June 21, 2017

How to Heal when a Friend Abandons Us.

In the grand scheme of life, we have friendships that come and go.

Some fade with time, while others seem to end in a series of unfortunate events. It’s usually not a single event that truly ends a friendship, but rather the passage of time or a heap of grievances left unspoken.

As time moves forward, I feel the doors close on many of my friendships. I thought some would last longer than a season, but I have to face the pain of realizing some will leave my life—and sometimes without warning.

In the warmth of one afternoon, I was sipping my tea, resting in my own thought bubble, when I noticed my phone light up with a message. It was a friend from years past. A person who prompted my first experience of being abandoned by someone I thought would be a lifelong friend.

I felt the pain of that same abandonment flood through my veins from the scars over my heart. I flashed back to the original moment of hurt—the pull of a thousand strings soon to be cut before I realized what happened.

My thoughts drifted back to the image of myself, standing outside my house while leaving a voice message. I heard the familiar answering machine, and replied with giddiness in the hopes of her returning my call. As I hung up, my smile curled upside down. She wasn’t going to call me back.

I wanted to be hopeful that perhaps she would return my calls of friendship. We no longer were living in the same place, but somehow I thought the bond would continue. In reality, our friendship was what many communication researchers call a “trauma bond.

As the days and following weeks passed, I would hear little in return from her. As with any deep pain, I buried it down the corridors of my heart. I sealed the door with a bit of bitterness, pain, and slapped on a chain of resentment. Never would I open that door again, I thought. Never would I allow someone into my most sacred thoughts if they were going to just drop me like that.

Then years passed on, and I thought I had forgotten about the pain, but I was not prepared for the door to be reopened with this simple message. The trouble with the pain of abandonment is that is never truly goes away.

Trauma bonds are created by a swirl of emotion that connects people together. In that moment, it feels as if nothing could break these friendships, because the one thing that stresses us is the thing that keeps us together. Yet, as the stress that bonded us goes away, so does the friendship.

When old hurts come calling, it lights up past grievances we never truly dealt with. I never faced the feeling of abandonment, the feeling like I was left behind. It felt as if I was waiting in the driveway, waiting for her to return and tell me everything would be all right, but she never came back.

I began to treat all my friendships as if they would leave me. I created barriers against potential friendships because I figured they would turn out to be just another call unanswered.

Fear drives many humans, and it is fear that often cripples our relationships the most. I feared that everyone I opened up to would leave me. I figured the world was a cruel place that was meant to abandon me—to leave me behind.

Rather than face my pain, I ran from it. I ran from friendships that could hurt me, and I closed off from the world. I shrouded my world into a cloud of depression, as it seemed that life continually stormed around me with no relief in sight.

As I walked away from the years I tried to forget, I realized I never fully faced my fear of abandonment, of loss. I had to trace my steps back to the moment of hurt to understand why her message, after all these years, hurt me so much.

I spent my time resenting her for the hurt she caused. Blaming her for my walls, when I was one who built them. They say the person who chooses not to forgive is the one who hurts the most. I buried the pain, and never really forgave her for leaving.

Truth is, I never forgave myself for waiting.

Trauma bonds serve a purpose in the seasons of life; they give us insight into our souls. The pain is in realizing the friendship was only meant for a season, and meant to be left at that.

Time will move life along, but it takes courage to face our abandonment from the pain of friendships past and present. Life is too short to create barriers, chains, and walls of resentment. It will only build walls that bury us in our own hurt.

Once I traced the steps of my abandonment, I could reply to her without pain. She never replied, but I realized she could no longer hurt me. I met the root of my pain with a tearful understanding, and then truly let go. I had to choose to let go of my pain of being left behind, and forgive myself for waiting.

Finding the root of our pain sets us free. It may not heal in one big wave of relief, but in time it helps us move forward without the weight of the past hindering our ability be fully ourselves.

We can never fully forget our grievances, but we can release them into the history of our lives and allow for space to move forward. We can choose to live life as we are meant to—with hope and understanding that life moves in seasons.

Friendships will come and go, and time can only show us the friends that will choose to fight for us, and never leave us behind.

Author: Bethany Widdicombe 
Image: Sean Quinlan/Unsplash
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Callie Rushton

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Bethany Widdicombe