I’ve put off writing this post for a little while, in part because I hate writing negatively, but mostly because something happened at the end of March that I’ve been trying to process and figure out how exactly I can approach this topic on here.
2 years ago, when I lost my close friend Matt to cancer, I became closer to another friend of ours. We had known each other since secondary school, but were never that close until Matt’s death. ‘W’ (whose name has been changed because… reasons) and I quickly became thick as thieves; we socialised together, often going out for drinks with just the two of us to our favourite pub/bar. It was a coping mechanism for both of us, and he quickly became my closest friend. No one else understood what we had been through, and with Matt’s girlfriend away a lot it was mostly just the two of us.
‘W’ could be a bit of a dick, and pretty much everyone I knew had stories about things he had said or done, but for the most part he seemed like a decent person, hard working, liked to go out on weekends, and talk films, TV, and music that we had similar interests in. It became a running joke between the two of us that whenever we were out it was like Sam and Dean Winchester from the TV series Supernatural wing-manning each other. We had even drunkenly discussed getting similar tattoos to the brothers from the show. I guess that kind of showed just how close we had begun to bond together.
When I left for university, I was sad I’d be leaving him behind because I kind of felt like I was abandoning him, even though that was not my intention at all. I knew he could always come and visit, which he did, and I’d be back at various points to meet up – which I did. We might not see each other as regularly, but we would still see each other.
The last time I saw ‘W’ was at the beginning of March for my brother’s 18th birthday. He let us come over to his place for drinks before going out down the town to continue the festivities. We had a really great night, filled with copious amounts of rum. Nothing out of the ordinary. A few weeks later I was at an event on the university campus for the SFX society, where people were dressing up as their favourite characters from film and TV. I sent ‘W’ pictures saying he’d love this event and I wished he were here for it. I texted him that I would be back in town in a few weeks for the Easter break and that I looked forward to drinks with him at our favourite haunt. He replied in the positive, looking forward to hanging out again too. That was the last time I spoke to him.
The following weekend a mutual friend of ours messaged me over Facebook with a link to a local newspaper story about a person who had been convicted for grooming a 15-year-old girl and sexually assaulting her. Our mutual friend asked if it was ‘W’. Reading through the article I saw they had full named him, given his age, and the street where he lived. In my mind I knew this had to be him, but I couldn’t believe it. He had said nothing about this, and on top of it all it happened 2 and a half years ago – around the same time that Matt was starting to get seriously ill. After a few hours of trying to get in contact with him or someone back home who might have spoken to him, I eventually got in contact with his brother who confirmed to me what was in the paper.
‘W’’s family says the events portrayed in the paper are incorrect and that he has been ‘stitched up’, but after spending the better part of a month coming to terms with it there’s too much confliction in either story to truly know the truth, and the bare minimum truth I know is that he has been sent to prison for grooming an underage girl and sexually assaulting her. Whether part of the story is true or not doesn’t really matter at this stage, because at least half the story must be true. He was sentenced a few days after my last text message to him.
The revelation was heart breaking. I thought I knew this guy. This was the person I considered myself closest to since the passing of Matt; how could I not have known he had a) done this, and b) was capable of this? In the days after the article was published, many of my Facebook friends who knew us both got in contact with me trying to find out if the story was true. Some were genuine friends who were looking for confirmation like I had, whilst the majority of others were gossip hounds. I ignored all the messages. In fact, I ended up dodging social media to the best of my ability for the better part of the week that followed.
Unfortunately, my “coping strategy” for situations like this is to retreat into a bottle of something alcoholic. Whilst all this was going on I was facing down a one-week deadline to complete 3 essays for my course. The stress was getting to me, I couldn’t focus, and I was finding it hard coming to terms with what had happened. I managed to see a counsellor about it who recommended speaking to student services about getting further support for my work on the course, and possibly a deadline extension… unfortunately that was the Thursday before Easter weekend, and student services had shut up shop already. Making matters worse they wouldn’t be open again until after my deadlines had elapsed.
So I continued to drink, I put out a message on social media about the whole situation with ‘W’, and I even sent a shitty message to my ex-girlfriend about how confusing I was finding her texts and phone calls to me. I mean, are we together or not, yo?! Yeah, not the high point of my life.
I felt so alone down here at university, so isolated, and no support. I just wanted to do only two things: sleep and drink.
But by the Saturday, 3 days before my essay deadlines, I woke up and realised that self-destructing isn’t going to get me anywhere, and I’ll be fucked if I’d let ‘W’ fuck up any chance I had of success in my life. He ruined his life, not mine. So I sobered up. Started getting my notes in order, and completed one essay each day over the next 3 days.
Somehow I had managed to regain my focus, and throwing myself into work really took my mind off of this betrayal of friendship.
By Thursday morning all my classes that I needed to attend were finished. I had a seminar on the Thursday afternoon, but by this point I knew I needed to get home to my family, and so left for home with no real date set for returning to university. I just needed to be around my family for support, because I was in real danger of falling down a deep well of depression and despair. This was the second close friend I had lost in 2 years; and whilst it wasn’t a physical death, it was a metaphorical one. The person I thought I had known for 15 years, the person who I had been closest to since Matt had died, was not the person I had thought I had known at all. I felt betrayed. I was devastated. And to know that he had committed this all whilst Matt was dying… It was just completely devastating.
And to make matters worse, completely unrelated to this ‘W’ situation, there was even more shit going on back home that I won’t get into here.
I’ve always felt like the end of March through the beginning of April was cursed for me. Something always usually happens around this time of year, but in the last few years it had eased off. Little did I know the curse was saving itself for one big shitstorm this year to try and finally off me before I turned 30. But guess what, it fucking failed!
If this had happened to me 4 years ago I’d be done. I mean, I’d have completely checked out and be figuring out the quickest and most painless way to end it all. The difference between me now and me 4 years ago is that I’ve been training for this. I’ve learnt everything I can about my depression and anxiety and how to live with it, and what to do when things get bad.
Going home may not have turned out to be as perfect as I hoped, but being around my family was exactly what I needed to do under the circumstances. The first week was a little rocky – I felt in a daze that I hadn’t felt since… well… since Matt died. The support at home was not what I expected, but I guess subconsciously I did expect it. It was all about the home cooked meals, conversations about crap, and getting back into a routine. It’s the small things that are the important things with depression, and luckily my family knew that. They didn’t engage me at length about what had happened, they just spoke to me as their son/brother. And something has to be said about familiar surroundings. Home may not be where you live, but once you get back there you instantly know you’re safe from the rest of the world.
So the moral of this story is: Have a coping strategy.
Don’t resort to drinking or drugs; know when you need help and how to ask for it. And if worst comes to worst it’s okay to retreat back to your family, even as a grown man quickly approaching 30.
Much love. ❤