Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Summer of Goodbyes

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I hate goodbyes.  I tend to be a symbolic person, which can be overwhelming during a season of goodbyes.  I become consumed with honoring “lasts”, like the “last group hang-out”, “the last after-church lunch”, “the last birthday party” or “the last time watching our favorite tv show together”.  I hesitate to put anything concrete on the calendar in case my soon-to-be-departing loved ones want to get together to hang out or drop by or even stare at each other.

I have had good friends move away before, even several who have left in the same season. (A natural consequence of living in a college town.)  But this time feels different.  One element that adds a level of grief is that, coincidentally, all of my departing friends are moving far enough away that it is impossible to visit without plane tickets or a laborious car ride.   Another level of impact is the short duration in which all of these close friends are leaving.   In a span of 10 weeks, I will have said goodbye to 8 of the dearest friends I have ever had.  Beyond both of those elements is the reality that these close friends have walked with me through the most difficult, confusing, amazing season of my life.  These people prayed for us weekly and listened to our laments as Dave and I tried to conceive.  They encouraged and supported us as we began exploring adoption, and then they rejoiced with us and showered us with love and gifts when we learned that we would be parents to a 4-year-old boy.  They poured into me as I adjusted to my new role as a mother, and I witnessed their outpouring of acceptance and compassion toward my son, too.  These people have demonstrated love to him, have consistently invested in him, and have made effort to develop lasting relationships with him.  It means the world to me to see my dear friends love and cherish my son.  And it is so personal for me because these are the same people that wept with me as I yearned to be a mother for so long.  They look at Josh with a similar awe and gratitude that we do because they really know what a gift he is.

There is a small part of me that feels like shutting down relationally for a while.  I put myself out there, developed some genuine, meaningful relationships, and now I am undergoing heartbreak every few weeks of this summer as I say goodbye to more and more of them.  Even as an extreme extrovert, the thought of starting over with a bunch of new people, or even deepening relationships with people I already know, seems exhausting.  And maybe there is a part of me that needs to honor that feeling.  Instead of jumping into new friend groups and social situations, maybe I need a brief stint of introspection and regrouping.  As a mental health counselor, I have plenty of feedback for myself about allowing time to grieve, focusing on the positive consequences of engaging in genuine relationships, and then getting back up on the relational horse.  I want to trust that God will both sustain my existing relationships and provide me with new, meaningful connections to fill in some of the gaps that these friends have left behind.  But a part of me doesn’t want to move on.  I feel like a preschooler having a tantrum (something I know plenty about these days).  “I want MY friends, and if I can’t have them, then I don’t want ANY friends!”  My grown-up logic would say that this argument is counter-productive and only really hurtful to the one engaging in this tantrum (that would be me in this scenario).  But when my teenage and grown-up clients engage in this type of thinking, I challenge them to own their choices boldly and thoughtfully.  Basically, that would mean my saying, “I recognize that my perspective on my friends leaving is irrational; however, I am choosing to be irrational right now.  I recognize that I cannot maintain this irrational thinking and live productively, so I will re-visit this irrational belief in the near future.  But for now, it’s working for me.”

I want to retreat.  I want to pout.  I want to take my friendship ball and go home.  But here’s the thing.  I know that I have tons of people staying in Gainesville that are meaningful to me and that I have genuine relationships with.  I also know that I have an incredible web of support and love all over the country now, which is pretty amazing when I really think about it.   A dear friend who is not moving (thank God) reminded me recently that, even though no one can replace the friends that have moved, there are people around me that would welcome a deeper relationship and more intimate connection.  Maybe I haven’t been able to see them because so many of my relational needs were already being met.  Good reminder.  I needed that.

So I will press on.  I will dispute my irrational beliefs and choose to move toward people.  I will challenge myself to be open to developing and deepening relationships with others in my immediate communities, while still holding on to the bonds of my precious, unique, life-changing community that is now spread across the country.  There is a Girl Scout song that is ringing in my ears involving friends and different types of alloys.  Those Girl Scouts really know what they are talking about.

