One of the more challenging aspects of being on a growth path has got to be having to say goodbye to people who no longer fit the emerging picture of our lives. This is the case whenever we go through a big transformation. Falling ill, entering a period of depression, divorce, or even deciding to stop partying can completely capsize our social world. Other things that can often entail a ‘social upgrade’ are stepping into deeper self-worth and self-love, coming into worldly success, or committing to a new religious or spiritual path.
Any time our paradigm changes so do the people that can co-exist with us in our newly emerging reality.
I’ve had to say goodbye to many people along the way—friends, co-workers, lovers, partners, and even therapists or professional support that I outgrew. When I started University many of my friends who didn’t go to school fell away. When I stopped dancing and performing, I stopped hanging out with dancers and performers.
Nothing could prepare me however for the dramatic falling away of people that happened when I fell ill.
At the time I was really well surrounded, at least that’s what it looked like on the outside. I had been teaching yoga, performing and choreographing shows, teaching movement arts intensives, and had a thriving social life, at least that’s what it seemed like. As the days of illness turned into weeks and months, more and more of 'my people' fell away.
You’d imagine that when you need love and support that people would take a step closer, but that’s not been my experience and interestingly it’s not been the experience of many people I talk to who survive catastrophes or traumatic situations.
The ‘solid’ friends I had proved to be nothing more than fluff that got blown away as the big shit storm of illness moved in. Even some of my closest friends I’d adored for over a decade drifted away and onward with their lives. At first this was devastating. I was in shock and disbelief and I had to grieve not only my life that I was no longer out living, but also many friendships that I had thought were solid and that I could lean on.
Totally astounding, is that I hear this from most people who are walking on a transformational path through illness or any major life transformation. It’s a very common experience! The people we thought would show up for us don’t. These people are parents, or best friends, or others we assumed had our backs. The people we thought would hold our hand as we scale across the abyss actually let go and decide that they’d rather not cross at all. There are other less intense, and safer routes they’d rather go.
I’ve learned that the people who take this big step back are loving and kind people. They simply don’t know what to say, they don’t know what to do, and ultimately don’t know how to ‘be’ with suffering (ours or their own). I’ve learned also that my pain, my suffering, and my illness reminds others of their own humanness, their mortality, and the majority of people don’t have the capacity to face that. It just hits too close to home. As a culture we don’t acknowledge or address catastrophe, illness, or trauma very gracefully.
Ready for the silver lining? It's pretty shiny. For me and for many, it’s people who we never imagined would be there for us that do show up. It’s a strange and painful blessing, but a blessing nonetheless to find out who our real friends are. My own social circle got whittled down drastically from dozens of ‘friends’ I used to rub elbows with at social events to a small handful soul connections that are solid gold. Those other ‘friends’ turned out to be mere acquaintances in the kingdom of cool. They didn’t hold up in the real stuff. I know who to call now when shit gets real and I wish that for each of us.
Because, one things guaranteed, it may not be right now, but at some point you will need a soul tribe to call on.
Grieving relationships has been a huge part of my process and so has been rebuilding a solid web of support that’s made of loving, authentic people who have a deep capacity to be with the real stuff in life. Some of these people have been through their own traumas and others are just especially kind, deep, and loving souls. I’ve also had to do forgiveness work around those who could not show up for me, especially those who I had expected would be there.
It can be tough at first to admit that we need help and support but we must learn to reach out and ask our network for what we need. “Can you come sit with me for an hour without talking?” “Are you open to taking a walk by the river this afternoon because I can’t handle public spaces right now?” “Would you mind stopping at the shop and buying me some lemons and ginger on your way over?” "Is it okay if I call you when I'm having trouble coping?"
Ideally, we each consciously set up a network of loving support before we desperately need it. A tribe that we can pour love into and draw strength from.
It’s can also be challenging to look at our network with piercing clear sight and admit that some people are not ‘safe space’. Sometimes it’s spiritual types or other so-called ‘conscious’ people that ‘should’ feel good but really don’t. Trust yourself. Trust what you feel. Listen to what you need, and honor the connections that honor you. They are beyond precious.
I recommend also getting super clear on what you can rely on about each person in your network. Some people are great for light talks and cheer ups, or for watching movies, other people we can call when we’re in crisis and they can ‘hold space’ for us. Some people don't have the capacity to be with us in our suffering—it’s nothing personal and usually has everything to do with that person’s ability to be with their own suffering.
Generally speaking, we're not schooled in compassion and many have no idea how to offer safe space for difficult life processes. Also, many are simply just too busy and maxed out by their own life to function as adequate support system for you or for anyone.
I’m not a ‘support group’ fan, but some like to seek out support groups such as Lyme or AA support groups and they receive value through their participation. I personally don’t like to engage in too much ‘illness-based’ socializing but I know that others draw strength from participating in online groups that are directly related to their specific illness or challenge. I’m personally super leery of creating a life, an identity, or even friends that are founded on illness. My focus is on healing and transformation as opposed to being on the pathogen that’s on it’s way out of my body.
It's a work in progress, of course, but I'm crafting a solid network of support that involves family members, a handful of soul-family friends, a holistic doctor, and a couple professional contacts such as a new psychotherapist I'm working with. I believe that there is tremendous value in creating a web of support by choice and not by default. I recommend having a blend of both personal and professional contacts to draw from. Professional contacts could include a massage therapist, body-worker, psychotherapist, or a yoga teacher. We can seek out people via the internet that resonate with our values. Many people, like me, offer Skype sessions to people from all over the world.
Transformational and gritty times gives us the blessed opportunity to create a soul tribe that is based on the new values that are emerging as a result of who we’re becoming. When we ‘put it out there’ to the universe that we're calling in support and loving connection we open ourselves to receiving the love and support that’s truly always there.
:: CREATE ::
I invite you to consciously invest some of your time, attention, and energy into building and fortifying your tribe. It’s in your power to create a tribe that you adore and that adores you. Do you have a friend who’s been on your mind lately that you’ve been too busy to call? Call them. Have an outstanding thank-you note to write? Send it today. Curious about an acquaintance you’ve been seeing around? Extend an invitation for tea. Ready to begin therapy or get some bodywork done? Ask around for a recommendation. Feeling called to check out a support group? Find out when and where they’re meeting next. Need to make amends with someone? Now might be the perfect time. We get out what we put it. Choose to invest in your tribe now.
Copyright © 2015 Marie-Ève Bonneau