An old friend who lives out of town recently invited me to her baptism. I’d not seen her in about a year and was looking forward to the visit.
We met in college and have shared many experiences together from long-distance travel to observing milestones with each other’s families. Over the past few years, my friend has been changing. Working through addiction recovery, she has immersed herself within the 12-step program and the spirituality it has helped to awaken.
To take better care of herself, she’s developed a new routine, a new support system, a whole new way of being in the world. As for our friendship, it has been changing, too. Learning to take better care of herself has required all of her focus and attention, which has left her less available to me.
When thinking logically, I recognize that her dedication to sobriety is all encompassing. Emotionally, however, I struggle with my perception that she is growing increasingly distant, or disenchanted with me, and in response I grow increasingly insecure and disappointed.
But despite feeling hurt by her inaccessibility, I thought that her invitation was an opportunity to reconnect over the positive progress she has made in her life. Within the first two hours of my visit, however, my ego sabotaged everything.
Instead of just going with the flow — keeping things light — my silly little emotions got the best of me, and soon I was bringing up the past, awkwardly referencing personal wrongdoings that I feared had come between us. Essentially I was fishing for reassurance, for some proclamation that she still needs me in her life.
What I had failed to accept was the truth: none of this was about me. She wasn’t intentionally making herself less available or pulling back because of anything I had done. She was simply prioritizing herself, possibly for the first time in her life. And I lashed out over my own perceived loss.
Why? I ask myself. I had gone there to support her, to show her that I love and appreciate her for who she is. But the ME got the better of me.
Am I unable to handle change or let go of the past, even when the past is unhealthy? Or worse, am I so self-centered that I cannot tolerate not being the most important thing in someone else’s life? Maybe other people are more emotionally mature, insightful and selfless than I am but I do not think I am alone in my struggle to be supportive. In a society that is extremely individualistic and that celebrates greed and ego, perhaps I am a symptom of my own environment, a reflection of a culture that criticizes and judges, finding it far easier to give insults than compliments, to hold grudges than to forgive.
Too many of us feel more comfortable putting our own needs over the needs of others and feel justified in doing so. Regardless of the root cause, interpreting someone else’s recovery process as a personal wound is delusional and shows a lack of knowing how to be supportive. What I should have done when visiting my friend was be present without expectation, accept change without explanation.
Maybe being supportive means being humble. I’m not advocating for total denial of self but for knowing when to put aside pride and preference to offer unconditional support. Maybe being supportive also means backing off — letting go, even — and simply wishing the best for the other person.
I may mourn the loss of the relationship as it once was but I should praise the transformation that will allow my friend to live a better future.
Hopefully through enough concerted effort, one day it will become habit to give more and expect less in return.
Brooke Palmer of Kansas City is an editor for a publishing company and freelance writer on music and nightlife. Reach her at Brooke@Invasivethoughts.com.