Humans were made for relationships. We are not creatures that thrive completely independently, therefore friendships are obviously a very vital and important aspect of the human condition. Friends are the glue that holds us together, the ones that understand us deeper than anyone else, and sometimes become family. In most cases, friends are mirrors of ourselves, reflecting back the qualities that we were unaware we possessed.
As anybody else, I have had friends throughout my life who both came and went, and sometimes I was the party that came and then went. Over the past year, I really struggled in the friendship department due to my decision to end a friendship that was overall unhealthy for me. Cutting ties with someone who knew me to my core, my fears and dreams, and with whom I spoke with or saw on an almost daily basis was extremely challenging. My life drastically changed because someone who played such a big role in it was simply gone. Although it was my decision, it was not easy. Yes, my best friend lost their best friend, and I do not want to discredit anything they might have felt since they lost a friend, but I also lost a friend. The timing could not have been worse either, because the remainder of my friends were in school while I was not, and some of my other extremely close friends lived in another city or state for school, family, or work. In the time that I would have normally spent with my dear friend, I spent working on my mental health (and eventually my physical health) in the name of my "self care journey." (There was a lot that went into my "self care journey" that can be found in detail here arheaofsunshine.weebly.com/self-care-journey).
During this time of working on myself, and addressing my feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, I spent a lot of time dwelling on the idea that I was alone. I was convinced that I was completely alone, no one understood me, and that I would continue on my years without having someone to trust and who fully understood me. I thought about all of my friends from the past, and all of my current friends that I had and how much I loved and appreciated them, despite how far away they might have been and/or how distant I felt from them (isn't depression lovely?). I also spent time thinking about all of the hurt that the people I no longer called friends caused me, and how angry I was that they were not always a "good friend" towards me. Eventually, this had me thinking about what a true friend actually is.
A friend is defined as "a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations," (www.lexico.com/en/definition/friend). But, I cannot help but think that this definition is inadequate. I believe that friendship is deeper than simply "affection." Throughout my experience of loving and loosing friends, and ending toxic friendships, I would argue that there are qualities that make one a "good friend" and a "bad friend."
A bad friend is selfish; puts their wants above your needs. They bring you down, sometimes in many ways that one could be blind to. This blindness casted onto one is merely a side effect of manipulation. Light hearted teasing and sarcasm is one thing, but creating stories to make it seem like the things about yourself that you value are wrong, or that the things you enjoy are stupid is another. Guilt tripping you about being unable to see them, yelling and arguing for arguments sake, attempting to control where you go and who you see romantically (or otherwise) is unacceptable. It is normal for people to have disagreements and a good friend would tell you that you're in the wrong, or that they do not support a decision of yours. But the approach is so important. Lashing out, long paragraphs of bashing and shit talking sprinkled with colorful language, and a tone of general hate is wrong. Planning and hosting kickbacks, parties, and get-togethers with mutual friends and intentionally leaving someone out is wrong. Bringing arguments, disagreements, or negative feelings towards a friend to social media is wrong, especially when it is made obvious who you're talking about. Talking openly and publicly about one's secrets or aspects of themselves that they are not comfortable publicly sharing is wrong (especially on social media). Choosing drugs over the people that care about you is wrong (I'm not talking about addiction here). Stealing, lying, and keeping secrets in an effort to have a hold on someone is wrong. Conditional love, and making it clear that the connection is conditional is arguably wrong. Treating your friends as though they are beneath you, and you are somehow better than them is wrong. Neglecting your friendships in the name of romantic relationships is also a bad friend quality. In many friendships throughout my life, I have experienced these qualities or situations. Each and every scenario was extremely disappointing, and it was even more disappointing to truly learn from experience what manipulation really means. Disappointing as it may be, it is moreover a great reminder of the love that is still present in one's life. The bad simply makes the good better.
