Ending Friendship


Part 62: When I returned from my last radiation treatment, one of my closest friends ended our twenty-year relationship. She didn’t say why or what had prompted this seemingly sudden break. Instead, she went silent. After a month, and in answer to an email, she told me that I was too focused on myself.

I was baffled, angry, furious. I wanted to say: Excuse me, I have CANCER. I wanted to say, I hate you. I wanted to say, It’s been a challenging six months, give me a break.

Instead, I too went silent. I cried. I grieved. I did a ritual about ending our relationship. Composed various letters to her that I never sent. Wanted to forget I ever knew her. That took three months.

Then I started to ask myself about our relationship. Aside from the cancer, was I really too focused on myself? I wanted to find out what was true about not only my relationship with her but about me and friends. About the friendships with women I’d “lost” or ended.

Here’s what I discovered: I was still carrying a childhood secret/belief with me: that I was damaged at the core. That, like a lottery ticket, when you scratched away the brightness, the truth would be revealed—and that I needed to both hide that and also find friends who were wiser, kinder, more evolved so that when or if I fell apart, they could salvage the wreckage of me.

Underneath this was the belief that there was no redemption, no hope, and that it and I were always going to come down to this. Wreckage. Chaos. Despair. And of course, fear. The fear of collapse. Of going crazy. Of needing to avoid touching or feeling that wreckage and craziness at all costs.

When, after my friend ended our relationship, I scratched away at the top ten layers of not only our friendship but of many friendships that ended, I saw the dynamic: In refusing to even name the wreckage, I also refused to own wisdom, power, brilliance. They had it. I didn’t.

Seeing this and questioning what I had been doing, feeling, giving away for decades (not always, not in most friendships), I knew why my friend ended our relationship. I didn’t agree with how she did it. I didn’t agree I had not been a good friend. I knew I’d been a great friend. But I also knew that there were times I was under the hypnotic trance that I was damaged and gave her the power to salvage that wreckage. And that’s too great a power to give any human being. It was not her job to do that; it’s mine.

In the end, pieces of me I hadn’t recognized since I was five years old came flying back into wholeness, which was an almost-ecstatic process. It still is. PS: This is a photo of a friend from college. We are still friends.

Part 85:  I’m thinking about one of my best friends who stopped being my friend the day I returned from radiation 15 months ago. I cried and grieved about it and her for months. I thought I was over it. I thought I’d made peace with what happened. I thought I’d forgiven her—and myself.

Thoughts of her drifted away for months, six months, nine months. Almost a year.

But here they are again, as if I’d never spent time working with myself, the feelings, the ache, the outrage. I’m angry all over again. Shocked all over again. I want to write to her, call her a liar. I want to write a Yelp review about what a horrible friend she was. Take an ad out in the New York Times.

And then I take a breath. And then I notice that oh, there is a wound here. Oh, the wound has opened again. I’m not sure why it opened, only that it doesn’t mean anything is wrong or that I didn’t grieve enough or that I didn’t see clearly enough. It means what it means: Another layer of hurt, of history is being revealed. Something needs my attention.

It’s so simple—this turning towards—and it is also the last thing I want to do: touch the underbelly of pain and with it, the history, the memories—all the selves lined up behind each other. The one year old, the five year old, the eight year old, the ten year old. The sixteen year old. Wanting what I couldn’t have. Feeling neglected and needy and abandoned.

Rummaging around in outrage and blame are louder, more familiar. They puff me up. They coat the softness in righteous indignation.

But the very second I turn towards what hurts there is relief. Softening. There is sweetness. Melting. Inclusion. There is at last, the heart. The feeling of coming home. And with those, comes the willingness to see what is needed—which is being tender towards what aches. Giving myself what I don’t remember receiving as a child.

It only takes a few breaths, a few minutes to come home. And when I do, abandonment and neglect disappear—and so, amazingly, do thoughts about my friend. Whereas one minute ago, I was huddled in grief, now there is only kindness.

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