Saturday, May 3, 2014

An Open Letter to an Ex-Friend

Note to the blog audience - The person this is written to would never read it if I sent it to him. So, here's an experiment, IF you know the person in question (no doubt some of you do) AND you think it'd be a helpful thing for him to read (for his benefit, not mine), then please send it to him.

Dear Person,

I write this only because there are things you need to hear and understand, things that are hard, that you've refused discuss (at least with me), and things that I think will benefit you in future should you find yourself in a similar situation. Despite that we are far beyond fixable, I do have a unique perspective that no one else can provide you, which is the only bias you'll find present in my words.

I understand that at your core you are not a bad person, even if you handled a difficult situation in an extremely hurtful way. It's so easy to avoid problems, to distance yourself and ignore them and hope they will simply go away. It's one of the most base impulses, especially for those who experience anxiety and panic on any significant level. I can even point to the specific moment where you freaked out and pulled away rather drastically, causing me to freak out in return and want to cling on more tightly. We were both acting under rather strong impulses of fear, just in different directions.

I faced up to some pretty scary shit that I never would have been able to before our friendship, especially when it came to socialising. You were a very positive influence in so many ways. When I expressed some pretty strong fear at losing you from my life, there was a whole lot of other stuff bundled into that fear, because I felt like I'd lose so much goodness that I'd only just begun to create for myself. I think everyone around us could see the difference you were making for me, so right or wrong, it's no wonder I tried to hang onto what I felt was the best thing going for me at that moment.

But the point is that that moment of honesty, letting you in to the fear and scary things in my head, that's when you began to freak out and become overwhelmed. Which is understandable. It's a pretty intense space, my brain, and I certainly don't expect others to be able to cope with it when I'm barely able to. This is also the point where you stopped seeing me as a person and began to colour all your perceptions of me based on my emotions and mental illness, and it was when things went from understanding and support to blame and judgement. Whenever we would discuss things going wrong with us, it was always about me doing something wrong or how I'm unable to manage my emotions versus rationality or my 'inability' to be independent. You would close off, shut me out, trying to find solutions everywhere except by talking it through WITH me, and then come back to me later with all the 'answers', which involved generally explaining how I needed to fix up a bunch of things because they were problematic.

You would say, 'You are too dependent. You can't self-manage your emotions and actions. You aren't being rational.' And then you would get frustrated when I was defensive. This is because you were attacking me, blaming me for our problems. You'd shut me down from talking because I wasn't thinking 'clearly enough', which really meant I wasn't agreeing with your assessment of the situation. When I took on the blame, when I was more 'rational' and agreed that yes, I was the one doing wrong, things would get easier for a little while. So I kept doing that, because I wanted things to be settled and fixed. I wanted us to just get along and have all the other stuff go away, just like you did. Then, because I agreed with you to make the problems go away, you never again trusted what I said when I was emotional, nor ever accepted that my emotions were valid or reasonable.

This is not about blame, right or wrong, who hurt who. The entire point I'm making is that you framed all of our conflicts around me, my behaviour, my illness, my feelings and never were they about you. You never said things like, 'I am stressed out and overwhelmed by your behaviour, so I need space right now.' or 'What you did was hurtful, so I'd appreciate you not reacting that way so we can talk about things more calmly.' What you failed to take into account with all of your 'solutions' was that I cared about you and how I was affecting you, regardless of any other shit I was dealing with at the time.  I went over this with my psychologist when I was still trying to fix things with the husband, that the way you phrase things with conflict can have a huge difference to how that conflict resolves. If you accuse people of poor behaviour, then of course they will get defensive and just be hurt and less able to accept anything needs to change. But if you are able to phrase it in a less threatening way, in a way that involves how these actions affect you and your feelings, you are more likely to have an impact on the other person, helping create change and avoiding falling into those vicious cycles of blame and hurt feelings.

Because it's obvious to me now that you were hurt, overwhelmed, stressed out, and frustrated. But it wasn't at the time, because what I felt was judgement, blame, and guilt. I don't know that I expressed myself properly most of the time, but I know that I was always trying to get you to open up, to let me know how things are affecting YOU, to be honest about want you wanted and needed from me. But once you pulled away, and kept pulling away, it was just me playing a game of catch up to figure out why things kept changing so rapidly between us, one that I never got a handle on. I'm assuming your fear of more conflict and complications made you continue to shut off and reluctant to be truly honest about your feelings and set boundaries that needed to be set. I do understand the impulse, but there's no way to create any real solutions if you avoid the things that need to be said.

The other big thing was that you felt that I was heaping a lot of expectations on you that made you uncomfortable. I never expected anything, and what you felt were expectations were constructs from the flawed way you were viewing me. Anything I 'expected' was only ever based on previous behaviours from you in our friendship, but that would end up being beyond your boundaries at the time, which you never told me about or possibly didn't know were boundaries until I hit them. Still, I said I trusted you to tell me about these things when they happened, but you would often avoid talking about it directly, unable to admit that what you wanted/needed from our friendship was yet again different from what I wanted/needed. Despite you saying nothing was different between us when I asked you directly about various discrepancies between your words and your actions, that was definitely not true.

You pushed me at one point to be upfront and honest with the husband about the future, or lack thereof, that I saw for our marriage. So, I know you understand that this sort of blunt honesty is pretty important when dealing with people. I can only assume you saw me as too fragile to handle it, but in the end it only ever created more hurt feelings. If you need something from someone else in your life, then you need to say it and whether they can handle it or not is not your problem. Because yes, you taking care of your needs is the most important thing after all, and no true friend would ever blame you for that. By the time you did finally start putting boundaries in place, it was already too late, because everything was all blame and judgement all the time, and neither of us was willing to compromise any further.

So it all boils back down to considering your words and how you approach things. Be honest with yourself and others. It's hard not to be right all the time, but the fact of the matter is that none of us can be, so spend a bit more time considering the other person's point of view. Accept that you can be wrong and make mistakes, and own up to them. Don't hold back anything you need to say, or say it to someone peripheral hoping that it gets to the person it needs to. I found out a lot of things later that you said to a friend but never to me, though it felt like because you said it to someone I should know it anyway. If you are hurting, stressed, frustrated, scared, whatever.. say it, complications be damned. If you care about someone, it helps to give them a bit of trust that they care about you, too. You'd be surprised what you can get in return for some true honesty. Nothing will ever be fixed by avoiding it or pushing it away until you feel you have the 'answers'. And lastly, never view another person as needing 'fixing'. We are all strength and fragility, simple and complex, functional and broken in our myriad different ways. There's a lot of goodness to be found in very unlikely places if you accept that people are shades of grey.

All that being said, I forgive you. Not because I want our friendship back, not because I think you even deserve it, but because I do know you are truly good, despite how you treated me. You acted out of fear, worry, hurt, and frustration. You made a lot of mistakes and were never able to be honest, with me and maybe even yourself. You still are probably angry with me and view me as a crazy, broken mess. You probably still blame me for causing you a lot of pain. It doesn't matter, because I can't hate you, and all I truly hope is that you learn from this and become a better person for it.

Kind Regards,

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