Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Sad Month of October

I just spent a half hour googling the names of old friends, mostly to see if I could find tham and partly because it the birthday of one of them--Happy Birthday, Eileen, wherever you are... I did find two. One hasn't made an entry in her blog in 2 years. The other seems to be doing something out there in cyberspace.

I wish I had some real friends, not just cyber friends. The problem is, I keep kicking them out the door. Why? Because from my POV they keep getting toxic to me and I can't be around them anymore.

Take the case of this last. It was three years this October that I had to tell her, "I wish you well in your process, but I can't be there while you go through it." She'd had a particularly bad summer: losing her first real boyfriend, getting mono, having problems at work. And I tried to be there for her, I really tried. But it gets tiresome and draining hearing all the excuses and the "my problems are so much worse than other people's" and all that. I was spending hours with my therapist just talking about her instead of myself. I was spending hours on the computer writing her e-mails, trying to make positive suggestions and chatting with her. It got so bad for her at one point that my husband and I did an intervention: we told her, "Either you call this therapist right now, she's expecting your call, or we're loading you into the truck and taking you for an evaluation at St. Mary's." She chose to call the therapist, but I don;t think that did her any good either. And she certainly didn't appreciate the intervention. All I ever heard from her was "No one understands me," and "no one is there for me," and "there's nothing I can do." So I finally had to call it quits. On the day I did that I got so upset my husband had to take ME to the clinic to be sedated because I couldn't stop crying and crying over the last e-mail she sent me.

And yet, she contacted my husband around Christmas time about getting back some of her stuff I had borrowed and returning mine, and she said, "I don;t even know what happened." I think probably in her mind it was yet another case of someone she thought of as a friend stabbing her in the back and abandoning her out of the blue. I hate to think of her thinking of me that way, but I had to take care of myself.

I wrote a letter to this friend at the time which I never sent. But I'm going to post it here.

Dear A______:

I had decided I wasn't going to respond to your e-mail beyond returning your stuff. Then Michael told me you called him and said you "didn't even know what happened." So, on the off chance that you do actually want to know what happened, I thought I'd give it one more shot. Although the very fact that you don’t know “what happened” says to me that you haven’t been paying attention, so I can’t help but think that anything more I try to say is a waste of effort.

See, a big part of the problem is that for the last year or more you've pretty much constantly been asking "what happened," but when I (or anyone else, it seems) venture an opinion, you won't hear it. You don't listen. You prefer to believe that no one can possibly understand what's going on with you and no one has anything valuable to say. And you get angry and nasty and defensive, and continue in behaviors that are not helpful, all the while complaining about how much your life sucks and how powerless you are to do anything about it. You demean your friends behind their backs-and in my case, to my face--because they don't offer you some perfect solution, instead of making an effort to recognise and appreciate their real concern for you.

So what happened? I got tired, that's what happened. I tried really hard to be there, and listen, and validate your experience, and model a positive outlook, because I could see that you have issues that are bogging you down and I work hard to maintain my faith that a person in pain doesn't actually want to be in pain. That if I can shine a light on the hope that she can't see for herself, she'll naturally turn towards it and use it as the beginning of a step out. Because people don't want to be in pain.

But in your case, I've had to come to the difficult conclusion that that isn't true. Your conduct shows me that, in fact, you do want to be in pain. Instead of receiving a positive outlook as a sign of hope, you sneer at it as something moronic. Or you regard it askance, as if it's some kind of trick, a poisonous snake that will bite you the minute your back is turned. You look for the wrong and when you find it--as you inevitably do, as you're looking so hard for it--it just proves to you that nothing can change and you were right all along.

The last time I mentioned this to you, you claimed to recognise that everything good has a nugget of bad and everything bad has a nugget of good. But the reality is that you don't show any sign of actually believing that. You look really hard for the bad in the good, sure. But I've never seen you reach out to the good in the bad without going out of your way to enumerate all the reasons that good is false. Someone gives you a compliment and you turn it aside. You feel enjoyment and you're "stupid." Happy endings are "unrealistic," and therefore dumb.

How can you expect good things to find you if you spend so much time and energy shoving them away? You don't have to do that. Nothing that's happened to you means you have to do that. You're choosing it. You're practicing an addiction to your pain by not challenging the patterns and the inner voices that keep you in it. It's not the pain I can't be around; it's the addiction.

