Monday, March 26, 2012

on being a friend

Let me be the first one to say that I have absolutely no authority to be writing this post. I have very limited experience in the friend department, because for much of my life I was isolated by anorexia, bulimia, and depression. By the age of 19 I had cut ties with most of my highschool friends (all 3 of them) and was immersed in "being sick". At the time I had deluded myself into thinking that I didn't need friends, that I just wasn't a "social person". That was total bullsh*t. We all need friends. Even just 2 or three good ones. People need people. That's just the way we are made.

Looking back now, I can see how deeply lonely I was. I remember one incident in particular. It was winter; I was 19 and living by myself in an apartment across from a Dairy Queen. I was not working, and due to the fact that I was AWOL from treatment I was not in therapy of any kind. I spent my days alternating between bingeing, purging, and restricting. I kept 2 bottles of vodka in the freezer and when I needed a break from the eating disorder I would drink. I would go for days without talking to anyone.

Periodically I would leave the house to go to the store for binge food, laxatives, and Diet Coke. I hated doing this. It seemed strange to be out around people. The store was so bright. There were people everywhere. People...talking to real lives. What if somebody said something to me? What if I saw someone I knew?
One day I was in the store, at the checkout, and the checkout lady said to me "You have a nice day now!", and I honest to goodness started crying. I choked up, and had to turn away before saying "thanks, you too". By the time I gt out to the car I was bawling. I thought I might be losing my mind, for real. It was that simple act of human kindness, someone talking to me, wishing me well, that broke me down. It was the way she said it, like she actually cared. Maybe it was just that I hadn't talked to anyone in a REALLY long time. Maybe (probably) I was going through a serious depression. I know, looking back, that I was desperately lonely and afraid, but at the time I just didnt want to go there. So I went back to the apartment and ate and puked and starved the feelings away. For several more years.

That's all behind me now, and hopefully for good. I have fought, I have perservered, I have fallen and got back up again. I have learned how to laugh, and that it's ok to cry. I have relationships, I have friends; not a ton of friends, but enough. I am able to BE a friend, which is huge. I am not a perfect friend, but who is? I like to think that am doing ok, I have people I can count on, and  my friends know that I will be there for them when it really counts.

Which brings me back to the title of this post: How to Be a Friend. Notice I didn't say: How to be a Good Friend. In my opinion, you are either being a friend, or you are not.

Sometimes it is easy to be a friend. Sometimes it is not. I think of my 19 year old self, alone and self- destructing in my apartment in the dead of winter. What difference would one true friendship have made? Was I even capable of being a friend? How would I act now toward a friend if she was reduced to a similar state?

I will tell you what I would NOT do. I would not abandon her. I have been there. I know what that hell is like, and in my opinion, one of the worst things that you can do is leave someone alone (crying in the grocery store because someone spoke to her) in that state. It goes beyond being a "bad friend". The word inhumane comes to mind.
That doesnt mean I have to save a friend who is struggling. I leave that to the professionals. Let them do their job. The "job" of a friend is simple: be there. I will tell my friend, through actions and words, "you are not alone.".

Dear Friend,

You are not alone. I won't let you face this alone. Yes, sometimes you can be frustrating. It's hard to see someone you care about hurt themselves. It makes people want to turn away. But I won't.
I know there is so much more to you than just your struggles. I know you are funny, smart, and brave. I know you can beat this. But even if you don't, even if you never do, I will still be your friend. I know you are not your illness. We don't even have to talk abou tthe serious stuff if you don't want to. Maybe, by talking about silly things and cracking jokes, we can remind each other that there is more to life. We can talk about books, movies, our families, whatever. But if you need to talk about the hard stuff, I can be there for that, too. I might not hav good advice, but like I said, I can't fix you. AND THAT'S OK! I will simply do what friends do best: just be there.

Had someone been there for me in this way, back then, would I have recovered sooner? I don't know. Likely not. But I wouldn't have had to face it alone. I thought that because I was sick, I was bad. I thought that I was unworthy of friends. Telling myself that I didn't need friends was my way of dealing with it. I spent all that time feeling unlovable, untouchable. Toxic. But I was none of those things. I was just a girl who needed a friend.

I would like to close this post with one of my favorite passages from the New Testament. Even if you are not a believer, you might still enjoy the beauty of this simple message about friendship:

Love is patient, Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perserveres. Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

*this post dedicated to my friend 'nanas.


Angela E. Gambrel said...

Beautiful words, Lisa...and I'm glad to see you writing again!


Erin said...

Thank you Lisa. THis means a lot to me. :) I won't say more than that now. I might later. But thank you, for everything

P.S. you also have the 2 word verification from hell on your blog.