Detox for Friends

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She is not your friend,

But she knows which one of you

Makes her look thinner.

We’ve all dealt with that toxic friend who we mistakenly believe feels the same way about us as we do about them. The one who smiles and shares and seems to have all the qualities of a caring companion, but who is rotten on the inside, jealous of our achievements and using our vulnerable spots to their advantage.

Hopefully, you’ve successfully detoxed these people out of your life. (If not, do it now. It’s going to happen one way or another, and you might as well be hurt less now than more later.) But it can be even more helpful to express your experience through words or art. Betrayal is an interesting theme, and one which just popped out in this haiku (above) while I was thinking of something else.

Have you written or drawn or composed anything that represented a friend’s betrayal? Did it help you to move on, or to solidify your decision to step away from a toxic relationship?

10 Reasons Survivors Should Shut-Up

It took a long time for me to speak publicly about my husband’s death. One year, actually. I didn’t do it out of any cry for attention, but for a need to acknowledge the truth with other people (no takey-backsies), and clear the way for a more positive future.

Not everyone was pleased.

I knew I had done the right thing when friends of friends and complete strangers began contacting me, thanking me for being forthright. They shared their stories of terminal illness, ugly divorces, losing the love of their life – but suffering in silence because no one in their circle wanted to talk about it.

But for a lot of survivors, close family and friends react negatively, outraged that you are sharing something private, exposing “dirty laundry”, or somehow speaking ill of the dead. The well-documented reasons for this closely follow aspects of the grieving process itself – which they themselves are unaware of. And so, they lash out.

Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Anger  Family and friends may feel anger at the person who died – angry for leaving too soon, angry that they made poor life choices, angry that they didn’t make up old feuds before they died – and this gets redirected at you.

2. Embarrassment  Some are embarrassed to be associated with a person who has had problems, or the people who talk about it.

3. Guilt  We hold a lot of guilt about what-might-have-been. We wished we had gotten help sooner, discovered a cure, held their hand at the end. Talking (or reading) about death brings all of that back to the surface.

4. Shame  They may carry secrets or have shared in destructive behavior with the deceased, and now feel shame about their part in the loved one’s story.

5. The Need for a Scapegoat  Sometimes you just want to pin all that guilt and anger and shame on something else and drive it out of town. By transferring the blame to a living person, they feel like their pain is directed at someone who can hear them, and yet is beneath them enough that they do not have to accept responsibility for the pain they themselves inflict on the scapegoat.

6. Ignorance  A surprising number of people are not fully aware that people grieve in different ways. They have never heard of grief therapy, don’t attend many art exhibits or concerts where this was a theme, and don’t seek out educational literature. They don’t know what they don’t know.

7. Resentment   They may secretly resent the fact that you survived and your spouse did not. They may feel you didn’t do enough to save her, or that you didn’t stick with him to the bitter end. This is a little like guilt, but they’re transferring it to you. Instead of being their guilt, they make it guilt they believe you should feel. Instead of saying “I could have done more,” they say, “You should have done something!”

8. The Need to Revise History  Lots and lots of people just do not want to remember the facts. It’s why everyone has their own version of “the good old days”. In grief, some want to re-frame history to suit their picture of the deceased and your relationship with them. They are crafting a new version of reality for themselves, and it has nothing to do with the truth. (Or, really, you.)

9. Denial – Denial is like quicksand. The more you struggle against it, the deeper you sink. Some people just don’t want to believe the words you say apply to the person they thought they knew, or the one they are trying to create. (See #8.)

10. Inability to De-center  We see ourselves as the center of our world and everything else revolving around us. When a survivor speaks up, this is perceived as a personal attack, an act of hurtfulness perpetrated on them from something in their orbit. They cannot step outside of their place as the center of their world to look through your eyes (and see themselves as something in your orbit). De-centering is a skill in empathy, and those who can shift their center more easily have higher empathetic abilities. The opposite also applies.

None of these are good reasons for survivors to shut-up.

It’s easy to discount someone else’ experience, to minimize their pain. The truth is, not a lot of people my age know what it is like to lose a spouse. Even fewer are familiar with losing a spouse who was also a substance abuser. That’s why I write about it. I needed this information. I searched for months to find the few people brave enough to voice their stories. I would like other sufferers to know they are not alone much sooner than I did.

But I can not (yet) know what it is to lose a sibling, a parent, or a child. That grief is different. I respect and honor that, while at the same time having an awareness that our grief is parallel only in some places. You cannot see me from where you are standing, any better than I can see you. We can only keep trying to reach out and bring things into focus.

Some in your life – and those who walk out of it – believe that Time Heals All Wounds, preferably in silence. They don’t want to hear what you have to say, read what you have written, and may react for reasons you can only speculate about. Wish them well and carry on. Their journey is their business. Accept that they are no longer willing to be a companion on yours. There are others just ahead to help you carry the load.

 

Job’s Last Straw

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I’ve always had a special affinity for Job. Here’s a regular guy, a family guy, successful businessman, living somewhere in the Far East of the Bible who gets slammed out of nowhere for no other reason than that he’s a good person.

I like reading about his thoughts. His reactions to his false comforters. His new understanding of his place in the world and God’s care for him. And the truth is, all of us feel like Job at one time or another. I know I have. And sometimes still do.

But while most focus on the trials and tribulations they have in common with Job, I had the unique experience of sharing his sense of abuse and abandonment by his 3 so-called comforters, the leaders of his religious circle.

About 2 weeks after my husband passed away, I too received a visit much like Job’s. Under the guise of offering assistance, I was grilled as to why I wasn’t doing more in the congregation, chastised for thinking too much about myself, warned against fornication (I don’t know what kind of person is dating 2 weeks after a funeral), told that it was wrong for me to ever expect a call or a visit from anyone, and that the consequences of my husband’s actions were my and my children’s inheritance. Forever.

It is an understatement to say that I was devastated. I felt abandoned all over again, but this time by my faith. I’d be lying if I said I was over it.

I prefer not to talk religion. We all have our spiritual debates within. But once in a while you experience an epiphany – a new realization that must have been there all the time, but you never noticed it.

I got this in June of 2016 when a minister noted the reason God was so angry with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for their misguided words to Job. They lied. They lied about how God felt towards Job. They lied about how other people viewed Job. They made him feel more alone and bereft than he already was.

Therese Borford of Beyond Blue says, “The phrase ‘Job’s comforters’ has come into the language to describe people who mean to help, but who are more concerned with their own needs or feelings than they are with those of the other person, and so end up only making things worse.”

It’s a term that even made it into the dictionary, defining a ‘Job’s comforter’ “as a person who aggravates distress under the guise of giving comfort.”
You have to be pretty vile to make an impression that lasts 4,000 years.
I don’t know if Job made up with those guys, if they all got together on Saturday nights and played cards with his new kids. But I doubt it. I have a feeling that they walked around each other after that. Once a man (or 2 or 3) has revealed his true self, it can’t be undone.
And now that I recognize the lies and the liars, I can put the pieces back in their proper places, albeit with more caution and less trust than I had before. But that’s something I already know a little bit about. I was already doing it with the rest of my life when they came along.