I’ve always put so much value on friendship. It is something I have poured myself into and that has given me so much to be grateful for. Throughout my whole life I have tried and tried and tried to be a good friend to so many people. And on the whole I have succeeded. For many years I have said that the thing I am best at, that seems to come pretty easily to me, is being a good friend. This has been one of the things I have been proudest of in my life – that I have made such strong friendship connections with people I am proud and grateful to call my friends.
And yes I realise that this might sound like I am blowing my own trumpet here, but it’s pretty much the only thing that I ever quietly held as a real positive in who I am.
In turn I have made many many wonderful friends. I have quite a few circle of friends and I have been at the centre of many of them. I have always been the one to organise events and always filled my diary with social engagements.
And in all of that I have felt such strong connections to people.
But I know now that a lot of this came from something, many things, that I was trying to shut down and cover up in my life:
Relationships – I have run from them my whole life, I can’t even begin to openly speak about that now, but I know friendship was and is over-compensating for my issues here.
Family – whatever I was not getting from my family I looked for in my friends. I’m not saying I found it or that I ever acknowledged that this is what I was doing, but I put so much significance on my friends as being like a second family to me.
My past – aside from everything I was spending so much energy avoiding, I also remember how alone I felt in my earlier years and well into my teens when I struggled to connect with people, particularly in the early years of high school. So once I figured out how to befriend people, I cultivated it and forced myself into it as the best way to not be alone, even if I still felt lonely, which I always did even though I surrounded myself with so many people.
And maybe the main reason I poured so much of myself into my friendships was because, whilst I have always needed my alone time, it allowed me to keep going and not crash into really letting my past and the traumas fully enter my mind. To not acknowledge how lonely I really felt and still feel, every day.
I’m not saying it has always been easy to build these friendships. I have battled with myself and with my anxieties and with my feelings of social awkwardness and I have had to find ways to put fronts on it all and not look ‘weird’ and conform to the norm. I have forced myself through so many occasions feeling nauseous and scared the whole time. I have tried and tried and tried again and again to cover up all of this and when I have not been able to I have pulled away from many things that I could have involved myself in and hidden away. But then felt guilty and stupid and strange and forced myself into situations the next time that I felt very uncomfortable with.
Yet even through all of this I have always had a sense of how to be there for other people and ultimately been there for them. I have been through so much with these people. I have been someone who so many of them have turned to in their own personal crises. I have spent endless hours listening, hearing, holding, cheering up, wiping tears, supporting and on the flip-side celebrating, sharing, laughing, loving. So much so that instead of having a few close friends or lots of not-so-close friends, I have always known I have been so lucky in having lots of close friends. To the point where it has been a juggling act to be there for them all when they need me, but somehow I managed it. And I realise it was, and is, a good ‘problem’ to have really.
But as these last two years have shone a floodlight onto my life, they have also shone a floodlight onto all of the relationships in it.
One of my first realisations was how much I was holding back from my friends. Do I not really have close friends after all? And if I do, can I trust in this seen as so much else in my life has proven to be a lie or based on lies? And if I can trust in these friendships, why can I not open up to these people?
These people who I know inside out, who I have celebrated weddings with, held their newborn babies in the first hours, sometimes minutes, of their lives, been the first person they have called when a loved one died, cheered them on in their careers, wiped up the tears of broken hearts, celebrated birthdays and achievements and special occasions, commiserated with on losses and perceived failures and changes in life, held as they drunkenly sobbed and pulled hair back as they were sick, danced with into the early hours of the morning as we tried to forget the world, moved past stages of awkward silences into connected quiet times, given advice and cold hard truths and kicks up the backside, encouraged when they felt insecure, reasoned with when they needed reason, smiled with, laughed with, lived with …I could go on… These people do not know me.
They know enough. They know enough for them to believe that they really know me as well as I know them, but they didn’t really know me. They don’t. Not really. Hell, I didn’t really know me and I maybe now know myself even less than I ever did (or maybe now I just realise it). In the worst moments of my life I have instantly put my mask on. Bits might have seeped through. Some might know fragments of the real me, real big fragments, some have been through a lot with me, but only fragments. The mask has not always been false, sometimes just a real mask of feelings I had once felt but did not currently feel, or a persona that was real in part but just over played. But never the full, real me.
So in these last few years, whilst reevaluating my whole life, I have had to reevaluate my friendships. Maybe I don’t have close friendships after all. Or, even when I do, because I know I do with many of them, maybe in me not being the ‘me’ I outwardly showed to them (and to myself), in me not being the ‘me’ they signed up for, I have created friendships that now need to be completely rebuilt. Because when one of two friends completely changes, or starts to breakdown and break open and rebuild, the friendship has to breakdown and break open and rebuild.
Some friends I have realised I have been solely there for them and I have been used, because I seemed to be quite willing to be used in this, pandering to their every whim and jumping at every demand. I needed to be needed – if nothing else it distracted me from me. I’m not afraid to admit that. But now, as these people struggle to adapt to me, I am having to teach myself to hold myself back from these people until I have worked out how to be around them.
And then with the ones, the many, who are true friends, who truly want to understand me, who are frustrated to the highest degree at how helpless they feel right now as I am not talking to them, I am having to figure out how to keep the same closeness whilst I am completely changing and finding myself.
