I’ve been thinking about friendship a lot recently. Because friendship is a weird thing in recovery. Any recovery. From anything.
Recovery teaches you that you can never assume how a friend will act. I had a flatmate who I wasn’t particularly close to. She was lovely but we just didn’t have that much in common. Yet the years I was housebound and then in a wheelchair she refused to give up on me. And it must have been incredibly tempting to consider doing so, Because I was really hard work. I refused to see her, or rather, refused to let her see me in the state I was in. This went on for years down the line, until I was in control of my body enough to go and visit her (a 15 mile journey that seemed terrifyingly epic). I would make my mum wait outside in the car whilst I sat in her house “visiting” and shaking like a leaf until I could take it no more and had to leave.
She never looked at me like she felt sorry for me. Or horrified. Or did that thing where people look at your face so hard that you know they are searching for traces of the person you used to be.
She just was my friend.
I’m not sure if she realised she was my only friend. She probably did though.
I lost the ability to make friends for a really long time. Mainly because I never wanted to spend time with anyone, in case I couldn’t maintain being able to walk, or hold things without shaking, or just crying and wanting to go home. I was too embarrassed to do that in front of other people. Far better to do it alone where I could at least control the environment even if i couldn’t control my own body.
A couple of years ago I was a the point where I’d mastered the basics. Which meant I was excellent at going to work, doing my job (which consisted of an 8 hour live show 4 times a week) then going home, hiding in my bedroom and crying. It was about this time of year because one of my producers at the show, who was a lovely lad, tried everything he could think of to make me go to the work Christmas party. I refused. Obviously. Because the thought of all the people and having to talk to them and not being able to just leave totally overwhelmed me. Even though all of the people attending were my friends, inasmuch as I would let anybody be my friend back then. Which would basically make them distant acquaintances these days.
For me it was really simple. The distress of having to try and control my body at the same time as trying to talk was far greater than the unhappiness of always being alone. So I continued as I was, for a long time, until the despair of being constantly alone overtook the former fear.
Then I was screwed.
Then I had to make a new plan.
It started with making myself meet people for an hour at a time, staying there with them no matter what, regardless of how much I shook, or panicked internally, or wanted to leave. I counted every minute at first, every step to every exit in the place. I sat there even when I thought my heart would explode and I just tried my best to look normal, which as it turned out was a lot easier than feeling normal.
I stuck at it and gradually, haltingly created friendships that with hindsight probably weren’t the best match for me. Because when you’ve changed so much that you no longer know who you are inside? You have no idea who will be a match on the outside. And there will be some disastrous matches, and some just mildly jarring, until you become adept at feeling your way into the perfect fit. Which, as it turns out, is the best feeling in the world.
I look after my friendships a lot better these days. Because every time I make a friend-even now- I’m never able to forget just how much of a struggle it would have been not so long ago. I choose people who are a great match, and I like my life this way. Relearning the balance of friendship was one of the most challenging skills to master when I got out into the world again. And it’s not something I ever intend to relearn again. So I practice getting it right daily.
Friendship in recovery is often overlooked because it seems like there are more important or urgent things to do. Like walking, and feeding yourself, and being able to catch a bus. But really, looking back on it, I wish I had tried harder earlier on to get it right. It’s a shame that I spent so many years alone because I was frightened of being a shadow of my former self around people. I could still have found friends back then. Life didn’t have to be as dark and sad and lonely as it was.
I go to all the Christmas Parties I’m invited to now. Obviously. And the friend who never left me alone when I was in that awful predicament physically? She’s still around. And has a guaranteed babysitter for the rest of her life. Naturally.
It doesn’t matter where you are right now in terms of physical capacity. Whether you are in a bed, or a chair, or in a prison of your own fear. Do me a favour and do one thing that feels like a step towards making a friend today. Don’t leave it as long as I did.
Don’t be deliberately alone anymore x