It is time for my monthly musing post, and in this one we are diving deep! I was not sure I would ever write about this, but suddenly, I feel the need to. I feel it is cathartic, for sure. But I also know how utterly alone I felt when this happened to me. I know what a failure I felt. So, if you have experienced a betrayal from a friendship, I don’t want you to feel alone. I want you to know I understand fully. Ok? I know some people would say that I have been lucky. I have never had my heart broken by a partner. But, the death of a friendship literally left me in shreds. I think the damage that women can do to other women can often be far more brutal. Far more mentally wounding. Let me explain…
I have a long held belief that everything in your life happens to teach you something. The good and the bad are all there to weave more threads into the tapestry of your life. The lessons are often hard to see at the time. Some make you scream your why’s into the sky. But they are always there. To teach us. I feel I have had four big, major lessons in my 47 years. Four times when I have literally been left battered, torn open and broken. Four times when I had to call on every ounce of my strength to recover. Four times when it felt easier to just stay bleeding on the bathroom floor than get up and fight on.
Three of those times are not for a public forum just yet, but this fourth one I need to close the door on. It is time to finally unpack the file in my brain it is stored in, and move it to “task complete”. I have navigated the stormy seas that it caused in my heart. Im anchored and at peace with it.
Death of a friendship – the hurt
It is fairly normal to drift through friendships in your younger years, but less so in adulthood. When you’re young you are trying on different versions of yourself. Finding what you are all about. I wrote a little about it in my membership to the Girl Gang post. It is only natural that your friends may change as you do. But it is assumed in adulthood that you settle into your space. We are supposed to be in a place where we have it all figured out in our 30/40’s right? That is what the imagined “book of life” tells us after all? Well, news flash beautiful people, life isn’t always text book! So, let’s talk about navigating the breakdown of friendships as a fully grown adult! Short version is – its shit and its lonely. You ready?
I feel I should start this next bit by saying I am a very strong, positive person. I am usually someone that can easily roll with the shit life throws at me. I have an inner strength that surprises even me sometimes. My steely determination is both a blessing and a curse, trust me! I also know many people get the impression when meeting me that I am a pretty formidable character. That nothing phases me. That I am tough and will always hold my own. I have been told I am a woman you would want beside you in a battle. And I am all of those, make no mistake. But, I am also incredibly soft hearted and can be hurt very easily. I feel everything so deeply. You would just never know it as I will not reveal the fragility of my heart until I trust you fully.
So, now having the knowledge of my strength, it may come as a surprise to you, (and me if I am totally honest), when I tell you that I sobbed every single day for almost a year, over this situation. Every. Single. Day. The pain was so acute, so brutal, that it exhausted me. It caused me extreme mental and physical pain. These people were my friends. I was in a free fall of sadness and could not find a footing to push myself back up from. My heart was truly broken. The anxiety attacks that I thought were left way back in my past, returned with renewed strength. I became scared to go out as I never knew what may trigger the panic. It affected my whole family, which of course, added even more weight to my guilt! My mental health was severely crippled. It was so shit. I could not seem to find my way through the thick fog of hurt. Strangely, I never once felt anger towards my friends. I wish I had. Anger is a much easier emotion to deal with. All I felt was a dark, deep hurt.
When it happened, I felt so worthless. My entire sense of self worth had been smashed into a million pieces. My inner voice was telling me how awful I must be as it was not just one person. It was a group of people. I felt unworthy. Unlikeable. I questioned every aspect of my personality. Tortured myself. I also had the added complication of thinking that in part, this was a dose of Karma. You see, I had seen this ostracising done to someone else a couple of years prior. Although it was a different set of circumstances, I now know how she must have felt. More guilt.
Now I am through the other side. With the benefit of hindsight, I see that the situation had the added fuel of crappy timing when it all happened. A lot was going on in my life that I was consumed by, so my defences were probably low. My heart was already a little exposed, my energy depleted. But, maybe that was exactly the way it was supposed to pan out? I learnt so much from that time! Perhaps I would not have learnt so much if the lesson had been less aggressive? Who knows. Life has a way of making things happen just as they should doesn’t it. I have trust in the process now I am through it.
How does a death of a friendship happen?
So back to the story. Our friendship group was a tight knit group. We were together most weekends. We went on holiday’s with some of them. Our kids had all grown up together and they were all in the same friendship group. It was fun, easy and I loved and trusted them with all of my heart. I will also, always be grateful to the men in the group. They provided Nik a distraction from the trauma that slowly losing his Mum through cancer was bringing him. One of the group in particular, (as much as I hate what he did), I will always feel love towards for how he looked out for Nik. He made Nik smile through those agonising times as we slowly lost his Mum. Their friendship was beautiful and meant the world to Nik. I know what went on to happen cut Nik deeply too. So of course, I gathered up his hurt and carried that too in the form of guilt. Adding to my lack of self worth.
It is impossible for me to share this experience in a short version. So I will not try. I will just keep to the outcome and my navigation through it. However, it is worth me telling you that perhaps the most remarkable thing about this story is, I genuinely, still to this day, do not know fully what happened. I know there was an enormous amount of manipulation involved. I know that I was made the target because I unwittingly became the holder of a secret I did not want. I know that because I knew what I knew, my name had to be smeared, my integrity put into question. Just incase I ever told that secret, I had to be made to be seen as unbelievable.