I would say that I have 6 extremely close friends, that I have been close friends with for many years (a few 8+ years). These people are not only wonderful and I enjoy all of my time with them, they also present so many qualities that I absolutely adore. These people all are kind, compassionate, logical, honest, intelligent, ambitious, and genuine in their intentions with everyone they interact with. They are reliable and honest when they don't agree with a decision of mine, big or small. We are able to have fun together, whether that be beach days and surfing, working out, partying, going out, or sitting at home and chatting over snacks and blunts. We are also able to have open conversations about controversial topics in a space free of judgement. We are capable of deeper, spiritual, or intellectual conversations. And just as life is not always fun, they are there to lift me up, and to support me during trying times, rough family situations, issues at work, and the general consensus that school is rough but you gotta do it. These may seem like qualities that anyone should have, and maybe would be obvious in your friendships, but they are so important to acknowledge and appreciate.
There are a lot of emotions that go into loosing a friend, or ending a friendship. Generally speaking, I felt as though my lost friends had taken so much from me, and had confirmed a lot of the negative things that I felt towards myself before my self care journey. I think I felt as though I was in the wrong for ending a friendship that was all around unhealthy for me, and that I owed this person more of myself than I could give them. I knew that this idea was wrong, and that I needed to spend time thinking about all of the love present around me (there was and is so much!), while also forgiving them and moving on. I also had to forgive myself, because heated arguments in the name of caring about someone somehow led to words that were better left unspoken. I had apologized for all of my own wrong doings, and the way that I handled the falling out. I could have been more mature, shown more grace, and overall more kindness towards my friend, and all of the other friends that left for their own reasons. There was nothing more that I could do at that point, but accept it and move on.
During this time of dwelling on my loneliness, and trying to recognize and appreciate the love around me instead, I realized something very important. All of these wonderful qualities that my close friends have, and exemplify in their daily lives, are the same qualities that I possess and give to them. I am also kind, compassionate, intelligent, and genuine. I try my best to create a space free of judgement so my friends have someone they can rely on. I support my friends through their own trying times, and lift them up when they need it. After ending a toxic friendship, I was able to create a space of appreciation and growth for myself, that led to so many incredible things. I am capable and openly show up as my authentic self, therefore my connections are more authentic than they ever have been. I feel as though I am more myself, or possibly who I was always supposed to be. The value I place on my current friendships is now greater, and my gratitude towards them runs deeper now. Realizing, and then understanding that I am not all of these negative things someone said about me rashly, and that I am not a bad, or furthermore a toxic friend, was a stepping stone in my self care journey. These experiences made me a better friend, a better girlfriend, a better daughter, and ultimately a better stranger.
I am aware that this all may sound self indulgent. Yet, if we can all set our ego aside we can truly appreciate the message of reflection. A conversation has now been opened, and it is time to check and confirm our intentions, our relationships, and our connections. Possibly some questions need to be asked, such as "Is what they just said/did okay with me?" and "What are some of the commonalities between my friends and I?"
It is much easier to love and appreciate others rather than yourself, especially your friends, but when you realize that you hold all of the same qualities in yourself that these people do it is easier to love yourself. It is easier to be tender and grateful. It also leads to growth and knowledge, therefore it is easier to reject people who show "bad friend" qualities early on in the connection or relationship.
Ultimately, the qualities that one values and appreciates in others are the same qualities that we ourselves possess. We are all simply mirrors, reflecting one another to each other. This said reflection should be positive, and ultimately lead to deeper gratitude towards others and ourselves.
If you're reading this and follow me on any social media platform, or have known me and had a moderately deep conversation with me in the last year, you probably know that I actively preach the concept of being content. I always say to "be content in the moment, because life is always moving up and down." It sounds so cliche and maybe even a little bit cheesy. Some people I have spoke to about this have rolled their eyes at me, while others listened with an open mind. In this post, I want to address how I came up with this, dig deeper with what living a life content really means, and why it is important and can benefit anyone willing to listen.
