He was hurting himself. There wasn’t quite the obvious drawing of blood as in, say, a razor to the inner wrists, but he wanted to feel something. I would watch him go out with his friends and say “We’re going to get a drink to celebrate a friend’s promotion, I’ll call you around eight for dinner.” I knew not to pick up my phone until much later the next day, when there would be an apology and an explanation as to why he didn’t ever call. There was always a reason that was as complex as it was credible, but was never more than a cover-up for what he was really doing. We both knew he was drinking — and knew that the other knew it — but I think it helped him to say that he had a problem with his car.
Some people aren’t necessarily soothing a pain, initially, but they create their own pain in their habits that then needs its medication. He just loved to party, as we all do around that age. There was a grey area in between when he was still going out with friends and being a crazy kid, and when he was shotgunning beers alone in his apartment on a Wednesday to help himself go to sleep. We all love drinking so much at 19, we almost insist on developing a problem. “Drink, drink, drink,” we say, not really understanding what it means.
Saying goodbye is most difficult when there is a part of you which believes it is only a “see you later.” You would never fully admit it, but you intend on seeing them again. You count on them making certain changes — changes that you know in your heart are in their best interest — and coming back to you a new person, ready to accept and give the love you so desire. We construct entire imaginary people who will return to our lives, people who borrow lightly on the qualities we know they actually have and fill in the blanks with a million hopeful improvements. They will be better, they will be stronger, and yet they will still retain all of the things we cherry-picked when we loved them.
When I said goodbye, I meant, “Fix these things and I will see you soon.”
Maybe I should have reminded myself that this was not my path to walk, that I barely knew this person, and that I could not force someone to want to get better. But in the moment, it’s so hard. We hear a lot about “hitting bottom,” “creating consequences,” and “enabling” — but what does that all mean when you only want to see someone, and hold them, even if they are too sick to hold you back? We are all selfish, and no one really wants to say goodbye.
Sometimes, though, you have to say goodbye. You make the decisions that are based more on self-love and self-preservation than we are used to making, decisions which remind us that we are are not just half of a whole, but a whole in ourselves, something that needs care and attention. There will come a point at which your love for someone else — your will for them to get better, to stop hurting you, to stop hurting themselves — will be overcome with a more palpable love for being healthy and safe. And when it happens, saying goodbye is no longer a choice. It is simply a move we must make, even if a part of us wants to cling to the notion that it will one day prove still alive.
And they may get better. They may change. They may become that person that you imagined they would one day be, free of the harmful habits which made you leave in the first place. But you may find that you, too, have changed while you were waiting. You may no longer fit the puzzle you left, nor want the happiness you once felt could only come from being within it. Sometimes we wish it would be a “see you later,” but are relieved to find that it was really a “goodbye.”