Losing weight, finding sobriety, and making career changes can all lead to losing friends. A simple Google search will confirm this and largely paint this as negative. Former friends will push food and feel left out when you aren’t able to go to pizza night. Old drinking buddies will pressure you to have “just one more,” and you will never feel comfortable joining them at the bar.
And yet my experience was different. None of my friends cared what I ate when we got together. Nobody batted an eye when I brought my own salad dressing and coffee creamer. When I started ordering Shirley Temples, everyone was very supportive, and even insisted I send my drink back if it had too few cherries. Nobody pushed food on me. Nobody pressured me to drink.
But still, I experienced major shifts in all of my relationships, and I ended up letting go of some of my closest friendships. This is because the changes I had made had less to do with food and alcohol, and more to do with learning to love and value myself. And as I learned to love and value myself, I began to seek out those who would value me as well.
It began with my closest group of friends. For two years, we would meet up and support each other through our struggles. But I noticed a change when I began losing weight. I found myself downplaying my accomplishments, and when I did share something positive, it was ignored at best. Nobody was being mean–we were just moving in different directions. I felt a sense of hope, that I was unable to force anyone else to feel. We were just at different places.
And then in my other interactions, I began to notice how unkindly I was being treated, and how much energy I was wasting on people who did not care. Recently, I was writing Christmas notes to acquaintances, in an effort to bring more joy to their day. I became very jaded when I number of these people threw these notes away, without saying a word to me. Now, my interactions with these people had been slightly strained, and I realized that my notes were a way of seeking connection with people who were not interested in connecting. I was wasting energy chasing people and seeking their approval.
Finally, in the midst of this realization of negativity, I brought a case of water to my yoga class. When I go grocery shopping, I usually pick up a case of water to put in the refrigerator at the studio, since it is easier than storing my own water and cheaper than buying a bottle every night. Even though I share the water with everyone, I come out ahead.
As I walked through the door, balancing the case of water on one arm, while holding my mat and props in the other, my teacher immediately took the case from me and said, “Bethany that is so sweet of you! Thank you so much–I really appreciate it.”
At that point I realized that my teacher was not going above and beyond, with that statement. She was acknowledging my act of kindness in the way that acts of kindness deserve to be acknowledged. (I am not referring to random acts of kindness here–I had done this deed seeking connection, and I had found it).
After class, I told her that I wanted to create a reality where her response to my kind gestures was the rule and not the exception. That I wanted to spend time and energy with people who valued me for who I am. She said, “Look at all you’ve accomplished, Bethany. You can create any reality you want.”
So, moving forward into the new year, with “Create” as my one word focus, this is my promise to myself, in my relationships:
1. I will not waste time on groups where I am invisible.
I have lost count of the number of conversations where I have been interrupted as soon as I opened my mouth to speak. Or where my comments have gone unacknowledged. I have Googled this and tried tip after tip to make myself more “interesting.”
But here’s the thing. While I understand that someone might occasionally get excited and talk over someone else (and I know I have done the same thing), even if I am not perfect–even if my social graces might even be lacking at times–I deserve to be around people who value me and value my contribution. I do not need to try to be good enough to not be interrupted constantly.
Along the same lines, I am done with trying to get into conversations that I am closed out of. You know the scenario. Some friends are standing in a circle, having a conversation, and you walk over to join in. Slowly, the circle closes in, leaving you out.
I used to think this was normal, until a close friend of mine did it a few weeks ago. This is exclusion.
It is okay if not every group wants me as a member. I am not for everyone. But it is not okay for me to keep trying to change who I am, so that the groups will want me to join in. If I am not accepted for who I am, then they are not my tribe. I would rather have a smaller tribe, than hustle for approval.
2. My vulnerability must be earned.
I like to give. I have come to understand that acts of service is my primary love language, and that giving of my time and energy is simply something that I do in an effort to connect with those around me.
At the same time, I also enjoy doing random acts of kindness. These are often anonymous, and done in a way that the person will not be able to find me in order to contact me afterward. This is something that brings me joy and also helps me to feel connect to humanity at large.
The problem comes when I mix up these two “motives.” When I am giving and expecting nothing in return, giving is its own reward. However, when I am giving in order to express my love and friendship to someone, I am giving with the expectation of connection. This is not “wrong.” Everyone has a way in which they express these things, and everyone is hoping for connection in response to their efforts.
Giving with the expectation of connection, involves vulnerability. When I wrote the Christmas notes to my acquaintances, I was putting myself out there. I was very hurt by their reactions, but in the past I would have continued to reach out to them and seek their acceptance. But now I realize that they have not “earned” my vulnerability. If it is not a connection, I can simply let it go.
3. I will stay away from the co-dependent dynamic.
For so long, I was the friend who struggled, who “needed help.” I was so convinced that I needed someone to save me, that I often fell into the co-dependent dynamic in my friendships. I would be clingy at times, and I would immediately contact the other, seemingly stronger, person for advice and support.
Some friends immediately set boundaries with this, but others became addicted to “helping.” Their role in my journey became their addiction, and this often led to them becoming more involved than what would be appropriate. This never ended well.
My desire to have equal friendships and avoid falling under the wing of a co-dependent friend, has led me to approach this from both angles. First, I do tend to stay away from or set boundaries with friends who show signs of co-dependency. I make my own choices. I fight my own battles. I take care of myself.
But I also am mindful in my role in creating and perpetuating this dynamic. I am learning to stop myself before running to someone else for “help” when I am facing strong emotions or other challenges. I am learning to use my tools, so that I am not constantly seeking a rescuer.
4. I am seeking experiences beyond support groups.
When I was getting started losing weight, Weight Watchers was an excellent source of support. I went to workshops, I joined Facebook groups, and I was in contact with many people on a similar path. In the same way, AA was very helpful when I was struggling with my sobriety, both in person and on social media.
And yet, I don’t see myself as a “lifer” in either of these groups. My struggles are a part of who I am, and overeating and drinking alcohol are two coping mechanisms that I am working to avoid. But I think there is a danger in defining myself by these struggles.
The focus of my life right now, is not on weight maintenance or sobriety. It is in using the tools that I have gained through losing weight and becoming sober, to move forward. So surrounding myself with peers who are still struggling with these issues, is not going to help me accomplish my goals.
It is one thing if I want to do service and help people who are still struggling with these issues. But for my own growth, I need to look to other places, to new horizons.
5. I no longer worry about finding “like minded” friends.
Surprisingly, I have found that I feel more comfortable being myself (and more accepted) by friends who have different political, religious, or lifestyle views than my own. In fact, I have found that in “like minded” groups, dissenting from the group set of beliefs is strongly frowned upon.
When I am around friends with differing beliefs, we all feel free to share our ideas and learn and grow together. When we accept that our views are different, we are more respectful of each other’s views. As I have gone through this evaluating process, I have come to realize that I have four friends whom I trust very strongly. One of them is my husband.
And yet, my husband and I have different religious beliefs. And I vote differently than two of my other friends. What we do have in common is our mutual love and respect, as well as our desire to learn and grow.
And that is more important than any smaller ideologies.