There are so many of them who want to help me. I am beyond grateful for this. And with some of these I know it is all on me as to why I can’t let them in yet. But others, I know, just do not understand and are having a really rough time trying to figure out where I am at and what they should/shouldn’t say or why I am not as sociable as I once was or why I am not the person that I had led them to believe I was – that I am not so together after all, that I have a past that none of them had any idea, or little idea about, that I have a million things about me that I had hidden and still choose to hide.
One friend has been with me right through all this (although currently living far away) and he shows up, time and time again, and has done for years, through years and years of me falling apart and putting myself back together with tape that has ripped before his very eyes as I crumbled again and again and again. He hears me and he supports me and whilst he doesn’t know everything, he knows more than any other friend and bit by bit I allow him in. And I know there are others who would be there for me just as much.
But I can’t do this with them all at once. I have to take baby steps in this and that takes time and conscious effort to build up to. To sit down with every person I call a close friend as this all unfolds, telling them every detail would be impossible. At every step I cannot bear my sole to dozens of people, as well meaning and as close as they feel they are to me and I am to them. Although because of how much they have opened up to me, I think it is expected that I will instantly do the same in return. And I know some of them are hurt by this. And I know some of them say the wrong things when they are trying to help, pushing me further away. And I know they worry and sometimes push too much in trying to get me to open up. I don’t blame them for this. I never blame them for this. I don’t even understand what is going on with me most of the time, so when I don’t tell them much of it at all, how could they understand it? How could they know how to be there for me when I don’t tell them what I need, because I don’t even know what I need?
So with those who I do not want to lose, and there are so many of them, it now feels like I am performing my juggling act with my arms removed, because I so often do not have the physical/mental/emotional energy or capability to keep up with them all whilst I try to uncover and rebuild my life at the same time.
And I worry. I spend so much of my time worrying about these friendships. I worry that when I come out of this or find a way to function properly again that they will all be gone. That I won’t be the person they signed up to be friends with. That I won’t have given enough of myself to them for them to want to give themselves to me in return. That I will have missed too many things that I just do not get invited anymore. That I am not there for them in their needs as much as they need me to be right now. That they will be offended that I have opened myself up to new friends who have found me because of their connection and understanding of the issues that I am dealing with. That I am just not enough for them anymore or that I am too much for them to handle.
And yet, they keep showing up. Despite me changing, despite my obvious and sometimes invisible mask, despite how little I say and despite the hard truths I sometimes do say occasionally to some of them, they keep showing up.
I apologise again and again for cancelling. I feel guilty all of the time. I feel like I am letting everybody down. And as I get my head around all of the traumas I have experienced I truly believe more often than not that these people would not want to know me if they really knew. That I am not really worthy of their friendship and their love and one day they will realise this and leave.
But they keep showing up.
A couple of weeks ago I told one of my closest friends, who I have known since I was 3 and who I have supported through some real hard times (and vice versa as much as I have let him), that I am dealing with PTSD from childhood abuse. He already knew. Not knew knew, but he knew. Or at least suspected for how well he knows me. And he told me that even if I needed to close myself off from them all (that group of friends) for a long long time that I never had to feel I could not always come back. That I was so much in the centre of that group and that people thought the world of me that nobody would ever let go of my friendship, no matter how much I ran away.
And tonight, as I caught up with a friend who I have been friends with for well over ten years, after not seeing her for ten months, I said the same to her. I also explained what was going on with work and as she listened, she told me that I did not have to feel pressured into talking, that I did not need to tell her anything if I wasn’t comfortable. Even though I was not going to go into anything beyond this, it was good to hear that she supported my need to hold back. And later, as I spoke of my worries about some of our other friends who I have been even less in contact with recently, she told me that they all knew I was having a hard time and they were worried but I had not and would not lose my friends because I wasn’t around as much.
I need to remember this. I need to remember that no matter how hard it can be juggling these people and my life while I am going through all of this, that I have some of the most amazing people in the world in my life and that those who are really my true friends (of which I have many) are going to be there and will keep showing up as I work through all of this and as I, bit by bit, open myself up to them. Because I do forget and worry and beat myself up for my inadequacy as a friend now.
I am so lucky to have these friendships, as I know that not everyone does, not just people who are going through similar things. And I know I maybe don’t deserve them so much of the time. But for whatever reason I have a lot of people who love me and are ready to be there for me when I finally let them and when I can help them to know how to help me. When I have figured out what I need and when I can speak about some of this or just find the real ‘me’ and let them in on that, then they will be there for me as I need them to be. I hope. But I have much more faith in them than I do myself, so I have to do more than hope, I have to trust in what they are saying and showing me. I have to do everything I can to work through my fears and anxieties and trust issues and believe what they say to me is true.
After all, I love these people, and I am more grateful for them being in my life than I will ever be able to express, so I will do everything in my power to keep them in my life and to keep me in theirs. And if that for now just means trusting in what they tell me and not pushing them away at every turn, even with how deeply my trust issues and self-destructive instincts go, then I have to at least keep trying to trust them and to not push them away completely. I have to keep trying. I owe them that much (and so much more).
Image © Mariann Martland 2014