When I was 20, my life turned upside down.
For most of my youth, I had been involved in an active, close group of friends. They were not just casual friends to me – they were my world.
They were like family. I unquestioningly trusted their presence, and I thought they would always be there.
When I thought about the future, these friends were a part of what I imagined. I could see us, years ahead, watching our children grow up together.
But then I began to date a man who they thought was wrong for me, so they wanted me to break up with him. An ex-girlfriend of his from years before felt scorned, and rumours spread like wildfire.
I refused to break up with him because I disagreed. One by one, the friendships that I once thought of as rock solid, crumbled away.
I loved the man I was dating, and I married him. But as far as friendship went, I felt abandoned.
I am shy, and struggle to let my guard down, so close friendship has always been hard for me to come by.
When I do allow myself to open up my heart, it is because I truly trust the other person. And when I do open up, I am incredibly vulnerable, and I can be more deeply hurt.
The rejection by these friends was a very deep wound.
It affected my view of myself and my worth. It affected my ability to trust others. It affected my ability to make friends, and my ability to view my life as anything good, especially when I compared my life to theirs.
These events are now 20 years behind me, but the wounds are so deep that I have only just begun to heal from them. They still have an impact on me today.
The holidays continue to be difficult, because this is when I feel the strongest reminders of the loss of these friendships. When I was immersed in this group of friends, we did everything together. Holidays were the same.
We celebrated Christmas, and would exchange gifts. I have memories of sleigh rides, and Christmas parties. We spent New Year’s Eve together each year.
The holiday season was fun and full of activity. The unspoken goal throughout was excitement. Everyone wanted to have the best, most picture perfect time over the holiday.
After I was ejected from this group of friends, their lives did not change significantly. They continued with the same pattern of activities. Minus one, of course, but my absence did not seem to be enough to cause much disruption overall.
When the holidays rolled around that first year, I was still in denial, and was hopeful that this conflict would disappear. They made their plans for holiday festivities. They planned a few get togethers before Christmas, exchanged gifts, and had a New Year’s Eve party, like normal.
They did not call me. I found out about the activities later, after the fact. I spent New Year’s with my family and new husband. Stubbornly, I tried to feel happy, but I was not. I was devastated inside, although I would never have admitted it then. Looking back, I can see now that I was in a kind of mourning.
I was mourning the loss of the friendships, yes, but also was mourning the loss of what life and the holidays had always been.
It was loss of familiarity.
I grieved the loss of how things were “supposed” to be – the image in my head of what I expected my friendships to be. It was a loss of security, and comfortable predictability for the future.
Over the next few years, I did piece myself back together, as best I could. My method back then was to ignore the pain, mostly because I didn’t know how to overcome it, or how to heal.
My husband and I moved cities, and started a family. Holidays took on a different tone to them once we had children. Fun, and exciting in a fresh way. Busy.
But there was a part of me which felt that my life was never as satisfying or as fulfilling as the lives of these former friends. I felt like I would never be able to attain what I could have had if I had still been a part of that group.
The holiday season always brought those feelings into full force. I would catch word from these former friends around that time. I would receive a Christmas letter in the mail, or (as technology progressed) I’d get a message from one of them wishing me a happy new year, and telling me briefly about their year.
Instantly, emotion would come rushing back. The wounds would sting, and the pain would feel fresh again. What gripped hold worst of all was that ever-present feeling that my current life, which I had built while wrestling with the pain of friendless rejection, still did not measure up to their lives.
I was stuck in a cycle of comparing. And without realizing it, I placed their lives on a pedestal.
The former friends were what I could have had, but didn’t anymore. And so their Christmas lights seemed to sparkle bright, while mine looked bland. Their holiday parties sounded like the height of fun, while my events seemed pale in comparison.
It was untrue, of course, but it felt real.
This way of thinking was poison because it slowly spread, tainting everything with a “not good enough” feeling. Particularly at the holidays, even when I felt happy or content, there was still a small part of me which felt as though I was trying to keep up, but was forever missing the mark.
These were lies. But deep down I believed them for many years.
I can see now that my vision had become twisted because of the rejection I went through. And the more I focused on what I thought I could have had, or the way things should have been, the more dissatisfaction I felt towards what was actually in front of me.
Every new path starts with one step, and so eventually I took one.
I completely cut off contact with most of those former friends a few years ago. It was a boundary line I needed to make for a variety of reasons.
Once I cut ties, I felt as though I had truly begun to leave that painful part of my life behind. I felt more free. The poison of comparing their lives to mine began to loosen its hold on me.
For all those years, I had looked at their lives as the ideal which I could never obtain. Once my vision cleared, I could see that their lives were just lives.
I also began to see that by comparing my life, and my holidays with theirs, I had robbed myself of many moments of joy. Moments that truly were right in front me.
Joy was obtainable by choosing to embrace reality: there were no perfect ideals. No ideal life, no ideal holiday season. Not in the way I had been approaching it, anyway.
Joy doesn’t come from perfect.
So I stopped comparing, and I stopped grasping towards the ideal. And instead, I began to focus on what I could create.
What precious memories can I make? What small pleasures can I see, and appreciate? What traditions can I start for myself or my loved ones? What can I be thankful for – that is here, that I already have?
What actions are within my reach here and now?
I no longer grasp towards those perfect ideals. I will never measure up to them because they don’t really exist.
I choose, instead, to hold real moments, firmly in my hand, and watch the lights of my own tree sparkle bright from this moment onward.
A bend in the road led me to embrace my introversion, and to discover my identity as a highly sensitive person. As I have moved along the path in learning more about who I am, how to take care of myself as an introvert, and how to handle the challenges of life as an HSP - my love of writing has been rekindled and embraced once again. It intertwines with the journey I am on, and is reflected in what I write.