When there is pain that cannot be addressed, I like to write letters ... and not deliver them. This is a letter I wrote last year to a friend who was, and continues, to deeply suffer. I choose to share it here because I think many people have friends whom they don't know how to help. It is a common human experience and I would like to bring it out to the light.
My Dearest Friend That I Can’t Seem to Help,
I’m struggling to find the words for how you might be feeling right now. I feel that you are deeply suffering, but I’m not sure you would agree or feel it fits. Unhappy? Lost?
None of those seem to work because I know you have moments of happiness. I know you feel there is meaning in your life. You pour so much love and intention into your children. I know you experience profound joy from your relationships with them.
What I’m trying to get at is everything outside of that.
It seems like you are reckoning with what you thought life would be and what it is. Feeling the gap between the dreams you have and the life you’re living.
You wanted a giant house where the entire extended family would come regularly to visit. You wanted a meaningful career that impacted thousands and enabled you to make thousands - weekly. You wanted the income so you could take your children on trips and expand the world for them.
I’m sure there is more you wanted that you haven’t told me, but those are the ones I can think of.
I see how hard you are trying. I see the wheels turning in your brain, trying to figure it out.
I know losing your parents was a devastating blow.
I know you thought quitting your corporate job to find a meaningful career would turn out differently.
It’s like there has been a fog over you. You’ve talked to me about it from time to time, but most of the time you turn to late night drinking or gaming.
The expectations of everyone in your life are so high. You make unflinching demands of them and appreciate so little.
While it is difficult to witness and experience how unkind you are to those in your life, your level of expectations tells me you must be even more unkind to yourself. You must hold yourself to unrelenting expectations and standards. You must feel like you’re disappointing yourself.
These are not easy things.
I know you’re in pain. I also know it has stretched on for years. I’ve stood by you, trying to be your stalwart friend in the storm. Trying to be present and help in any way I could as you navigated through this.
I know we all go through difficult periods of life. Yet this period for you is quickly approaching a decade. I’m worried about you.
And I know our friendship is slowly withering away. I know you are disappointed in me. I know I do not meet your expectations.
When I suggested that you meet with a therapist, I was not expecting the latent rage I encountered. I did not know that you thought I should have been doing more for you as a therapist.
I cannot be your therapist. Therapy, the kind of therapy that does the deep work, is a weekly committed time to digging in. It is a protected, unbiased space for you to explore, release, heal, and so much more.
I cannot provide that to you as your friend. I’ve known you too long. I have too many perspectives and opinions and details and facts.
More importantly, you’ve known me too long. You have opinions, views, and perspectives of me. You would tell me things differently than you would tell someone who has no tie to you. You would worry and shape your thoughts in ways that would slow the process of getting to the real things that need to be said and explored.
I don’t know why you won’t see a therapist. I know it would help you immensely.
It is becoming harder and harder to remain present as your friend. As you harden and harden. As you become meaner and meaner. Distant and more distant.
It’s like when you talk to me, I might as well be a wall. You care for no responses, other than someone echoing in agreement. You just want someone that you can pour out your rants and affirm that you are right.
There is no space for my genuine perspective. Any form of disagreement is seen as not supporting you.
You no longer care about my life or see our friendship as two people.
I’ve become invisible.
I’ve tried everything. You can never seem to hear me. To hear how much I miss you.
I know you’re in pain. I wish I could help.
I’m not sure where our friendship will go from here.
While I could offer platitudes like, “I’d do anything for you,” and more, we both know I won’t.
“Doing anything” is not a healthy relationship. That’s not an individual who honors their needs and uses clear, informed boundaries.
And yet that’s what you want from me.
So I’m just a part of your widening gap between what you want from life and what it actually is.
So I’ll say this. I care for you. I love you. I think of you. I see you. I don’t think you think I do.
There’s really no arguing with you.
I cannot win. And there are a thousand ways to lose.
I guess I’m here to say I’m showing up the best I know how, as I am. In all my flawed, loving humanity.
I’m here in the wings, when you want to take time to see me.
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