“No one rises to low expectations.”
I recently found out something about two very close friends; something that shocked me so much, it took my breath away. Their secret made me question everything I knew about the two of them and our mutual friendships, our conversations, my choice to confide in each, and more. Upon finally hearing the truth, I felt all the blood drain from my body, down through the bottoms of my feet, and out onto the patio. When I stood up to leave, I was wobbly. My brain was scrambling to make sense of the news but was having no luck.
I have not seen or spoken to that friend since. And about the other friend who was an active part of this betrayal and arguably more culpable – that story will have to wait for another day.
In the past, I would have turned to a drink. Alcoholics like me use liquor to cope with bad things instead of working through them naturally. In recovery, in the absence of numbing lubricants, I now get the “privilege” of processing my feelings unfiltered. And yet I haven’t honed the necessary skills just yet, so it’s a real struggle.
Especially challenging for me is feeling things as they happen, in the moment. While my blood is pooling on the concrete, I know it feels bad and wrong, but bad is a relative term and a pretty basic emotion. I expect to feel something deeper and more intense. But those feelings take longer to develop, and depending on how severe the pain, it may take me weeks or months to fully process what happened and how I really feel about it.
Since the news landed two months ago, I’ve been asking myself, is this it? When I feel sad or angry about the situation, I wonder if there’s still more to come. The other day I felt a wave of rage toward my two friends and embarrassment over not recognizing the betrayal when it was happening, but I still don’t know if I’m feeling the worst of it yet. When will the hardest part be here? And better yet, when will it be over?
I do things to help the process along. I write about it when I’m struggling and let myself feel whatever I want to feel. I don’t edit my thoughts as I go, instead letting the words spill on to the page like blood, at times really intensely. These are my feelings and whether I’ll still be experiencing them weeks or months from now, or if they’ll morph into something else, doesn’t really matter. It’s crucial for me to get everything out of my head.
I attended a workshop recently and learned some valuable principles that relate to this situation. The facilitator of the session asked us to look at something from two angles – a victim’s perspective, and as a person who takes accountability.
As a victim of my friends’ lying, cheating and deceit, it’s very easy to point to all the things they did wrong and how they hurt me. Open and shut case. But if I tell the story and take some accountability for my actions around what happened, I see things about myself that aren’t so pretty. The signs were there and in some cases I chose to ignore them. I asked them directly and was lied to, but I didn’t press further. At the center, I had low expectations for friendship and loyalty, so in some sense, I got what I asked for.
Or perhaps a better way to frame it is that I got what I tolerated.
And when the exercise was over, the facilitator made one thing clear – regardless of my role in the situation, be it innocent bystander or silent acceptor, it doesn’t excuse their actions. What they did was not ok. And I don’t have to take a disproportionate amount of responsibility for their behavior. My role is to learn from it, set higher expectations for myself and others, act on a situation when the signs are there, and understand what I’d do differently in the future.
Almost two years in sobriety, I see how alcohol had a brutal impact on my ability to choose healthy friendships and manage relationships, and it dulled my senses and delayed my feelings and reactions when inevitably life handed me something painful. Recovery is helping me find healthier ways to process feelings and is laying out a new road for me, even if that means leaving a few people at the curb.