In my thirties, I was plagued by a chronic anxiety that no amount of St. John’s Wort (or Clonazepam) could relieve.
On the outside, I was smiling.
But on the inside?
I was being eaten alive.
At the time, I was feeling pressured to have a child—while knowing (on an intuitive level) that I wouldn’t have the support I’d need to take on the role of mother and still remain healthy and whole.
I was still injured from my childhood religion and was finding it difficult to cope with the bog of self-hatred and shame that oozed beneath the surface of my beautiful life.
And there was something else. Another heavy, unspoken truth.
I felt smothered to death by my childhood friendship.
I'd been carrying this burden for almost ten years because I didn't have the language to express it openly.
So my body expressed it for me—with chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome and low-blood sugar and food intolerances and a relentless case of anxiety.
The doctors treated the symptoms, but not the root cause.
Have you heard of this condition? It's a lot like sitting under a damaged roof during a hailstorm.
Leaky Boundaries don't protect you. Instead of providing you with a well-defined sense of self, they leave you vulnerable to the interpretation and motives of others.
You become confused about who you are.
You can't feel the border between your feelings and responsibilities, and someone else's.
Relationships become tricky because there's no YOU to be in relationship with—there's just a concept that you try to embody.
And it's a terrible form of dishonesty. But without healthy boundaries, what other alternative is there?
If you're consistently asked to deny the truth of who you are, honesty becomes a backwards, complicated thing.
As a child, I was told that lying was a sin. But when I shared my true feelings and desires—I was reprimanded and directed toward someone else's ideal for my life.
I began to see that being "good" meant pretending.
Being kind meant sacrificing my personal preferences and opinions.
Being polite meant biting my tongue and swallowing my feelings.
Being considerate meant keeping quiet and putting up with things.
Love seemed to depend on fake truth. The kind that makes other people happy but comes at the cost of your own integrity.
And this was my basic understanding when, at the age of 9, I met Elizabeth.
Looking back, I can see why we were drawn to each other.
She was bold and blunt and ballsy. I was sensitive, creative, and mischievous.
She gave me courage, and I made her laugh.
We needed each other.
At that time in our lives, our everyday existence was steeped in fear and religious severity.
It was necessary—urgent, even—to be outrageous and silly.
Together, we felt strong enough to break some rules.
We applied fingernail polish in secret (contraband!) and stole chocolate (pounds of it) and passed notes in class.
We belly-laughed our way to and from school together and smoked cigarettes in the back alley behind her house.
We told each other things that we could never tell our parents and made promises about the future.
She was my safe place and I was hers.
But over the years we would both come to learn that it wasn't safety we had found together, but dependancy.
True safety is an inside job.
It comes from a deep sense of integrity and trust in yourself.
Back then, I thought "having integrity" meant being good—and that "being good" meant pleasing others.
Boy, was I wrong.
The word integrity comes from the Latin word integer, which is used in mathematics to describe a number that’s whole and undivided.
Integrity means knowing what you know, feeling what you feel, saying what you mean, and doing what your true self actually wants to do.
I learned this from Martha Beck and will always be grateful to her.
But Elizabeth and I hadn't created a friendship that allowed for that kind of wholeness.
Neither of us had the capacity to hear or tell the truth without trying to manage the other's experience.
We had created a relationship that was based on control, possessiveness, and intensity—because that was the only type of relationship we were familiar with.
I didn't know this when I was nine.
At that age, I just wanted to fit in.
There was security in sameness.
But as I got older, that sameness started to feel a little too tight.
I wanted to stretch beyond the property line of our friendship. I wanted to explore my own beliefs about God, love, fidelity, sexuality and the social norms of our time.
I didn't want to have to ask for permission to grow and change and be separate.
But I was too afraid to communicate this clearly.
That's the thing about weak boundaries. It doesn’t take very much to turn you against yourself. A bit of cold silence. A cutting remark. One push, and that's it. Your boundary caves and you abandon yourself once again.
Silence felt safer than conflict.
Instead of living in integrity, I got trapped in a painful cycle of resentment and guilt.
Instead of communicating, I spent my time justifying and explaining and hinting and hoping.
The more I suppressed the truth, the more it came out in passive aggressive ways that made me feel worse about myself.
I began to blame her for making it so difficult to be ME.
I wanted to end the relationship, and the idea made me feel like a monster.
How could I turn my back on a friendship that had carried me through my teenage years and into adulthood?
I was caught between a desire to be authentic, and my flawed ideas about loyalty, friendship and love.
No one ever told me that I could be kind to others AND be kind to myself.
No one said, "Hey, it's important to be a decent human being, but that doesn't mean you're responsible for someone else’s feelings.
By the time I reached my late thirties, I was in a chokehold I could no longer ignore.
I told Elizabeth that I needed some space.
My marriage was in limbo. I was burnt-out from my un-boundaried years in the world of design. My anger toward the Church was beginning to rage out of control.
The kind of space I needed was bigger than what our friendship could withstand.
She reached out to me, but her concern felt like pressure.
The end came swiftly, three days before Christmas.
In the poem, The God Abandons Antony, C.P. Cavafy urges us not to ignore the thing we are losing.
He encourages us to go firmly, with courage, and stand at the window to say good-bye to the Alexandria that is leaving.
I wish I could say that I ended the friendship well, but I didn't.
The words that came out of my mouth that day severed our bond for good.
They were brutal.
It was years before I could stand at the window of my life and acknowledge the enormity of what I had lost—but, I'm here today to tell you, I've done that.
And I want you to know, that while it's important to honour the thing that you're losing, it's just as important to acknowledge all that you'll gain.
Each one of us has a right to our own life and our own identity.
And the value of becoming a WHOLE individual, and freeing yourself to explore your true purpose, is worth any negative consequence you'll ever experience.
Yes, the ending with Elizabeth was heart-breaking for both of us.
It was painful.
But in order for us to be the women we are today,
It was absolutely necessary.
Sending you so much love,
PS. If you're in a relationship and feeling out of integrity with yourself, you may need to strengthen your internal boundaries. To learn about my boundary course, click here.