I will even try to enjoy my summer amidst all of the goodbyes.  After all, I have a lot to be thankful for this season.

Broken Wallflowers

This weekend, I spent some meaningful time with three close friends from grad school.  Reunion weekends are a nice break from normal life, which has been pretty chaotic with friends moving, family visiting and all the beginning of summer transitions.  Our lives have changed significantly since grad school.  We have attended each others’ weddings and celebrated the arrival of our children.  For two of us, the journey to motherhood was more complicated and painful, making it even more precious to celebrate with each other.

I love having close friends that are in the counseling field.  It enriches me and challenges me to keep growing as a counselor.  Since our lives have changed so dramatically, our reunion weekends have also.  Instead of beach days and late dinners followed by nights out on the town, we spent this reunion weekend at my friend’s house, swimming in her pool with our children,ordering pizza and watching a movie while our children slept. We decided to pick up a movie at Red Box, and, after much deliberation and teasing about our limited exposure to good entertainment now that we have children, we chose The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  There were a few reasons for this choice.  My friend Eileen and I both read this book while in grad school, so we felt nostalgic about it.  Also, since it has a mental health bent, we thought it was appropriate for a bunch of counselors.

As soon as the movie began, I was captivated by the characters, the innocence and passion that accompanies adolescence, and the realistic depiction of the impact of abuse and mental illness on individuals, families and communities.  The main character, a high school freshman who spent time in a mental hospital after his best friend shot himself, delivers a heartbreaking portrayal of the struggle to belong and be happy while living in fear of the next time he “gets bad again”, as he calls it.  The audience also learns by the end of the movie that the main character had been repressing memories of sexual abuse by a trusted family member.

As my friends and I were processing the movie afterwards, we tried to determine his mental health diagnosis. (A twisted game that counselors play.   I love it when people ask me if I am psychoanalyzing them.  Of course I am.)  As I thought back to his character and the layers of pain and hurt he had experienced, the first word that came to me was broken.  There are different connotations for this word, and the mental health community at large may not support my calling someone with mental illness broken, but to me, being broken is a natural part of being human.  In fact, sometimes we have to recognize our brokenness in order to truly heal.  It’s like breaking a bone.  It is painful and damaging, and the bone needs to be re-set in order for it to heal.  If the bone is never re-set, then the person will go through life with a broken bone and probably some intense side effects, like excruciating pain and limited use of that part of the body. (Or worse, total numbness.)  As mental health professionals, sometimes the goal is to help our clients re-set their broken parts.  As a Christian, we are told that their is beauty in the brokenness because it forces us to rely on God instead of ourselves.

When I was driving home from my friend’s house that night, intense grief came over me. Almost two years ago, after walking through intense brokenness and pain with one of my clients for a long time, she made a decision to stop fighting her daily pain and constant torment by ending her own life.  She reached out to me before she did it, not so that I could stop her, but to have someone to connect with.  I knew when I heard her voice that it was over.  That was the worst day of my life.  I was filled with my own grief and regret and confusion, but more than anything else, I felt angry.  I was angry that God would have allowed the abuse and pain to happen to this woman, and I was angry at all of her abusers for contributing to her pain.  After a lot of grieving and processing with God, my husband and a select group of friends, I realized that, although I could not save her, as hard as I tried on several occasions, I gave her something that few others had given her.  I provided her with a safe place to feel and think and say anything.  Also, I loved her.  I mean, I really loved her.  And she knew it.

I can’t begin to understand why things happen the way they do.  A part of me was broken that day when this dear person took her own life.  There are so many people around us that have experienced deep, disturbing, life-altering pain.  Many of them are wallflowers, unsure how to reach out or take the first step toward genuine connection.  There is a quote from the movie that really impacted me.  In this scene, the main character is at a party with some of his new friends, and maybe for the first time, feels accepted.  One of the other characters raises a cup to him and says, “To Charlie!” The shy, awkward main character responds, “I didn’t think anyone even noticed me.”  And his new friend replies, “We just didn’t know there was anyone cool left to meet.”

Reach out to wallflowers. They might need a friend.  And they may be the friend you didn’t know you were missing.