I was really young and naïve when I met Christian* at a nightclub. By “young,” I mean 18 and by “naïve,” I mean an inexperienced dater who thought men would only like me for my intelligence.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Christian asked some other club goers in line. I looked behind me to see where the beautiful girl was. I certainly didn’t think it was me. But he pointed at me again. He was standing in the club’s entryway wearing big, Buddy Holly glasses, black leather pants, and reeking of “teen icon.” Then he smiled – a wide, devilish grin. With one hand, he offered me a lollipop; with the other he held a whiskey on the rocks. In fact, in the four years (on and off) that we were involved, Christian usually had a whiskey on the rocks. It was like his signature accessory. Well, it was when he wasn’t screwing other girls (and boys sometimes), smashing pint glasses with hockey sticks, dodging the cops, giving himself extreme haircuts, accidentally setting himself on fire, throwing his furniture out his window, or treating me awfully at night and apologizing the next day. At his worst I thought of him as the “bad boy, daredevil” that had stolen my heart; at his best he was the most fun, intelligent, and charismatic guy I had ever met.
Our cycle was as follows: Christian and Ami have fun times; Christian is a jerk, Ami tells Christian to go away, Christian disappears for a while; Christian makes a romantic comeback back months later and “promises to be better,” and Ami forgives him.
The last time I saw Christian was on New Year’s 2001. We had spent New Year’s Day together after one of his most heroic comebacks. We had made plans for the next night. Christian called me from work to tell me he was on his way over to my place. I waited. And waited. I called. No answer. No answer. He never showed up that night and I never heard from him again.
For a long time I was angry. Of course I found out that he was definitely not dead. (I called his work the next day and hung up when he answered.) That unimaginable bastard! How could someone do that to another person? Didn’t he claim to care about me? I sent him an angry note in the mail that said simply, “Karma’s a bitch.” I thought about sabotaging his life. I had long, drawn-out fantasies about what would happen if I saw him on the street — I would punch him or kick him in the balls. And the worst part was that I thought I saw him everywhere for months. I was at the airport one time and I could have sworn I saw him waiting at the baggage claim. I hid behind a smart cart to get a better glance. It was so not him.
After the anger (and the psychosis that accompanies it) subsided, the self-blame came out full-force. What did I do that was so wrong that he never wanted to talk to me again? Then came the self-loathing. I must be unworthy of love. And finally, after some time had passed, there was the guilt and shame. How could I — an intelligent, respectable, talented, good-looking woman — have allowed myself to be treated like that? That’s as far as I ever got.
I moved on with my life – pushing Christian out of my mind and settling on the fact that I would probably hate him forever. I forgot, but did not forgive. I fell in love with other people. Had healthy relationships. Grew older and far less naïve. But I always carried the Christian experience in my heart like a dark secret.
Two years ago I was on a business trip in Miami and I turned on the television to keep me company in the hotel room. There was an “Intervention” season one marathon on A&E. I had heard of the show before but had never seen it. It’s a documentary-style show about addicts who undergo an intervention and, hopefully, get treatment. The first episode I saw was about Alyson, a college dropout and former White House intern who would steal pain medication from her dying father and smoke crack in her childhood bedroom. During Alyson’s pre-intervention, interventionist Jeff Van Vonderen said, “There’s no good or bad guys here, even Alyson. Everyone was just doing what they knew how to do.” It really moved me. I watched on … all night long. I couldn’t stop watching. I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t know why. I had never had an addict in my family or in my life. But I was so gripped by these people and their stories. By the end of the sixth episode with Travis and Matt, the light bulb finally went off. These people on the show reminded me of Christian. Christian was an alcoholic. I don’t know why I never thought of that before. It was so obvious, yet, to me, it was a revelation.
I made it my business to watch every episode of every season of “Intervention.” I learned about the disease of addiction and how it affects sufferers, why it affects sufferers, and how it impacts those around them. I learned about enabling, co-dependency, and predictably unpredictable addict behavior. And with every episode, I felt a little less shame and a little more compassion. Maybe I could forgive Christian, but more importantly, maybe I could forgive myself. “Intervention” helped me understand that Christian wasn’t a bad person; he was a sick person. And we were just doing what we knew how.