Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Circle of Friendships

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you might be aware that I've not exactly had the best of years.  In fact, things got so bad that by February/March, I was back in counselling, having been to see the lovely nurse practitioner at my GP surgery and having ended up ugly-crying all over her desk.

One of my morning rituals (besides weeping and refusing to get out of bed) is checking Facebook's On This Day feature.  I do it because I like to see what I was up to this time last year, or the year before that etc and every now and then, it throws up a gem I had forgotten about; a funny photo, an in-joke that's still hilarious or just a memory that makes me smile.

But this year, more often than not, the memories it shows me are ones that make me sad.  I see pictures of people I don't know, anymore.  I read stories of places I no longer visit.  I've had a pretty major adjustment to make this year and it's taken a long (looooong) time to feel okay, again.

And then, this morning, this showed up on Facebook:

The only person in that picture that I still speak to, is me.

Those were my besties.  The gang I had been friends with for years.  In one, individual case, when that blog above was written, we'd already been very close for over a decade.  They were the ones I would always be able to rely on.  The ones I'd have done anything for.  The friends who loved me, as I wrote in that "little blog about friendship", as much as I loved them.

Until they didn't.

One event snowballed into this avalanche of nastiness that, for several months, buried me completely.  

There was the friend who didn't tell me she didn't want to do something I had been planning for ages and, when I told her I was upset and a bit cross that she hadn't just been honest (because I would have understood and been fine with it, if she had), she accused me of bullying her.

Then there was the friend related to the first friend, who took her relative's side (understandably, really, but after more than ten years of friendship, I'd have liked to have been asked for my side) and just never spoke to me again.

Then there was the friend who also took the first friend's side and, just to make damn sure I knew where I stood, sent me hate mail, calling me a "selfish, thoughtless b*tch" and rejoicing in the fact that "now all your girls have had enough of you!"

And then, a few months later, there was the friend who got angry at how depressed I'd been over the whole thing, because it meant that I wasn't apparently there for her, enough.  And who ditched me for a boy band and their fans.  

I wrote about all this in several blogs, with varying levels of anger, hurt and, as the months slowly went by, a reluctant acceptance.

I wrote to the first friend, back in March, saying I really regretted not sorting it all out and putting the argument behind us.  She said she'd "think about" meeting up to talk.  I never heard from her again.

In the early Summer, I wrote a long and genuinely heartfelt message to the first two friends (the related ones), apologising for my part in things, saying how hurt I know we all were, because everything had been blown out of proportion and telling them both I loved them very much and wanted more than anything to talk everything through and see if our friendships could be fixed.  I never had a reply from either of them.

Several years of closeness were thrown away by four people, based, essentially, on the fact that I angrily asked one of them: "why didn't you just tell me you didn't want to go away with me?!"

It's a crime worthy of hanging, I'm sure you'll agree.  What a nasty human I am.  If anyone wants to mail me more letters filled with hate, I definitely deserve them.

You said it, Ross.

I re-read the blog I wrote four years ago, today.  Surprisingly, it didn't upset me.  It didn't make me angry, or resentful.

I mention right at the start of it that I was inspired to write about my friends because I was still sad over the loss of my oldest friend, with whom I'd fallen out the previous year.  But you know what, dear reader?  That oldest friend?  Is still my oldest friend.  In fact, she's my best friend.

Because, although it took us both a while to stop being stubborn with one another, at the end of August last year, I messaged that person and we talked it all out.  We both said sorry for the argument we'd had, we caught up on everything we'd missed out on in each other's lives and, within a week or so, we were meeting up again.  And heartwarmingly, it was like we'd never been apart.  We laughed, we talked, we smiled, we hugged.  Just like always.

She's tolerated me since I was 11.  She deserves a long service medal!

That is friendship.  That's what friends do.  They have petty fallouts and they might sulk for a while and not speak, but, unless the argument was about something truly unforgivable, they come back to one another.  They apologise and they talk it all through until it's fixed.  And when the friendship is back on track, it's stronger for having weathered the storm.

For part of this year, I felt like that person - my best friend - was also my only friend.  

The pain of losing the circle I had built around myself was so severe that it eroded the confidence I'd worked hard to regain in myself, after my abusive relationship, a few years ago.  That circle of friends had been there for me - and I for them - for so long, that without them, I was lost.  

If they didn't want me, anymore, maybe nobody did.

If those people, who I thought knew me so well and had been in my life for so long, could say and believe such awful (untrue) things about me, then perhaps I wasn't worth being friends with, to them or anyone else.

The thing is, much like when I was doing simultaneous equations in my GCSE maths classes, I got it so, so wrong.

My best friend is and always will be my best friend, but she's not my only friend.  I was just so sad, so lonely and so mad about everything that I couldn't see that actually, I was surrounded by friends.

The friends who posted me "love mail" to counteract the hate mail I'd received.

The friends who met up with me from time to time to check that I was doing okay.

The friends at work who listened to and supported me on a daily basis.

The family I would choose to be friends with, even if we weren't related.

My life was (and, thankfully is) full of friends, but I was so blinded by the pain of losing the ones I was supposed to be closest to (family aside), that I couldn't see them.

But friendships are circular, in that when it's a real, strong friendship, they surround you from every side.  They are the wall around you, protecting you and shoring you up when times are rough.  They are endless memories that you envelope yourself with.  You don't have to see them to know that they're there.  But when you do see them and realise how lucky you are?!  That's when you feel incredibly, exceptionally blessed.

For what it's worth, if the first two of my former close friends - the ones I messaged earlier this year - ever wanted to get back in touch, I will always be open to hearing from them.  But that's unlikely to happen.  They had words straight from my heart, telling them I love them and want to make things right and they chose to stay silent and to keep portraying me as the bad guy.  Maybe that's how they've coped with the end of our friendship?  By telling themselves it doesn't matter, because I'm an awful person, anyway.

That's not how I've coped.  I've coped by looking at what happened, analysing what I could have done better, talking through my depression with a wonderful counsellor, making contact with the girls to suggest we sort things out and, finally (and after a lot of pain in the process), accepting that they just don't want to do that.  

Ultimately, I've coped by realising I have to be a friend to myself and stop beating myself up for things I never actually did, whilst acknowledging the mistakes I did make.  And I've coped by opening my eyes to the people I have in my life and realising how lucky I am to have them.

I still have a circle surrounding me.  It might not be the one I always thought would be there, but that doesn't make it any less special.