I wrote a couple days ago about how I had stepped away from a couple friendships with people I genuinely love.
This is how I pictured it would go: The two friends respond with some version of, “Well fuck you, ya dickbag!” and they go skipping off into the sunset holding hands. Easy. Clean cut. They didn’t like me anyway, it would be a relief to be released of this burden. They would then go and tell everyone they know and who we know mutually that I am crazy and not worth the effort.
It didn’t go that way. As I wrote the other day, one friend was deeply hurt. I’ve since apologized and explained that I am having trouble trusting what is real and what is not because my sick brain has been winning the battle lately, but that I loved her and understand if she doesn’t want to talk to me again. I haven’t heard back, but I’ve done what I can to right that wrong. And I meant it when I said I would understand if she needed to just be done with me. I will be OK with that, my only hope is that she has absorbed the love I have tried to express. That love, of course, is just salve for a wound. Sometimes salve takes a while to work, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all.
The other friend first wrote back just saying that she was experiencing a lot of emotions and needed some time to process everything I had said. So I waited anxiously, preparing myself for the worst. I asked my partner to throw the meanest insults he could think of at me. (We were folding laundry at the time–sexy!–and he was throwing socks at me. His best insult was, “You’re, nothin but a… sock backboard.”)
Then I saw it. I saw her name in my email. She had replied. I took a breath and opened her message. It read as follows:
I love you.
That’s it. That’s what it said. Three simple words.
I love you.
My first thought was that she must have sent it by mistake. Surely this was meant for someone else. I stared at those three words with tears leaking out of my eyes and wrote back, “I love you too. Just give me some time to get better so I can actually be a friend.” Or something like that. She responded again, and her response was as follows:
Family… I have said you’re family… I love you! Please take whatever time you need to do SELF CARE! It is critical!
Again I stared in disbelief before writing back, “I am stunned by your kind response. Thank you.” And stunned is the best word I’ve come up with to describe this feeling.
In my attempt to process these events, I have come to some conclusions. Or, as close as I ever come to conclusions.
The first is that I have some relationship trauma to work through. I wrote a while back about a different friend who ended her friendship with me because I canceled plans too many times, and that was a horribly painful experience. This was not a casual acquaintance. I had officiated her fucking wedding. I reached out to her several times and she has completely cut me out of her life. She is not a person with room for me and my more annoying traits. I know now looking back that in her case she never really did like or love me, which of course in my sick brain meant that I am not likable or lovable to anyone. She was not the first friend to bail when I’ve been struggling, and granted, I can be hard to deal with. It took me over a year to let go of that friend, and now that I have I feel better not having someone in my life who doesn’t care enough to even respond to me when I’m hurting and who was SO ready and willing to kick me out of her life for good. Not a friend I want or need. BUT, I absolutely think that I tried to end these friendships before they ended them with me because I couldn’t face that kind of rejection and pain again. Instead I inflicted that pain upon them but was delusional enough to think my words would not be hurtful because they didn’t care anyway.
Another source of trauma was the time I spent at a “therapeutic boarding school” in Montana, where I was sent when I was 16. I spent two years there, doing hard labor, A LOT of forced exercise (I often wonder if this is why I am so resistant to exercising now… it’s probably that and not that I’m lazy… yes, let’s go with this), group therapy, and lots and lots of other weird shit. The forced exercise alone was abusive–I remember being forced to run up and down a steep hill for 3 HOURS without stopping because someone in the group fucked up somehow. I don’t remember how. Didn’t do their homework, or didn’t drink their water fast enough, or didn’t dust their dresser. I don’t remember. But we ran until we barfed or cried or both, and then kept running. God I hate that fucking hill.
But the especially abusive part, for me, was the “therapy” itself. This place was run by people who had no business running a school, least of all a “therapeutic” one. They had no teaching credentials and certainly no counseling degrees (except one of them, who was wonderful). It was a school for girls run by men, and the man who deemed himself “headmaster” decided that the kind of therapy I needed was the kind that involved being told I was a piece of shit at every possible moment. These people also forced me to carry around a backpack full of rocks for 5 months, which was meant to represent the things I was holding onto that were weighing me down. One rock was “old friends,” and to get rid of that rock I had to write letters to my friends telling them I couldn’t be friends with them anymore.
I’m not going to get bogged down in the Montana details, though I do need to do a lot more writing about that experience. For now if you want to hear more snippets about it, listen to our podcast, I Never Saw That ! The point right now though is that the way friendships were treated there, and more importantly the way I was treated there, was damaging. Try being a depressed 16-year-old who recently survived the suicide of a close friend and already has doubts about her worth and being dropped in the middle of nowhere with men who spend their time screaming in your face that you’re a piece of shit or locking you out in the snow (that happened to my friend, not me). Then try to believe you’re worth loving. (DISCLAIMER: A LOT of people go through significantly worse things than this. I was a privileged white kid. Full stop.)
I’m turning 40 in two weeks. And I do find that as I approach this milestone I feel increasingly lighter. Even while my mental health is faltering and I know I need to get some help, I am sort of floating toward a certain self-acceptance. Oh, I will always be hard on myself and I’ll probably always worry about other people’s perceptions of me. I’ll probably always compare myself to everyone I know and decide that I am the worst for x, y, and z reasons. But I don’t hold onto these feelings for as long anymore, and I am learning to check in with people. The mistake I made the other night with my friends was that I should have just said, hey, I need to express something that I feel really embarrassed about but I am feeling hurt. I actually did try to do that, but I was not effective in my efforts. I need to be clear and to the point, express my feelings and let them have whatever response they’re going to have. The fact that I’m OK with my friend not wanting to talk to me anymore because I was hurtful is a new feeling for me. I hope she decides to come back but I also feel a genuine understanding and my only concern is that she knows she is loved.
The point is that some people do think I’m worth loving and are not relieved to be rid of me. In fact, I would say I have quite a few true and good friends who feel this way. Shit, I have friends who support and listen to our podcast because they like me! I have friends who even read this blog because they care about me! Plus my partner, who is a damn good human and who spends the most time with me and knows me better than anyone still likes me, so I must be an OK human. I’m an OK human with a lot of work to do, but I’m OK.