One of the worst things about the pain was its brutal unexpectedness: one moment I would be driving down the road in my car, completely fine, and then from out of nowhere a flood of emotions would crash through my complacency, sending shards of white-hot anger and humiliation through my heart all over again.
Few people speak openly of the pain that comes from ending a non-romantic relationship. Most of the advice we get centers on forging romantic bonds: how to meet people, choosing a partner, how to talk about kids, finances, etc. As a result of this emphasis, we can easily walk away with the idea that a) platonic relationships simply aren’t as important, or b) platonic relationships don’t end bitterly the way a lot of romantic ones do.
That means when your platonic bond does fall apart, it makes you feel like there’s something wrong with you. You aren’t equipped to deal with it, and you’re left drowning in a sea of doubt, self-loathing, and uncertainty.
The end of every relationship—whether it’s between love interests, family members, or friends—involves letting go of a part of your life that is no longer relevant.
And that hurts like hell no matter what.
My own personal fallout occurred with someone I’d known for a while, and it ended in the most unpleasant way possible. Instead of a gradual falling away, it was more like a mighty explosion, a violent tearing of a once-strong bond that left me buried in a heap of emotional rubble. The severance had been accompanied by some particularly cruel commentary.
Each belittling word was internalized, and true to form, I blamed myself for all of it. If only I had communicated better. If only I hadn’t been such a disappointment. If only I wasn’t such a coward. If only I had just told them what they wanted to hear---and on and on. I felt like I deserved all the judgment and unkindness simply because someone was upset with me. If they were mad, that had to mean I’d done something wrong, right?
Staggering beneath the weight of my own helplessness, feeling increasingly like misery was to be my new normal, I finally ended up going to a therapist. I hoped it would give me some perspective, along with some new ideas on how to grapple with the emotional tumor growing inside of me.
A few months into the process, my therapist gave me a worksheet on forgiveness. On top was this paragraph:
“Saying the words ‘I forgive you,’ or accepting an apology, is not forgiveness. In fact, forgiveness can occur without ever speaking to the wrongdoer. Forgiveness is an emotional change that occurs within the person who has been wronged.”
This floored me.
I had always conceived of forgiveness as an external, unseen “something” I was suddenly meant to recognize one day, rather than an inward cultivation of the heart. It wasn’t long before I realized that in order to forgive the person who had hurt me, I had to first forgive myself.
I had to extract all the toxins of self-hatred from my soul before it would be capable of forgiving in the first place; a poisoned spirit wasn’t going to be able to produce anything but misery.
So, one day, I sat down and wrote a letter from my heart to my frazzled, frightened mind. It was a contract of sorts, a gentle reminder to always show compassion towards myself and to remember that the journey of healing is a gradual one that can only be chosen by me:
Hello, you nervous wreck.
I think it’s time we came to an arrangement---and by arrangement, I mean you ditching the feverish over analyzing and occasionally paying attention to ME. Because let’s face it: nobody knows you as well as I do.
During your life, I have watched you believe terrible things about yourself. I’ve witnessed you internalize every unkind thing anybody ever did or said to you. I have seen you weave these dark threads into your soul for so long that I doubt you can even tell where those horrid dark things end, and the real you begins. You have let yourself become a container for the squalid, the receptacle of cosmic unkindness. As soon as someone comes along with a handful of crap, you open wide and gobble up, because you think it’s your job to do so.
Please stop. Stop taking the festering, weary burdens of others and making them who you are.
I understand your hesitation to break away from this habit. You’re scared. Maybe you even fear me. I understand that. You are afraid to surrender to me because I am bottomless. I am an unfathomable ocean of wonder and mystery and sheer terror. You fall through me, and you might never be the same.
But have faith in me, because believe it or not, I have a lot of faith in you. Are you afraid I will leave you to flounder through this sloppy life by yourself? Do you really believe that? After all we have been through together, do you think I could ever live with myself if I made you wander utterly alone through the turbulent pools of your poor, anxious mind?
I want to show you the doorway to the Soul, because it can only be entered through me. Don’t worry, there’s room for both of us. Our soul is an interior church, the house of our Being. We belong here. We have a right to roams its halls.
I will not force you to go anywhere, but I hope you will let me take your hand and guide you. Let’s do this together.
Bernadette is an Ohio-born introvert whose work has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Braided Way, Introvert, Dear (selected for republication in The Muse), The Literary Yard, and The Mindful Word. She also wrote and published a children's story called The Card Man. In between avoiding crowds and napping, she enjoys abusing merlot and coffee. You can visit her at http://bernadetteharris.net/.
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