Who am I without you?
“I don’t wanna be lonely I just wanna be alone” Silverchair, Across the Night
A client once said these lyrics spoke to him. He identifies with Love Addiction…”It speaks to a feeling I have so often…The sense of utter exhaustion from trying to keep people happy completely outweighs my confidence in all my relationships. It’s so hard to trust that someone cares face to face and even harder to believe I’ve crossed their mind when they’re gone.”
He told me I could quote him on this. And I told him how much he has taught me. As all my clients do…
So I wanted this blog to be about friendship but in the course of writing I realise it is about relationships. And most importantly our relationship with ourselves. But I digress…
Let’s start with friends.
Friend. What do you think of when you see that word? I think of company, love, care and hurt. I don’t think many things have devastated me as much as the loss of a friend.
I always felt alone. Because we are all ultimately alone. One of my therapy gurus Irvin Yalom stated it’s a given of our existence. Existential Isolation. Google it. I tried so hard to fight against this though and at times I did because I was pretty and thin and sometimes funny. But inside I was always terrified because how can anyone really escape on of the givens of life?
Can you remember the first time a friend hurt you? The first time you were picked on? My worst experience by far was in year 5. I was 10. It was the age of slumber parties and I had just been to a great one at my friend Cody’s house. We had the best time. I felt like I belonged. I couldn’t wait to go to school on Monday morning!! My group of friends, including my 1st best friend, 2nd best friend and 3rd best friend ranked in that order (and written on my pencil case) were on the monkey bars. I rushed over to them and they ran away from me. They ran away from me. I am transported back to that moment and the lump in my throat that stayed there for the next 20+ years. They hated me. To this day I cannot tell you why they turned on me but they did. And they broke me. Within a few months I would be making myself purge in the girls toilet but that’s an entire other story.
I’m a mum now. Back in that playground. It’s like being back at school. Navigating the schoolyard politics only this time I am campaigning for my little boy. He is my double in so many ways and just like me more than anything he just wants to fit in. Just like his mum he wants to be liked. But of course at 6 you are only popular if your mum is. Who arranges the playdates? And my poor son happened to start school within a week of my marriage ending.
Marriage. My time to let my friends go. Sure I had them. Some still from school. But I had a husband! I had someone that meant I never had to feel alone. Nobody could hurt me anymore because I had my husband and had built my own secure little bubble. Except that is was ridden with holes. I refused to see them until he had moved out and I realised I was completely and utterly alone. I had been lonely for years but I didn’t have to face my loneliness until he left.
I did what many of us do when we have our heart broken. I dated a series of absolutely horrible guys that churned me in and spat me out. Then I made a new friend. She told me within the first 5 minutes that she had abandonment issues so I was like a magnet to her. Abandonment? That is my entire life theme! She quickly realised that my only requirement was her company and the idea of her love for me. And so began the worst year of my life when I unknowingly…Ok… knowingly (I am a therapist therefore I should know better right?) became her best friend.
There I was supporting my clients to break through co-dependence, to be ok with being alone, to set boundaries and be honest… I sounded like I had my shit together. Nevermind that I had been doing her grocery shopping, vacuuming her floors, paying her bills, looking after her child and doing her laundry after being up all night listening to her latest problem. All done while listening to everything she told me was wrong with me and believing it too. But she was my friend! What are friends for?
Yes in the back of my mind I always knew I was being used, that it wasn’t genuine, that I was like a shiny new appliance to her and once I started not working properly I would be discarded and replaced. But I just tried to be the best damn appliance I could be. I had been left before I was determined to not let that happened again.
I think that is the essence of what we as imperfect human beings struggle the most with. The gap between the knowing and the doing. We know it’s bad, it’s destructive that it’s hurting us but we do it anyway because we are hurting anyway.
I had other friends, I have loads of them. My new friend had none. She told me on an almost daily basis that I was her “only friend” her “best friend” and I wore it like a badge of honour. While my lovely, beautiful friends that demanded nothing of me had to stand back and watch me self-destruct. One of my very dearest friends sat and listened to my friend’s latest impossible demand of me and finally put her foot down, said I couldn’t do it. Her 6 year old was on her lap at the time. She asked me what I would say to her daughter when her school friend told her “give me all your red frogs or I won’t be your friend.” Her daughter had given them to her. She was of course unhappy about it but she did it. Her mum said why don’t you just play with someone else? I muttered the same thing. Because that is the right response.
Her little girl replied “I don’t have anyone else.”
I got it. I still get it.
For some of us it just isn’t that simple. If you don’t have self-worth, the belief that you are inherently valuable and loveable it doesn’t just fall into your heart from the sky. And a 6 year-old barely has a sense of self yet, let alone self-worth. So her response was age appropriate. And she will grow out of it. Or at least she is supposed to. When developmental conditions are optimal.
Here comes the scary part…. Even as an adult the truth was that at times when we are hurting and vulnerable we can still feel the same way as this little girl. It can feel like we don’t have anyone else. When my marriage ended I felt like everything I trusted and believed in was a lie. My heart closed down. I had people, sure but I couldn’t handle being treated with pity when they all went home and snuggled up on the couch watching Breaking Bad with their husbands. I didn’t want to be that person. So I made myself so indispensable to bulletproof myself from ever being left again.
But I lost myself in the process.
Give me all your red frogs or I won’t be your friend anymore.
Just give the frogs right? And she is your friend until next lunchtime and as long as you keep having the frogs to give she will let you be her friend. That’s doable. Better than being alone.
What if there was another way? There is another way and I found it and now I can share it with you.
It takes a major self-esteem overhaul and having the strength to only engage with people, places and things that support building your self-esteem. You need to let your self-belief grow to know that you have value and anyone that puts those sorts of demands on you, like what happened to me, isn’t a real friend. Believe that you are worth more. Believe that maybe just maybe there is a chance someone might love you just for you. Not because of what you can give to them.
We are all in the process of learning. It is a fundamental need of being human to love and need to be loved. But not at the expense of yourself. Now I refuse to part with my frogs because giving them would mean I have nothing left for myself. I lost the very person who told me I would never lose them (for the second time within two years). It happened again. I lost someone that I had given my entire self away to.
But I shouldn’t have ever given myself away to anyone.
I am getting myself back now. As an amazing therapist once told me, the one that has inspired me to be the therapist I am… “Only a child can be abandoned. An adult can be left but never abandoned. And people leave. All relationships end eventually. Who is there that is with you on your entire life journey from birth until death?”
Well only myself and fuck it’s a hell of a journey.
If I could say one thing to everyone right now struggling with the thing we all seem to suffer from at some stage in our lives and the thing that I will always be in recovery from…Yep…The dreaded Co-Dependence.
It would be this…
You are valuable
You are loved
And you are enough, just as you are.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
And keep the last frog for yourself.