Hello dear sobriety lovers… here is a post from my drafts folder which began as a comment in reply to @FunctioningGuzzler’s post entitled “the day after a [friend’s] suicide attempt” (link in quote below). I have a friend who suffers like the friend described in that post, and I found my reply growing far too long, so I shortened it down to basics for the purpose of replying immediately. I post the long version here as a reminder to myself (since I am very forgetful), and in case it helps any of you as well.
It’s about the challenges of dealing with friends who seem to need us for more than we can reasonably provide — basically those friends with whom we perceive a consistent imbalance of give/take. Most of all, it’s about my desire to protect myself (and thus my other family/friends, who are affected by my actions and moods) by creating boundaries — something I’ve had difficulty with in the past. Like many here, I myself am susceptible to depression, and have had suicidal thoughts in the past. To maintain sobriety and awareness, self-nurturing, sometimes in the form of self-protection is necessary. I cannot deny that.
“Okay I am going to write this out here and maybe I will cop some abuse for it maybe not but there is a side to suicide and mental illness that I believe does not get discussed enough and needs to be.” -— https://functioningguzzler.wordpress.com/2019/04/19/the-day-after-a-suicide-attempt/
Dear FG, thank you for writing this… I can feel the love you have for your friend, and yet also I understand the need to share the truth… I have a friend like this and it causes great stress to watch her go through the same things… for me, yes, but more importantly, for her kids, and yes — same as your friend — many animals she has taken on over the years. Yes there are victims of mental illness/addiction besides the afflicted person.
I believe that near the roots of my own friend’s illness lies addiction.
She is wonderful and nurturing and wild, and the world would be not nearly as bright nor beautiful without her in it. I love her in some ways more than anyone besides my own family. If she manages to overcome her addictions and her ego troubles (i.e. thinking she can look after so much, though she has trouble looking after herself) she will also become a truly good friend, not only to others, including me, her family and the animals, but also to herself. I hope and wish this for her. And I could say the same things about myself.
In the meantime I have learned over the years that I have to be careful and protect myself as well. The last time she was in the neighbourhood I strayed from my own path, after attempting to help her (yet again) get out of one of her oft-recurring troubles… at the time, I was attempting mindful drinking, and I took a big detour not long after she arrived. However, my return to old ways was not her fault but my own, entirely.
In future, I hope I won’t go seeking her out her company, no matter how much I love her and sometimes crave her presence in my life (yes, sometimes it’s me who calls on her).
If she ever came to me one day, acknowledging her addictions, and said, “my life has become unmanageable, I am ready to change, what do I do?” I would be relieved and glad to help (as best and humbly as I could). But while she continues to point fingers, blaming everything and everyone besides herself and her own addictions for her seemingly ever-more-complicated troubles, little can be done — as is the case for all of us.
I have to constantly remind myself of this even in my own life. It’s all too easy to blame others, or circumstances, for our difficulties. Yet it is possible to grow the most beautiful flowers from the murkiest swamps. We just have to keep “starving the negative, feeding the positive.” No matter what our situation is, we do have some small choices we can make each day.
If we want our gardens to thrive, we have to turn away from the negative things and so-called “friends” which seem to constantly demand our attention, energy and resources. If I spend all my time wrapped up in someone else’s drama, how can I properly take care of myself, let alone my own family? Instead, I must nurture and give attention to what is good and positive and worthwhile.
More than anything, I have to choose not to spend my time enabling the destructive habits of people who refuse to see the truth in their own situations. Those people will never be saved until they see themselves clearly.
The last time my friend came, she came in like a whirlwind, telling of this and that person who had done her wrong and was ruining her life. I have met most of these people and her view, in my opinion, was skewed at best. I had a choice: sit there, avoid conflict and say nothing, or even nod sympathetically in agreement, as “good friends” do, or I could say my own truth, and hope to help wake her up. I believe the latter is the mark of a true friend. So I tried my best.
I don’t like conflict, so saying my truth was very hard for me to do, but it was also hard to hear her say such awful and, I believe, untruthful things, about people we know. The things she was saying were not “I feel” statements but rather name-calling type statements. The irony is that hearing her use those words, I felt they could perhaps more adequately have been used to describe herself in that particular moment.
Finally I mustered up some courage and said, “I feel really, really uncomfortable hearing this. I’m really sorry but I can’t listen to you talk about them that way anymore. What’s more, when you talk like this about these people, it makes me wonder what you say about me behind my back. You know what I’m saying, girlfriend? This is hard for me to express, but it’s the truth.”
She did not take it well. She railed at me for what seemed like an aeon, as I sat there with my heart pounding and with adrenaline flooding my body, letting out her feelings while insisting that I was not a good friend. She listed all the ways over the past year she thought I had not been a good friend — namely, it seemed from my point of view, not taking sides with her in all of her many neighbourhood dramas. Yet I had also done things like clean her house from top to bottom before her arrival, spend an entire day with her opening one year’s worth of mail and helping her pay bills and call off collection companies. And I had been the one to pick her up and drop her off at the airport or train station, due to her challenges in arranging independent transportation.
She had seemingly forgotten all of those things and more; it was as though they hadn’t existed. I believe that if I choose to act wisely, I will not be doing those things in future. That may sound harsh, but after years of enabling her troubles, to me it finally seems kinder than anything else I could do.
Instead of doing those things that seem ultimately unappreciated anyway, by the only person they benefit, I will conserve my energy for my own kids, my own garden, my own housecleaning. (Funny how it’s so easy to clean some one else’s house rather than our own! Yet if my own life isn’t tidy, how on earth can I justify attempting to make someone else’s life tidy?)
It’s each of us who has to admit to our own life’s unmanageability; it’s each of us who has to want it to become manageable, and most of all, it’s each of us who has to work towards it. Not just me, but also her.
The universe helps those who helps themselves. May all beings find the will to help themselves. May all beings find peace through consistent, mindful, positive action. Myself included.
“Living life sober, raw and real feeling every bit can be hard but there is also beauty.” — functioningguzzler
Edit: Draft written 2019-04-19, found in WP drafts during cleanup 2019-06-08. Added introduction and published according to draft date.
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