A short list of post-friendship exercises.
I wrote about the abrupt end of two very important friendships earlier this month. I’ve been gentling myself through processing how I’ve been feeling.
I’ve had to accept that I’m grieving.
One of the things holding me back from accepting that I would have to grieve these friendships was a weird sense of perspective. I’ve had some scary experiences for someone my age, and I have had two friends die very suddenly. Those kinds of events can give an unhelpful amount of perspective : if I’m not in danger and nobody is dead, then a lot of things really don’t feel like a big deal. But even if I am mentally categorising the end of these friendships as “not a big deal,” it’s clear that I am still feeling “big deal” feelings about them.
I’m working to let go of their words.
In the case of the person who gaslighted me, I went back through a few months of our written interactions. In retrospect, they had been increasingly unkind in their communication, and I had unfailingly written it off as them dealing with stress or a bad day.
One of the messages that caught my attention was on my birthday, “…I hope you spent the day with people that love you.” At the time it felt innocuous, if odd, but when I went back to it and understood that they had likely already decided to end our friendship? YIKES. Who says something like that?
I’ve done a lot of deleting these past few months, and I have very few messages left. It’s hard to let go of these words. I think about developing a photo series or a series of sketches that incorporate their words. Using painful interactions to create art has helped me set down my feelings for romantic relationships in the past, but I’m hesitant to spend any more time on these people.
I’m beginning to set our history down.
It’s really easy to delete phone numbers and text messages. I’ve been doing it left and right, and I intend to keep doing it. It’s harder for me is to get rid of photos, letters, cards, gifts. I’m used to keeping a very conscious history of my life, and to getting rid of these things, these artifacts, feels like I’m getting rid of a part of myself.
I’m in those pictures. I’m on the other side of those letters. I don’t want to erase myself, but I don’t want to carry them with me into the future. I don’t need a record of how profound our friendship was if it is only going to remind me that they threw it away.
I’ve collected the letters and put them away. I’ve taken the cards down from the wall and from off of the bookshelf. I don’t know if I’ll get rid of them or put them up in a corner of the closet, but for now, they’re not visually present anymore.
I’ve been processing this for months, but only in the last few weeks am I really allowing myself to feel the full weight of what has happened. I thought that I had reached the nadir in January, that the weight of it had dragged me as far down as I would ever have to go.
It may be that dealing with the pain of the end of things is not about reaching an emotional low and bouncing back. It may be that we live with the low-level ache, the grief, for as long as it takes to accept what has happened and move away from it.