Over the years, I have been a loyal person. When I decided someone was my friend, I basically stood by that person no matter what. When I was in my late teens and twenties, a lot of people abandoned me when I had kids. They moved on with their lives and stopped inviting me to do things. I was very grateful for the few who remained. Probably too grateful. There were two women in particular who remained that became increasingly toxic presences in my life.
As I look back, I can see the ways they damaged me. I remember asking my therapist again and again what to do about this or that that these two had done to me. And I contributed to the cycle by complaining about each of them to the other.
After many years, I figured out I was in abusive relationships.
I'm not going to say all of it was bad or all of it was their fault. It wasn't.
I had to figure out my own shit and learn what was good.
In a way, rebelling against their definition of who I was helped me become a better person.
In their own way, they were both very good and very toxic people. And they had their own demons.
I do wish I had cut off the friendships much earlier in my life.
But I suppose I still had things to learn.
And that is the lesson here that I take inventory.
What did these lousy experiences teach me? A lot. So much.
One of the women, I'll call her Maria, she used to support my dreams by "understanding" that I had them while shooting them down and telling me if I was a good mom, I would stop pursuing them. And she would pretend to support me but at the same time regularly sabotage me.
The other woman, I'll call her Katie, she said something not long ago that was instrumental in making sure we weren't friends any more.
I was discussing my plans for my next big project. And she said "I believe that you'll do it. You'll accomplish it. Looking back on us when we were fifteen, I never would have believed that girl would accomplish anything like this. But I can see you doing things now."
And I am sure she meant that as a compliment. But it wasn't. It was a clear message that she never saw my potential, though it should have been obvious to anyone who was paying attention. She was supposed to know me so well, but I now realize, she only saw in me what she decided to see-- and I think she never really saw me.
Many years ago, a girl I worked with at Cicero's was hanging out with me. We got into a deep conversation about hopes and dreams. I told her I wanted to make movies and write and direct. I can't remember her saying much about that. It was what I was dreaming about and also what I was pursuing in school.
Many years later I saw her again, out with friends. By this time I had made a couple of movies. She said these words to me. "I remember when you used to talk about what you wanted to do when we were working at Cicero's"
I said "oh yeah, I was pretty angsty back then."
She said "I confess - when you said all that, I thought to myself, she's never going to do any of that. And then you did. I was surprised."
I smiled a little. But it kinda made me mad at the same time. Why would you tell me that? What is the purpose of that confession? Is it to make me feel bad?
So, I went back and asked my best friend, the woman who has known me the longest- if she had seen potential in me.
She couldn't believe I was asking her that because she said it was obvious I was going to do things.
And I thought about the people I knew that I saw accomplishing great things.
I'm so blessed with so many good friends now at this point in my life. And it is because of these missteps that I am able to appreciate this all the more.
I've been able to learn from all this pain.
I've been blessed to have recognized and overcome all these abusive and toxic friendships.
Yes, I hung on to them too long. I tried too hard, I forgave too much.
But what did I learn? What did I take forward?
I learned to write well about complex relationships. I learned to appreciate really good friends. I learned that it isn't the end of the world if you end a friendship.
I learned that sometimes you still get to walk away and hurt for years, but it was the right thing to do.
A couple of months before I made the decision to walk away from Katie once and for all, she said to me "I'm afraid I'm going to lose all my friends, I have almost none left because I drive people away."
And as usual, I assured her that I was loyal and would stand by her.
And then I woke up when she was abusively texting me a few weeks later, accusing me of imagined wrongs. A symptom of her mental illness and extreme anxiety.
And I realized I had a choice. I could just walk away from her and not go back.
That I probably should have done it years ago.
That I shouldn't need to go to therapy because my friends were being toxic to me.
That the relationship was abusive and needed to end.
That it is possible to be in an emotionally abusive relationship with a female friend.
That it had been many years since I had any fun with her because every interaction was stressful and involved me walking on eggshells to try not to set her off. Though I should have known that I can't control her mental illness symptoms, but I can control my involvement with her.
That her refusal to get the mental health therapy she desperately needed was pretty much my final clue that things weren't going to get better.
I realized that my damage was where I was operating from when we began that friendship and that I have worked hard to repair my damage. That not all my friends were reflections of my damage but I had trouble recognizing when I needed to end it.
That my loyalty has hurt me- a lot, but I am not sorry that I try to work things out.
I don't give up easily, which is why I have had some minor success in accomplishing things.
But I am now learning when to walk away and that it is okay to walk away. That not all things need to be forgiven, that sometimes we can just move on.
I'm always going to have feelings about all of it, I'm just grateful now for the lessons.