In the near absence of friendship…

It continues to be too hard to write for the blog, but I do a bit of related correspondence with friends and my husband, so as I’ve done before I’ll share some of that.

In this first excerpt I had mentioned to an internet friend who has been through benzo withdrawal and is now mostly recovered, that I feel dismayed at the absence of friends and family. It’s pretty horrifying that virtually no one sticks around through the tough stuff. This is seen again and again across the benzo boards and also in the chronic illness blogosphere which I’ve spent a bit of time in since my experience doesn’t really mirror that of the so-called mental health blogosphere at this point. I also saw the mass disappearance of friends and family when I worked in hospice. People are afraid of and do all they can to run from life’s pain and our physical and mental frailty it seems. Those of us who are faced with it discover a side of humanity most are in denial about.

My friend responded:

Also, I really get your…disillusionment with the human race…going through this process truly causes you to evaluate human relations on a different ‘scale’…so hard to explain…it hurts. It hurts to have this kind of perspective on people…I never looked at people I knew the same after I went through it the first time…this time, I’m not surprised by how I was treated, but it still hurt just the same…

I shared her response with my husband as he is going through this too from a somewhat different perspective. He’s dealing with collateral damage we might say. He has been left to care for me in complete isolation.

From Husband:

When I think about this, I do so without feeling most of the hurt that you feel, so obviously that gives me some distance that you can’t have — least of all now.

Still, I imagine situations such as this: Once you are well, we run into someone we know but haven’t seen for 2 or 3 years — someone who could have shown some interest in your health but didn’t. I can’t imagine glossing over the fact that you and we went through this in isolation and I wonder, but can’t predict, how others will respond. Avoid saying anything? (Most likely.) Have some glib response… “glad you’re feeling better” etc? I can understand that at such a moment you (or I) will feel like saying that going through this taught us who our friends are — the implication left unstated but transparent: that we found we didn’t have any real friends.

But I also think about what friendship means in the modern world — one where time gets earmarked so rigidly — and I think that friendship falls into the social/entertainment category. It’s something that’s supposed to make us feel good, relaxed, rejuvenated. In a word, it’s supposed to be something we enjoy. At the prospect that being with a friend might be an experience that becomes demanding and depleting, the impulse is to back away. At the prospect that friendship could mean getting sucked into someone else’s misery, then friends take flight. In this sense, friendship is something that has become fundamentally selfish.

I don’t think this says as much about human nature as it says about the social conditions of modern life. In times when we moved around much less, our friends would be among the people we interacted with on a frequent basis. We would not have to be so purposeful in seeking them out and in allotting time for their company. For that reason, helping each other out would have been a much more natural dimension of friendship because we would have had a much more direct awareness of each other’s needs.

When you recently asked me to write something for your blog, I found some quotes on friendship, all of them poignant and revealing:

Epicurus: It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us as the confident knowledge that they will help us.

George Washington: Friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.

Martin Luther King Jr: In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends

The Dalai Lama: We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.

William Blake: It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.

Aristotle: What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.

Cicero: It is virtue, virtue, which both creates and preserves friendship. On it depends harmony of interest, permanence, fidelity.

I understand that you feel like you might be permanently scarred by this experience and there’s no question that you will emerge changed. Are there traumas that no one can recover from? I don’t know. But regeneration, recovery, healing, adaptation and a drive to find equilibrium, seem to be intrinsic dimensions of life.

It must at this time be extraordinarily difficult to trust life or trust anything at all.

If it is possible to surrender it may not be because you have any hope about the outcome.

Hope is one of those things we are always told we must hold on to, but I don’t think that is necessarily true. I think it’s just like any other feeling that can come and go.

If we both become overwhelmed by hopelessness, it will be difficult, but for whatever reason I seem to have some unquenchable hope.

Can my hope be enough for both of us? I hope so.

While I clearly have much to be grateful for as I have internet friends and a loving husband, one cannot escape mourning a life lost in this process. What will rise from the ashes has yet to be seen.

It can get better. Read more on this topic here: The isolation and sense of abandonment many people deal with when sick with protracted withdrawal illness.  (commentary and a collection of posts on the topic)

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