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Recently, I had a falling out with a friend. It wasn’t the first in our ten-year friendship, though, sadly, it was the last. Ours was a powerful but tumultuous relationship, rooted on the one hand in a deep and fiery and exhilaratingly cerebral connection and on the other hand characterized by great physical distance, frequent misunderstandings, and bouts of bitterness and resentment.
For the last number of years, we lived in different provinces, on opposite sides of the country, and saw each other increasingly seldom. As with any committed long-distance relationship, we tried our best (particularly in the early years) to keep in touch: we flew to see each other when our schedules permitted; we emailed and facebooked; we spoke on the phone; we sent letters and gifts through the post.
Yet unlike other friendships I have had, where I have still managed to maintain a bond and feel close despite circumstances and years separating us, this relationship just fell away over time.
The last time we saw each other was nearly three years ago. Our meeting, over coffee in the summer, felt strained. We were in the midst of trying once again to repair our friendship and to carve out a mutual understanding of who we were and what we meant to each other. I wanted more from our relationship but felt unable to specify what that was. She was frustrated by me and also wary; I had hurt her before. This time our parting of ways was final, the damage irreparable.
Today, roughly two months after the fact, I am still heartbroken.
For a long time, she was my closest friend, the person to whom I could tell anything, and in whose presence, even in silence, I was completely comfortable. Before I was even able to tell my husband, she was the first person I opened up to about my eating disorder and self-harm. From across the country, without judgment, she faithfully carried out research on support services available in my city for eating disorder sufferers. She sent me links with websites and phone numbers and resources and she called and left messages of encouragement and followed up with emails ensuring that I sought help and support.
Once, in the middle of a total breakdown and needing to escape from my life, I flew to be with her. She welcomed me initially, but then scolded me for not handling things differently. She thought that I should have addressed the situation proactively and behaved more maturely. She knew by then I was sick and she insisted that she was sympathetic, yet she couldn’t understand why was I running away from things. She wanted to know why and, as was typical, pressed me mercilessly for an answer. I, meanwhile, had neither awareness nor a clear grasp of the implications and depth of my illness and, thus, felt genuinely unable to respond. I pleaded with her for her patience but in the end she could not give it. Hurt, I left her place and stayed with a family member for the rest of the week. She and I did not speak again for almost a year.
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Over the past couple of months, I have been struggling to find a way to accept and deal gracefully with the fact that our friendship has come to an end.
I have vacillated between feelings of sadness and anger and been burdened all the while by a tremendous sense of guilt. I have wished so much that things were different and we could go on forever being as close as we once were.
Some days, when the depression and heartbreak are too much to bear, I find myself falling back into my old, familiar patterns of coping and my ED starts once again to rear its ugly head. I have had slip-ups, for sure, and felt such desperation and anxiety at times I have all but prayed for an end. Yet, in my heart, I refuse to allow the voice to take hold for I know the hurt that it will cause and the good work that it will undo as far as my recovery.
It sounds cliché but for now I am just taking it day by day, trying to write and express myself and really be out there in the world, focusing my energy outward and toward people as opposed to cutting myself off from them. If there is one thing I know it’s that ED thrives in instances of loneliness and isolation.
I have learned there is no grace in pushing others away in order to punish and harm yourself.
For now, my goal is to live each day with positivity, so self-respect comes first and takes up so much room that self-punishment can’t even enter the scene.
I’ve never been one for mantras but lately, because I’ve needed it, I’ve been using this one, and with good results: “Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy.” I say it each day amid the anxiety, guilt, and self-hatred. I say it each day and there is grace.
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