I met you in the midst of my biggest crisis. I had believed for a long time that the only way for me to receive love from people was to be deep in mud, deep in trouble. Unhealthy relationships taught me that.I didn't know how to ask for things with words, only through my actions. So many of my relationships were me acting out, trying to have people guess what I needed. It was a game with no rules, where I didn’t even know what the answer was. There was no winner.
I remember when you first moved next door. I approached you with curiosity and shyness, but soon wanted to be your friend. I looked at you and your family and thought, this is what I’d want if I was healthy, but I’ll never have that because who’d want to be with someone as broken as me. After being with you both, even at the very beginning, I knew that I wanted to tell you my secrets. You felt so safe.
I remember that one night, at the very beginning, where I texted you asking, can I come over? I really need to share something with you.That was the first little hint of using my voice. The first in a long, long time. I had only met you a few times before, but something in me desperately needed to be known. I think I just had this little inkling that I would be infinitely loved by you both.
When I went over your house and poured my heart out on your couch, I was met with so much compassion and understanding. So much that I didn’t know how to handle it. I immediately felt parts of me saying, Look! You’re loved! It proves that you need to be in crisis! That was my normal.
At the end of the night, I remember you asking, Rachel, how can we help right now? How can we love you best? I remember responding, Ask me how I’m doing, and really mean it. I really wanted to be noticed and seen and validated in my struggle.
After that evening I remember running into you on the farm, and being asked, How are you doing? And me responding, Not good. Those early moments of learning to use my words gave me power. Just a little bit at the time, because I still couldn't formulate what I wanted to say; I still couldn't express the pain that was swirling inside of me, and I was afraid if I figured out a way of saying those things, I would become too much. But you encouraged me to keep trying and talking.
I remember joking around saying, if you start inviting me over and loving me, I’m going to move in and live on your doorstep, and then you’ll never get rid of me! And you replied, Well come on! Move in! Our porch and house are always welcome to you. I heard those words before, and usually they felt like niceties, but yours felt different.
I know that my struggles and abandonment issues latched onto you, like they always did during that time, but you kept healthy boundaries, and those boundaries felt really safe. I knew exactly what you wanted, and I didn’t have to guess.
And it was hard. So often I’d feel the natural pull of life, things getting busy, and I’d panic and do or say something that needed immediate attention, Deep down I knew I was manipulating, but I was so afraid of being abandoned, and I didn’t know how else to keep people around. I didn’t know how to say, I need attention right now,and how that is an okay thing to ask. I still hadn’t learned or realized that the more supports the better; that it is healthier for relationships when one or two people aren't carrying all of your dark moments and dangerous thoughts.
Looking back I admit that I did things-- help, solve problems, or come to the rescue to subtly prove that you needed me around. I didn’t realize that you wanted me, regardless of what I did. I didn’t need to convince you of anything.
Those little hints of truth began to flow into me. I would sit at my desk and almost every day, you would walk up to me, give me a hug and say, Rach, I’m proud of you. The first day you said that, I looked up at you and said, Why? What did I do to make you proud of me? Your response was simple:Do I have to have a reason? I just am.
I couldn't begin to count how often you would say that. Almost every day. When I would tell you that all I wanted was to die, you would respond with, we love you and are so proud of you. You are so important and it makes us hurt to hear you say that. I remember looking at you and saying, You have to say that. You have to say you love me in this moment.But proud of me? For this?
It went against everything I believed about myself and the world around me. You were proud of someone when they performed in a way that was impressive, or when they did the morally right thing to do. Not when they were crying about wanting to take their own life. And looking back, I know that you really were proud of me, that you saw me for who I was.
Day after day I heard those words. Rachel, Im proud of you. Rachel I’m proud of you. Rachel, I’m proud of you. And they really started to soak in. And today, whenever I tell someone that I’m really, truly proud of them, I immediately start to tear up, because I remember how much those words meant at that time, and how much they still mean. And how many times, back in those early days of vulnerability I would lie in bed and think, people are proud of me even though I’m not doing anything impressive right now. It felt so good.
Eventually I couldn’t stay anymore and I moved hundreds of miles back home. And because I was no longer a permanent fixture, I became so afraid that I wouldn't be remembered. I still felt that crisis was what kept people close. I would text and call constantly, giving updates of my sadness and struggle; minute by minute updates like the weather service texting during a tropical storm. After a few weeks of this I remember you saying, Rachel. You can’t tell us these things, they're something you need to tell your therapist. We can’t carry this every moment, you need more people to share it with us. But we still love you and are still proud of you.
Ignoring that last sentence, I immediately felt rejected. No one loves me, all they do is abandon me. And you knew that I would go to that thought. And later you told me to remember those conversations, and to also remember how you still loved and stood by me, and to take that as my new reality- not everyone leaves. Boundaries don’t mean abandonment.
Time healed that wound. Time showed loyalty, time showed the unwavering patience and love, and how days could go by without talking to someone, and they were still alive and well. They still loved.
A few months later I was in the back of an ambulance after being hit by a truck while riding my bike. When the paramedic asked if I wanted to call someone, I had him call your number, because you felt so safe. Time moved on and I started to get healthier, and I didn’t talk to you as much. Our relationship changed as I pulled back and had moments of being simply ok. It was scary at first, and I would call out, Are you still there? And I was always answered with: Of course we are! We’re proud of you, Rach! Eventually I didn’t have to call out as much, and then not at all because I knew that you were there, and didn’t need that reassurance. I learned that this new normal actually felt kind of good. Before, I acted like someone who didn’t know how to swim in the deep end of the pool, grabbing on to whoever was around with complete fear and panic, and now I was simply swimming beside, enjoying the water.
In the past year and a half or so, I’ve learned to use my words to ask for what I need. It feels so free. My relationships are the healthiest they’ve ever been, and I’m really enjoying people and our friendships for what they are. It feels good to not be in constant crisis. It was so tiring to keep that going. And now, when I feel fear surrounding and waters rising, I can say, Can I hold on to your life vest for a little bit?And we safely bob together in the water for a while. Sometimes there are times when I feel mute and go back to old habits, but the swirling circles are getting smaller and shorter.
A few weeks ago, I was so excited to fly out to see you, restless to get on the plane and in the air. It had been a year since I had last been with you in person, and it had been almost four years since I sat on your couch, sharing all of my secrets, back at the very beginning of our friendship. It was a different state, different house, different couch. That whole week I would bring to mind all the changes, how we would talk and have fun and I didn’t feel the need to say, Wait! I’m here! You're not looking, turn around I need you! We coexisted without me hanging on for dear life. One night, in your kitchen I brought up those early moments, and how much it meant to be given those boundaries, and to have been told so many times that I was loved and proud of. We reflected back on those days and I’m so thankful to have friends that are truly family, friends who showed what healthy boundaries were and what unconditional love felt like. Friends who reflected back on me what I truly looked like to them. It feels so miraculous to hold relationships with an open hand, moving inside of trust and not fear.
I love you both so much,