Monday, October 20, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: The Place of Friends

I once bought a friend a cup with the slogan:  "Friends are the chocolate chips in the cookies of life."

Friends are the chocolate chips in the cookies of life.

*******

I've been thinking of writing a blog posting about friends for months now.  It all began when I ended up in a "friendship" which became harmful for my health.  I kept on trying though because this person was deeply wounded, just like I am.  She needed friends, just like I do.  She was hurting, just like I am.  I was hoping to have a friendship based on mutuality such as doing things together, talking, etc.  Instead our relationship became very one-sided with me giving and her taking.  She become more and more demanding of my time and what limited energy and resources I had.

While I had a fair understanding through my own journey of some of her issues and problems, she had no understanding of mine.  To her I was all "put together".  I had "everything" as in a husband and family.  I "didn't have to work" and could "enjoy my hobbies".  In short, I had things she wanted but was not achieving.  I believe she became jealous because she didn't have those things.  These were all things this hurting soul threw at me - and more.  Sometimes in a very forceful way.

Yet, nothing could have been further from the truth.

I struggle.  Sometimes daily.

My cognitive skills go up and down.  And when they go down ... they go way DOWN.

Many days I cope by staying inside my safe house especially in my safe room doing those things which stimulate peace and healing - like my right brain therapies, crocheting and knitting.  Yet, the very things I use - and need - to keep stable and heal became things she ridiculed.

The difference between us was that I had learned many coping mechanisms such as my right brain therapy of knitting and crocheting.  I had spent years building up a small, working support system.  I had spent years ... and thousands of dollars ... on therapy - and continue to do so.

In short, I had worked ... and worked hard ... to get where I am.

Yet, when I suggested any of these things, she would forcefully rebuff me.  What good would it do to get counselling?  They couldn't fix her.  They couldn't make the hurt go away, the pain.

And that's true.  There are no magic wands.  BUT ... they can guide us into ways of helping ourselves, of helping us see ourselves more clearly and find ways that will help us get out of our situations step by painful step at a time.

A huge problem with this relationship was that neither of us realized that I am still wounded.  Very wounded.  Appearances can be very deceiving.  To her, I looked strong and put together.  Yet, I still have weak spots.  I may have been strong enough to walk with this dear soul, but I was not strong enough to carry her.

Finally, I had to back out of the relationship for my own sake.  I simply wasn't strong enough.

And I'm still not.

This relationship caused me to think a lot about what friendships, healthy friendships, look like.  And how they happen.

To be honest, I don't think friendships happen by design.  At least not in  my life.

I look back to a friendship that had a huge impact on my life that started in the least likely of ways - and lasted for years.

The cat that brought N and I together
I met N when she came over to adopt my cat.  She then invited me to come over and visit her and the cat.  We clicked during that first meeting.  We were the same age.  We both liked cats.  We were both creative people.

I now realize that N needed people in her life just as I needed people in my life.  But not just any people.  She needed people in her life who would accept her and value her just as she was.  So did I.

Poor.  Needy.  On disability.  With health issues.  Yet, N lived life to the fullest within her circumstances.  She had a zest for living that I've rarely seen in other people.  Hubby called her an "odd duck" yet, to me, odd ducks are the unique ones, the uncommon ones.  When I go to the nearby river for walks, I see mallards, geese and seagulls by the dozen.  They're commonplace.  What I'm looking for are the uncommon ones.  The rare ones.  Like the odd blue heron and common merganser or even the commerant.  Like the chocolate chips in cookies, the odd ducks, the characters, the people who broke the mold when they were born, are the ones who add flavour to our lives.

N was such a person in my life.  She was a friend when I needed one.  When I came over to visit, she would make me flavoured coffee and proudly tell me she'd gotten it at the dollar shop.  She would treat me like royalty, give me the best seat in the house, and we would talk.  She would share with me her life.  She would proudly show me the treasures she'd gotten from the food bank, which apparently has more to offer than food.  We shared a bond I've rarely had with another human being in my adult life:  unconditional acceptance on both sides.

N taught me so many things about friendship which I still treasure to this day.  When I would visit, she would write me a note afterwards.  She couldn't afford much, but she would find treasures in the thrift shops where she volunteered to gift me with.

But the most important thing she taught me was how to be a friend.  When she felt the friendship was too one-sided as in she was doing all the phoning and outreach, she would gently rebuke me and say "friends don't treat friends this way".

She taught me how to be a friend probably without even realizing it.


The last time I saw her a stomach thing was going around in our area and I was on the verge of taking a trip to Myrtle Beach.  But when N asked me to come, I came.  That's what friends do.  N wasn't well.  We thought it was the stomach thing that was going around.  She asked me to take the cat to the shelter as she wasn't able to care for him.  So I did.  That's what friends do.  She told me that if she didn't get better by a certain time, she would call the ambulance to take her to the hospital as she didn't have a way to get there herself.  Maybe I should have pushed her and taken her there myself right then and there.  That's what a real friend would have done.  But I didn't.  I was caught up in my own life - and frankly she didn't ask me to.

I did, though, tell her that during that last visit how much she meant to me as a friend.  I'm glad now that I did.

I worried about her while I was gone even thinking of calling her long distance a few times.  That's what friends do.  I called repeatedly her as soon as I got back home from my trip but received no answer.  Then her phone was disconnected.

It took several weeks before I discovered that my friend had died while I was away.

I still mourn her loss.  I still miss her and I still remember her and the things she taught me.  About living life to the fullest even with disabilities.  About friendship.  About how to be a friend.  The things she taught me are still with me - and in a way, she is too in the memories.

*******

As I look at N and at others who have come into my life, I see more and more that friendships are not something one can plan.  They just sort of happen.  A person, a stranger, comes into your life - and stays.  The longer they stay, the less strange they become.

I don't now if this will become the beginning or a series or rather a theme which I will revisit from time to time.

Yet, one thing I want those people in my life who know me - and love and value me anyway - you are important to me.  I value and appreciate you.

And that's as it should be.

Until tomorrow (I hope)....





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