With Friends Like These, Who Needs Therapy?

Content Warning: Emotional Abuse, Trauma

Well, it certainly has been a minute since I’ve written here. Life has had a way of keeping me mentally strained for a good while. And while it may be my first post in probably a year, I’m hitting the ground running with quite a weighted topic. While nearly all the information here is very personal, I felt called to share it. This may not be a spiritual post as this blog is intended, but this definitely speaks to and provides a part of my foundation in my spiritual work, and believe this mental breakthrough will open a lot of windows in my soul and is what I hope another leg in my journey of recovery and spiritual learning. True friendship is so precious and rare and has always been hard-fought for someone like me. Every person in my life has always been an important part of the tapestry and connection to my soul, and so to come to the realization that I did about the person I speak about below, is incredibly devastating, even after all that happened and all this time. To heal is a long and difficult journey, to heal spiritually is even harder. This is some difficult shadow work, but I do hope it guides me to the next step. 

In the Summer of 2002, I moved to Oklahoma. I was an uprooted girl of some 14 years, entering a highschool in a world I knew nothing of. I had no friends or family around me, besides my mother, and already I knew my home situation was less than ideal. Entering high school, a difficult enough time for any young person, I was quickly met, and found myself attached to, another young girl whom I’ll call Heather. Heather was bright, slender, blonde, and came from a family with more than a little money. She was a bit popular and was generally nice. She welcomed me into the school and helped me meet the small class of Freshman entering that year. The highschool was very rural, and in the end that class had a graduating count of twelve, just to give a little scale. On the other end was me, new to not only the school system, but the state, dark brown-haired, not slender, and already possessed of an intense anxiety disorder that would continue to go undiagnosed for years along with other mental issues. Thus, was the basis of a perfect storm for a fourteen year emotionally abusive and toxic “friendship”. 

Today, in what is now early 2020, I was exploring a new YouTube channel, and came across a video of a man discussing how he got through the trauma of leaving a long and abusive relationship with a woman. While this man talked, certain aspects of what he was describing started jogging memories for me. Memories of someone I had “ghosted” three years prior and had written a letter explaining why I would never talk to them again. The man described a lack of respect for interests and hobbies, not fully listening, couldn’t trust her, very much needed taking care of (money, chores, planning), etc, and the love was a one-sided affair of manipulation and blackmail. As he went on it became more difficult to breathe, I found myself looking away, and a dull ache grew in my stomach, all making me aware of an oncoming panic attack. Something finally clicked in my brain at that moment. Something I avoided before even though I believe it had lurked through my internal hallways for a long while, making low growls every time I thought…of…her. It shone through those hallways then like a blinding light, no longer able to be ignored, suppressed, or rationalized away. I had been in an abusive relationship. I had been the victim of emotional abuse for nearly fourteen years, and only through the help of true friends and supportive loved ones, and a distance of a 1000 miles had I been able to leave it. 

At this point, it may sound like I was in an abusive romantic relationship with a woman, and in some ways it often felt like I was, just without the benefits. In fact, this was a friendship. We never lived together, thank goodness, we never were romantically involved (she was straight-cis), and we each pursued our own individual goals during our long relationship. It may be hard to wrap one’s mind around, as we often hear of romantic or familial abusive relationships, but one can, in fact, be abused in our friendships. It makes sense when you think about it, but this is something rarely depicted in our media, rarely discussed, and even harder to detect, as we often don’t live with these people. Even on the National Domestic Violence Hotline Website doesn’t list Abusive Friendships in its resources. To be fair, abusive friendships don’t often lead to physical violence or as deep a harm, but looking at my experience and even the experience of others, it’s still significant. Often they are labeled “toxic friendships”, which is a huge part of it, but I’ve come to believe these types of relationships should be included under the truest term, abusive relationships. This term brings a weight to the situation that “toxic” doesn’t really, and opens people eyes a bit more to what is happening. Until this point, I personally brushed what had been happening aside, and rationalized, and even defended the situation of our friendship (my goodness, the gaslighting was real), because how could it be abusive? This wasn’t a family member, I had no romantic ties to this person, I didn’t even live with this person, how could it be “that bad”? 

Well, let me tell you. Once I really grasped what those fourteen years had been, I could sit down and start to break down all the signs and the trauma that I ended up with. The sad part being, I can’t even recall all of it, as apparently I suppressed a lot of what happened in Oklahoma. The even sadder part being is that the start of this friendship coincided with another four years of emotional abuse I suffered both directly and secondhand in my own home from my step-father. Holy shit, I hated high school. That being said, I’ve suppressed a lot of memories of that time, but given what I do know, this would end up being a rather long post so it’s probably for the best. Anyway, the friendship itself started out pretty normal, and I didn’t even hang out with her so much in the beginning. By the time I switched schools in Junior year, however, we were calling each other best friends. We even made time to take prom photos together our senior year as we went to separate proms. I believe there was a few red flags in those four years, like getting angry with me for not covering for her when she snuck out of her house one night after her parents divorced. A situation she didn’t inform me of or ask me to cover for her, and thus I thought she was missing myself, but no, it was my fault she got in trouble, although I have no idea how I would have covered for her from the two adults in my house who would have known if someone was there or not. There was a lot of that after her parents divorced. I can see now that was the beginning of several issues for her, and a lot of what became the root of her future actions, but as much as I can sympathize I can no longer make it an excuse. All abusers usually have trauma of one sort or another, but so do we, their victims, and yet most of the time we can keep ourselves from traumatizing others. 

