I think I had a much clearer picture of friendship when I was in high school than I have had as an adult. In high school, my friends and I shared a lot of common experiences, we were growing up, dealing with bullies, breakups, and all sorts of "real" experiences on a daily basis. I think we talked more about things that mattered. And I think we were not as good at masking our emotions back then, either.
Once I graduated from high school, I started having some not-so-shareable experiences, ones I was ashamed of. And over the years, I started hiding from other people. I was so concerned about what other people would think if they knew the truth about me, that I stopped looking for the truth in other people, too. My authenticity went away. My ability to listen and really hear, to be perceptive about other people's emotions, my willingness to give of my heart to others in real compassion.. it was no longer a part of me.
But about two years ago, when my well-crafted suburban wife and mom facade started to crumble, I faced the fact that I needed to get real. I needed to start talking about what was going on inside, and what I was going to do with it.
I had two intense emotional experiences, almost back to back, that re-introduced me to the person I used to be and that gave me the courage to be that person again, without fear or shame.
The first moment that led to the facade crumbling was the night I had to pull over to the side of the interstate because I was crying so hard that I couldn't see to drive. I had become so callous and withdrawn that I had been unable to do more than tear up and get misty eyed for several years, and the fact that I had to pull over was a shock to me. My heart was broken wide open, and I was crying on behalf of a friend of mine, listening to a song that had great significance to their story. I had been let all the way inside and trusted with the background of darkness, self-hatred, loneliness, and isolation to know that the lyrics were autobiographical. Finding myself, forehead resting on my wrists, sobbing on the side of the road for pain that wasn't even mine was a crystallized moment in time that I may never forget.
It was not only important for my sense of compassion and empathy, but also because after that night, I was able to feel my own pain. I hadn't realized that I was in that same place. I had been so depressed, isolated, lonely, and hopeless that my friend's pain resonated to the point of shocking me into wakefulness. It was just that so much rage had been clouding what was really going on inside.
The second moment was actually a combination of experiences that happened at the Blissdom blogging conference in 2010. I had been active on Twitter and in commenting on blogs for about 8 months before I attended the conference. I had a number of online friends that I was hoping to see, some for the first time. I was completely overwhelmed at the reaction my friends had to seeing me. There was so much genuine happiness and joy coming my direction that I actually retreated to my hotel room and cried. Again with the tears. I felt like a scar was being ripped open, and I laid on my bed, suddenly realizing that there used to be people that reacted to seeing me in that way. There was a time in my life where those reactions were part of my everyday life. And it was because I was being myself. Because I was allowing other people to really know me. These online friends... they knew my heart because of the transparent way I write. And they had made me believe that they really cared about me.. not just online, but now they had done it in person.
I spent time during that conference listening to Alli Worthington drive home the message of authenticity, and how the best writing we do is always from our hearts. She encouraged us to write authentically, and in doing so we could create a community of people who want to connect with us because of who we are and how we write.
And that's when I met Jana. She was the first friend I met after I decided I was going to open my heart up and be who I am again.
We spent 15 hours straight together on the last day of the conference. We attended sessions and whispered and giggled during them like a couple of teenage girls. We sat together at lunch. We skipped a session or two in the afternoon and connected over expectations of others, having to hide who we are and the things we had experienced, over autism and aspergers and motherhood, and love. We walked around the hotel, getting lost and making sarcastic remarks and finishing each others sentences.. we laughed so hard we couldn't breathe.
And over sushi that night, my new friend Jana said something that stunned me. Her words affected me deeply, all the way down inside my soul, where the real me comes from.
She said "I feel like there's nothing I could ever do to make you not love me and accept me"
I had been able to get across to this new friend, in the space of the first 15 hours we had spent together, that I loved her unconditionally.
That scar that I felt like had been ripped open by feeling accepted for the first time in years? Jana, by speaking honestly and transparently to me, about me, healed that pain. I had spent the weekend feeling open and exposed in a way I hadn't in a long time. But I felt validated, accepted, and most of all, successful, in being who I am. There are literally no words to express how grateful I am for that, Jana. I love you.
Through those two experiences, and in more of that kind since then, I realized that when I'm living, interacting, loving from that place down deep inside... I can give my friends that confidence in my love and acceptance of them. They know, really really know that I care about them.. that what they think and how they feel are important to me. That I love them and will always accept them for who they are.
When I'm brave and authentically connecting with other people, they are willing to give me the gift of their real self, too. Having the privilege of hearing other people's stories is incredibly humbling. Being trusted with the dark and ugly, with fear and weakness, with insecurity, loneliness, and pain. It's so much richer and deeper than anything I've felt in the last 15 years of my life.
It's the kind of emotional connection I remember having before the first time someone broke my heart. When I stopped trusting, when I stopped letting people in. It's called security.
Thank you, not just to the two friends I mentioned in my post, but to my readers who have reached out and accepted me despite the darkness and sporadic posting. Thank you for the courage you inspire, for the words of affirmation you give, and for the gift of your friendship.
Love makes your soul crawl out from it's hiding place ~ Zora Neale Hurston
Author's Note: This post was inspired in part by a post on depression that Kate Sluiter published this week. It included the song I broke down to while I was driving, and took me right back to that fragile place I was that night, feeling raw on behalf of someone I care about. Thank you, Kate, for sharing your heart so openly, and for inspiring me to write today.
Also, I wrote about my initial impressions of Blissdom 10 here (on my old, abandoned blog), and there are pictures of so many women who have become friends of mine. I linked their Twitter handles and would encourage you to follow all of them if you don't already.