me by May or June. My family’s support had brought me back to life. Regular meals from Mom, good rest, and unconditional love and support…how could I fail?
I began hanging out with my friends again on a regular basis. When college broke for the summer, everyone was back in town and we made it a point to get together as often as we could. We’d meet at the local park and play basketball in the afternoon or evening and then we’d make our plans for that night. Sometimes it was a party. Sometimes it was a club in Philadelphia. And many times when there was nothing else going on, we’d just get together and play cards, shoot pool, or go swimming. And not surprisingly we mixed in some beers here and there. It was a blast. I felt so alive. Every night was like a new experience for me. I had been trapped inside for more than a year, dealing with psychological issues that would have torn lesser men to shreds, and now I was ready embrace the world again. I couldn’t get enough.
While in many ways this was a fun and exciting time in my life, it was also a period where I made some of the most regrettable decisions. I was acting similar to an addict who had hit his bottom, found a way to stay clean and committed on the road to recovery, and then forfeited all of his progress by relapsing. Lost in the whirlwind that surrounded me once I had regained my strength and began living life, I started my way down the path of destruction.
One summer night, my buddies and I went to Philadelphia to a foam party at a club downtown. Later on in the evening, I met an attractive girl and we began dancing with each other. Before I knew it I was doing something shameful and completely out of character…I was cheating on the love of my life. That night in Philadelphia it was just a kiss, but that’s not where it ended. I should have had the decency to let go of things when I left the club that night, but instead I got her phone number and we began talking quite frequently.
It wasn’t long until we were hanging out on a regular basis. She was an attractive girl with a lot to offer, and I was drawn to her on many different levels. But that should not have mattered. Back in California I had the most loyal, trustworthy, and sweet woman a man could have ever asked for in his life. And I was doing everything possible to run her out of my mine when we were only a month or two away from sharing our worlds with one another.
My friends had all agreed to play along with the situation, and they kept completely quiet about my long distance relationship whenever the new girl was around. I grew apart from my girlfriend, and our phone conversations became shorter and less frequent. We hadn’t seen each other in quite some time, and I was okay with that. I broke my commitment to her, and I lost track of what was important. I began to second guess moving in together and I started to push her away.
The way that I acted was self-centered and childish. I was not only being unfair to my girlfriend, but also my new found acquaintance, for she was also falling for me. If only she had known what I was hiding. It would have made her completely sick.
August came quickly. It was time to leave home again and start the second leg of my college experience as a Tar Heel. Both my girlfriend and my family were still completely in the dark about my actions that summer, so we went forward with our plans to start our life together as if nothing had ever happened at all. But I couldn’t hide the damage that was done, no matter how hard I tried. I was no longer feeling ready to take the next step, and I made my girlfriend aware of it. Not by being a man and being honest and communicating with her, but just by being short and cold. Inside I think that I was having a hard time living with what I had done, and her sweet smile and caring demeanor served as constant reminders of how terribly I had acted.
One day shortly after we got settled, I received a package at the apartment. It was from the girl I had met over the summer…complete surprise. She had sent me a gift from Philly. It was a very sweet gesture. Of course I did my best to dispose of it quickly so that I would not get questioned or caught. But for some reason, I chose to hang on to the letter that came with it. I shoved it into a folder and buried it on the shelf in my closet.
Then one day as I was sitting by the computer, my girlfriend came out with the note. She was devastated. I can’t begin to tell you how awful it felt seeing the pain in her eyes. She had sacrificed so much for me, sticking by my side through thick and thin. And she had just moved all the way across the country to be with me, far from any family or friends…now only to learn that I had completely betrayed her.
How could I let my life take such a destructive course so shortly after I put the pieces back together?
To those affected, if either of you are reading, my deepest apologies.