Sunday, August 25, 2013

Misery loves company

My second service as Worship Associate at USSB is this Sunday, and since we're still in the month-long theme of "despair," my reflection is another serious one (I really hope my next service's theme is "joy" or "love" :)! The theme this week is "Misery Loves Company" and I'm posting my reflection here.

I have a friend I refer to as Eeyore. Eeyore, if you know the character from Winnie the Pooh, always sees the clouds instead of the sunshine. Despite her gloomy outlook, I know I could count on her to be there for me whenever I need her, because she has been. She's the friend who's known me the longest and best, the friend who no matter what life threw at us, I knew we'd be there to hold each other up. For years, through budding careers, new marriages, new babies and world travel, we shared in each others' lives and struggles.

Our friendship was easy when times were good. We seemed to run on parallel tracks and these connections of work, marriage and motherhood kept us bonded as we traveled down our happy paths, finding support and love and sisterhood in our shared experiences. 

Then, slowly, life wasn't so happy anymore for either of us. We shared in this transition too. Eeyore embraced our time together as a place where all of her grievances against life could be shared. Every interaction with her, every girls' night out, every "catch up" lunch was filled with a laundry list of everything bad in her life. Her ex is crazy. Her other friends don't call enough (I suspect I don't either). She hates her job. She doesn't have enough money. She feels trapped in her new relationship. Her clothes are getting tight and she doesn't have enough time or will power to diet and exercise. She worries she's drinking too much. She wants to go on vacation but she doesn't have the time or money. 

There was a time, looking back on it, maybe too long of a time, when both of us participated in commiserating. I, too, had relationship drama, money problems, self-image issues. Our conversations, with each of us taking turns sharing our problems, were a safe place to work through all the bad stuff. We were both deep in places of sadness, grief, depression and with each other, we didn't have to hold back or pretend that everything was ok. Neither of us were fine and it seemed like our friendship was the one place where we could embrace where we were without shame or guilt or ego. 

And then something changed. More accurately, I changed. It wasn't enough for me to talk about the bad stuff anymore; I wanted to do the work to make things better. I started focusing on the good things in my life and realized that even in the darkest hours, there were still good things - lots of them. I started moving on. It didn't happen all at once, but I noticed that when we met for lunch, I'd start feeling frustrated or annoyed, maybe at her or maybe at myself reflected in her, that every conversation was a repeat of the last. We had been stuck in despair together, a support system for each other when it seemed like no one was listening. But I wanted out. I had hope. It was becoming clear to me that she didn't.

There are certain crossroads that we come to that are so subtle that we don't even realize we've past them until we're well down our new path. So it was with Eeyore and I. I had taken a sharp left at some point while she was forging straight ahead. My new path was lifting me up and my heart was becoming lighter. Every day it was easier to breathe. Talking to her was a harsh and unwelcome reminder of where I had been and where I didn't want to be again.  It felt like she was clinging to me, trying to hold me down with her as I was struggling to claw my way up. The very things that had drawn us together and strengthened our friendship were the things that were making it impossible for me to maintain it. 

When I would talk about selling my company, she’d answer “it must be nice for you. Too bad I’m stuck in my job forever.” If I’d bring up the cooperative parenting my ex and I had established, she would invariably respond with a story of her ex’s attempts to disrupt her efforts to have a peaceful relationship for the sake of their kids. She seemed to be bitter, almost angry, that my life was getting better while she still felt stuck. I started to feel guilty that I could see the silver linings when she could only see the clouds.

I tried to lift her up with me, encouraging her to try new strategies: take a class! Stop responding to your ex’s abusive emails! Let’s plan a trip! Let’s go shopping! Her answer to everything was “I can’t.”

It is hard to let someone you love move on without you and it’s difficult to leave someone behind. I finally had a glimpse of light and I needed to grab it without a shadow eclipsing its warmth and promise. Eeyore and I stopped getting lunches. I suspect that as difficult as it was for me to hear her continued despair, it was just as difficult for her to see me happily moving forward. We each needed a different validation and our parallel paths had diverged so much that we couldn’t see each other reflected in our own lives and experiences any more.

I still feel the loss of our friendship. There are things I’ve wanted to share with her, happy things and yes, new sadnesses and frustrations, too. Our conversations now are strained, shallow – only touch points of the realities of our daily lives. While I know Eeyore values our friendship as much as I do,  we both seem to have come to the place where we know that we need to love each other from a distance to allow ourselves to grow beyond the things that once bonded us together.

There is mourning that comes with letting go of despair; the mourning of what you lose when you let go of the people who once held you up but have begun to hold you back. As we move past despair, we grow and evolve and our hopes and dreams change. We should hold the people who have helped us get there in our hearts, even if, for awhile, we cannot hold their hands. 

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