I do know there were terrible lies told about me, and to me. A gentle sowing of diseased seeds in my mind and theirs, by this person who’s secret I held. Now of course, we would call what she did, gaslighting. The subtle manipulation and suggestion. That insertion of doubts in your mind and theirs, that made you question yourself, your friends. I now know there were barriers slowly being slid into place without us knowing or seeing, until the damage had been done. There was a campaign to turn half truths into twisted untruths. I do now know some of the details, but only the barest of bones. All I do know for sure, is that we were dumped. No explanation. No argument. No falling out. Just a stop in all communication with us.
It was so bloody painful. It was almost an entire year until I finally felt my strength returning. You may well be sitting there questioning why I did not defend myself? Why I didn’t scream my truth? I understand that question totally. In part, because I never got the opportunity! I was never directly told what it was all about. But also, there was so much needing my attention and strength at the time. We had just lost Nik’s Mum to her 6 year battle with cancer. I was trying to support Nik in his grief. I was trying to help our boys navigate the loss of their Nan. I still had my skincare salon at the time and was dealing with 2 staff members leaving, adding more stress and hours to my already 72 hour working week. I was dealing with an ongoing issue in my own family. I was dealing with my eldest son undergoing tests as he had started losing chunks of hair. There was so much going on I kind of ignored the whisperings we were hearing. Did not pay attention to the cold shoulder we were feeling. I put the lack of invitations to events we had always gone to, down to them respecting our space to deal with our grief. I suppose I made excuses rather than face the truth. I trusted them. They were our friends right?
Starting to heal
This story is a detailed and long one. I cannot give you the full story of what happened, as you would still be here reading in a weeks time! There was a lot! The end result though, was the feelings I have already described. BUT, I want this post to be about how you can get over such a betrayal. How the death of a friendship can be a wonderful teacher. I wanted it to be about never losing your faith in yourself. I want you to understand that your faith and belief in yourself is the only voice you need to listen to. You need to be patient with yourself. For me, it was a slow return to form. Where I had spent 11 months bashing myself over the head with all my perceived failings, one day I just didn’t. I got to the end of a day and realised I had not cried. I got to the end of a week and realised I had felt more like myself a couple of times. I got to the end of a month and realised I felt ok to go out for a meal with Nik.
Although, funny story (not) when we went for that meal, I did end up being violently sick in the car park. Nik had coaxed me out and we chose a restaurant in the next town over, thinking it would be a safe bet. Three guesses which group of people were seated at a table right down the middle of the flippin restaurant when we got there……..how’s our blooming luck!
Moving on from a friendship break up
During my bad times, amongst the people I turned to was a much loved, totally trusted long term friend. I have always called her the calm in my storm. She is my buddhist (or buddh-ish as she says) friend and always helps me to see the path to take. One of the things she told me, was that an apology would come, but when I no longer needed it. She was right. About a year after I had sewn myself back together, I had out of the blue contact with one of the group. Nik had bumped into her in our local supermarket, and she had literally broken down in front of him. She asked him if he thought I would be open to her contacting me. Nik said he would ask.
Despite the pain these people had caused me, I cried when he told me how upset she had got. I hated the thought of her so upset. I had loved these people once. I hate to think of anyone in pain or distress, especially people that had lived in my heart for a while. I text her and agreed to meet. Nik and the boys were not supportive of this meeting as they felt I was giving her the chance to speak, that none of them had afforded me. I understood what they were saying. But I knew I had to be the bigger person. Otherwise, you become like them don’t you? I did not want my heart to harden. I also knew I was strong enough. I was healed enough.
The first thing I told her was that I was not there to mend our friendship. I forgave her, but I was not opening my life up to her again. It was so sad. We both cried. We hugged. She apologised for how terribly they had treated me but do you know what? I didn’t need it. I had spent so many months where I had dreamt of an apology from one of them. Just an acknowledgement of what they had done. The total and all consuming pain they had caused me. I felt that this acknowledgement was the only thing that could stop my heart bleeding. But here it was, and I no longer needed it! I had past that point and clawed my way back to having self worth. I had healed myself. I did not need their words, and my goodness there is power in that!
You have to let people go.
Everyone who comes into your life is meant to be in your journey.
But not all are meant to stay until the last page.
Although I have found peace with what happened, the experience has left some scars. I trust my existing long term friends no problem. But, I am much more choosy about who I give my heart to now. I am also cautious in new relationships! I am much more guarded. I withdraw if I feel I am putting in more effort or getting expectations of the relationship in some way. I have lost my confidence a little. I second guess myself a lot more than I did. I hate that. It is something I am still working through. But, I have made huge progress. Two years ago I would not have even entertained the thought of new friendships. Now I am open to them. In fact, I now embrace them! I know for my own sake, I must keep my heart open.
My tips for navigating the death of a friendship
- Be patient with yourself. Sometimes you have to lean in to the feelings and work through them. Otherwise, if unresolved, they could affect every friendship to come.
- Forgive. Not for their sake but for yours.
- Be kind to yourself. Do not listen to opinions of those that do not matter.
- Spend time with positive people that lift you and have good energy.
- Do not ever doubt that you are worthy and have so much to offer.
- Hold your silence. As tempting as it is to jump up and down in defence of yourself, it can lead to he said/she said and achieve nothing. Your true friends will rise to the top.
- Accept your part and responsibility in the end of the friendship. You may feel you have done no wrong, but it is always wise to see if there is chance to grow and learn.
- Talk it through with the people that you know without any doubt, have your best interest at heart.
- Seek professional help if it seems too much to bear. Some wounds need a little more tlc.
- Understand that some people are just not meant to be in your life forever. As the saying goes, it can be for a reason, a season or a lifetime
- Keep your heart open. Do not let the experience taint every future friendship that you make. Be cautious, but never cynical.
- Never change to fit in with someone. If they love you, they love you.