Once in college, I had moved back home to Michigan for two years, started a new life, made my own mistakes, even created a little more drama for myself as I dealt with the aftermath of my home abuse. I’ve discussed this all before in my Journey blog from last year. During this time, I didn’t connect much with Heather, but in the times I did she did make it clear I was failing to be a good friend, something I didn’t realize she was doing, and often felt shame for. She even managed to blame me for failing a class, because she asked for unsolicited advice from my mother who was an Administrative Manager, not a professor, but she managed to blame me for it, all while I dealt with the death of my grandfather no less. When I returned to Oklahoma in 2009, when the recession hit, I did spend more time with her and for the next three years, that relationship was more and more tense. Once, after I won a Scholarship and an Award for my paper on Indigenous Assimilation, and hers did not, she managed to find every way that my paper wasn’t worthy of winning, and hers only lost because of prejudice. I, of course, defended her actions to my mother and boyfriend (now husband) who of course found this distasteful.  As her life became less and less what she envisioned for herself she took it out on those around her, namely me. Again, I don’t think I realized what she was doing. I think in some ways it was all the same to me, from what I’ve dealt with elsewhere in my life. By the time she graduated, we had both found ourselves single, her fiance had left her, she didn’t have the job she wanted and wasn’t being accepted into grad school, and her financial situation was lessening as her mother no longer doled out for her every whim. I was the one to give emotional labor in these instances, a role I was very familiar with in my life, and thus took each round with a mild headache.

Finally in, 2011, I managed to return to Michigan again, rekindled my relationship with my boyfriend, soon to be fiance, found a great job, and even started to get my health back, while Heather’s life just seemed to spiral worse and worse. At one point even getting arrested in a possible prostitution ring. Again, why did I still call her such a close friend? The distance did help, however, she still felt like a clingy girlfriend that just wouldn’t let go. The next five years was spent setting up phone schedules, dealing with her emotional labor, find a way to keep up on her needs, and being disappointed about visits, being told I abandoned her, questioned about considering her as a best friend, and finally during my wedding, being told I was a bridezilla, and being questioned about every aspect of what I asked of my bridesmaids, despite her almost demanding she be one. This was 2015, and the beginning of the end. The next year was a continuous roller coaster in my own life, that by the end I was beginning to gain the weight back I had spent so much time losing, having trouble at work, and several family members and other friends in various states of issues. By November of 2016, I finally, FINALLY, couldn’t take her drama anymore. The last straw came when, once again, we were rescheduling a phone call and couldn’t find the time. Her last message was asking for the call to be a Sunday morning at 8am. I didn’t even reply. That may not seem significant, but to what had always gone on with her, it was the end. The next day, I began a letter to her that I finished a couple of days later and mailed off. In the meantime, I began blocking her on all social media, my phone, and telling mutual friends we no longer spoke. It was a huge decision for me, but honestly, at the time I didn’t really comprehend the full weight. I was just “losing a friend”, who really wasn’t a friend, and that’s hard enough, but everyone goes through that at some point. We took different paths and had different views on life. That’s completely normal, so I rationalized.

Over the next three years my life started a backward slide, work was difficult, I was a my high weight again, I had lost my strength, and started using a cane. I began having several medical issues and lost several family members. I started having a slight addiction problem. These issues started before I ghosted Heather, but I think subconsciously, cutting her out of my life had a much larger tearing effect than I ever thought, and I feel, this was because in truth, that relationship was just as emotionally abusive as one can have. Unfortunately, although there was a lot of relief and good that came from cutting her out, I think because I didn’t reconcile what exactly that toxicity did to me, I took away a lot of shame and guilt from leaving that relationship, internalized it, and it exacerbated all my other issues, particularly my body weight and addiction, which Heather always had a comment on. 

So now, today, three years on, I find myself having a full realization that friendships too, can be abusive and that I was in one, for a very long time. I’m writing about this, for myself, to manage my thoughts about it, to accept its reality, which in the back of my mind I’m still trying to rationalize away, and for others of course, because as with so many things about abuse, manipulation, and gender, it’s just not talked about enough. Women abuse, friends abuse, trauma and abuse leads to other trauma and abuse, and we all need to consider that in our lives and in our spirits.

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