And that's where this comes back to "what happened." Because in order to cling to your pain you got in the habit of invalidating my experience. If I tried to express concern for you, you got defensive and angry because I was misinterpreting you. You'd say stuff like, your life was so horrible and you were just going to die in a ditch somewhere and when I said that made me scared for you and I wished you'd get some help you'd say, well, you weren't going to off yourself so leave you alone and stop telling you what to do. You'd talk about how much you hated work and how much it got you down and when I said if it was so bad maybe it wasn't doing you any good to be there you came back with how it was the only positive thing in your life. You contradicted yourself constantly to make me wrong. When I tried to say pain sucks and I know how it is and there's ways out if you want to take them, you got down on me for "giving you a lecture" because I can't possibly know anything about you and how trapped you feel. You spat on what I had to give you and then claimed I hadn't tried to give you anything.

You kept saying no one was there for you. The reality is that your definition of what being there for you looks like is so narrow no one can fit into it. And I got tired of trying, and being spat on and told I wasn't doing it right and I wasn't good enough.

I tried to be your friend and offer stuff about me, but I got a pretty clear message that you didn't want that. Everything had to be about your pain. When I tried to share mine, your only response was, "Get a hobby." I tried to share things that I liked and you acted like I was an idiot. When we came home from Pagosa and I told you I had a headache one night and I stayed home and watched "Sister Act 2" on TV, your immediate response was, "Too bad." You didn't bother to wait to hear what I thought or ask whether I liked it. Then when I told you I had actually enjoyed it you had to tell me all the reasons it sucked. That was really rude and unpleasant and it just reinforced that you think I'm a moron. I don't need that.

You seem to have this impression that you're a really good friend and you're always there for other people, but it just isn't true--at least not in my case. I tried to share my work with you--which is the most important thing to me and involves struggles you can't even imagine--and you didn't even read it until I asked you about it six months later. And then you're all, "Oh, I didn't know what you wanted." What I wanted was for you to participate in our relationship. What I wanted was to share something with you that was important and scary to me. What I wanted was for you to be interested in me for my sake. And if you couldn't do that I would have appreciated your being honest enough to say, "you know, I said I'd read this but I'm just not up to it now."

You withhold yourself from real contact. In fact, when real contact tries to find you, you slap it away. And I have no doubt you have reasons for doing so that seem good to you. But it hurts me and it makes me tired. I don't want it any more.

In case you're interested, I'm going to go ahead and explain why I had decided not to answer your last e-mail. My original idea was to answer it with what I'm about to say. Then I decided since you haven't really been interested in my point of view for some time, it wasn't worth my effort.

The long and the short of it is, I'm not interested in "talking about" what happened because that last e-mail didn't demonstrate to me that you're willing to listen. What would demonstrate that? Something more like:

"I miss you. I'm sorry about what happened. I don't even know what happened (which you didn't bother to say to me, only to Michael) but I'd like to understand. I'm ready to hear what you have to say."

It certainly wouldn't include an attempt to lay a guilt trip on me for the fact that you had bought me a birthday present before I decided I was done being hurt, which is what you did. Though I am extremely unwilling to extend myself right now, it is possible for me to entertain the thought that you didn't intend it and didn't know you were doing it. So here's an explanation.

Maybe what you intended to say was, "I felt really bad and I didn't know what to do." That's not what you said. Saying, "I had this present all wrapped and then I lay awake for nights wondering whether or not to give it to you on your birthday. If you don't want it I'll give it to charity," says

"Look at all the trouble I went to for you. Look at all the pain you put me through. Poor me. Don't you feel bad now? Aren't you sorry you caused me such distress? And if you can't appreciate the trouble I went to I'll find someone who does because you don't deserve it anyway."

Well, no, I don't and I'm not.

If that isn't what you meant to say, a more appropriate was of putting it would be to say, "I already had your present and I know it's my responsibility to decide what to do with it, but I just couldn't decide what would be the right thing. So, I'm sorry to put this off on you, but I'm just going to leave it and you can take it if you want it." Or even, "I already had your birthday present and I hope that despite everything you'll accept it."

That's as far as that letter got, and I don;t remember now how I meant to finish it. At the time I was so hurt all I could say to my husband was, "Keep her away from me!"

I wish now sometimes we could talk. If this person approached me and asked to talk about what had happened between us, I would be open to that. But my condition is, she has to ask. So where does that leave me? Alone, I guess.

See, the thing is before I'd want to open a dialog I'd have to have some indication that she'd maybe gone a little way towards changing. I think of her and of that time and my stomach crawls. I don;t regain trust easily. But I'd be willing to try if only she asked. If we could start over.

But maybe there are no second chances. And so my friends are all in cyberspace, where we can;t get too close and hurt each other too badly.

And I think that's a damn shame.

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