In April and part of May last year, I was homeless for a bit. I eventually moved into my friend's house for a month, and started saving all of the money that I could from both of my full time jobs. Towards the end of May, I moved into my own apartment with my close friend at the time, and officially began "living the big girl life." I started talking to, and dating my old neighbor/friend on-and-off, and everything seemed great. I loved living on my own, my roommate and I got along really well, and I made a lot of new friends within my apartment complex, while my other friends helped us out with anything that they could (think groceries, gas money, coming over and cleaning the place, buying us things we might need around the house, etc). I mended things with my parents and they even came over for dinners and swam in the community pool a few times with me over summer. I got a promotion at one job, and quit the other one that I had. Life was great again! I wasn't homeless anymore, I had undying support from all of the people around me, and all of my relationships were strong and full of love and respect. Then June rolled around. My car broke down, I got fired from my job, I couldn't afford my part of rent/bills, and my half ass relationship with my old neighbor came to a final end. I was broke and although I had a great support system, no one could really buy me a new car or pay for everything that I needed to pay for (which I didn't ask for or expect, point is I was independent and it was challenging). I began stress drinking and partying instead of handling my responsibilities. After a few days of binge drinking, I applied to numerous businesses and was hired at 2 places within the span of a week. At this point I was working two full time jobs again. My dad helped me buy a new car and I paid him back in monthly installments. Another friend of my roommate and I moved in with us so everything was a little cheaper for all of us. And one of my guy friends and I started crushing on each other, and we had a great time pretending to be just friends. Everything is great again! Then fast forward to August and I have a boyfriend and its not an on-and-off again, half ass relationship. I was struggling financially still but could afford everything that I needed to. Everything is pretty good and then.... I got into a very serious hit and run car accident. Do you see the pattern? Everything is great! Then it sucks. Everything is great again! And then it sucks again. Life is constantly moving up and down. I noticed this pattern in my own life and pondered why it was like this. I started thinking about how it has really always been like this, and it's not just my life that is constantly fluctuating either. I began the big girl life with goals towards happiness that I was moving forward to. Yet, it seemed like every time I reached that goal or achieved "happiness" that it ended abruptly and I had to start over again. I was treating happiness as if it were the destination on the journey of life. But after picking up on this pattern, I realized that this is not how life works. This is not how happiness works or is achieved. I needed to find a middle ground, where my expectations were not too high so that I couldn't be disappointed, but my goals were not too small to where I never moved forward. I needed to find a place in the middle where everything wasn't shitty, but also where the great high times weren't what I was working for. This is how I decided to live a life of content.
"Content" is defined as "in a state of peaceful happiness; a state of satisfaction," and a few appropriate synonyms would include "satisfied" and "gratified" (Google). I practiced gratefulness for the good things in my life, and was satisfied with where I was on my journey, even if I wasn't where I wanted to be or didn't have everything that I wanted. Although I had found this middle ground and was all around satisfied, I kept working towards my goals and having everything that I wanted in life. I also decided that this journey had no destination, because as soon as you get to where you want to be, life happens. And sometimes when you reach that point and life doesn't kick you down, you begin working to have more. It's crazy and ironic if you think about it, which is why I would argue that sanity and genuine gratefulness cannot be achieved unless one is satisfied with the good and the bad. There has to be a safe space in the middle. This peace, satisfaction, and grateful state of being despite what is happening around you is being content. Once you actively decide to be content with whatever direction life takes you, or with the consequences of your decisions, you will find peace. If you stop living as though life is a battle that must be won, you will realize that there is no destination. There is no finish line. The only destination we'll ever reach in our lives is death. Therefore, we must be content, or we'll all go crazy! Now in no way, shape, or form am I saying to live life passively and still be content. If you want something, work for it! If you want to move, then move! You are still in control of your life and should still have goals that you want to reach (and you still should try to achieve them). I am just saying to live life in a state of being satisfied with where ever you are, while still actively working towards where you want to be.
Living your life with this mindset is incredibly freeing. It allows you to become more humble, and help put into perspective what is really important to you. Nothing can disappoint you, and all of the good doesn't get to your head. You are merely at peace. It is quite beneficial to anyone who decides to adopt this idea because it is an almost permanent peace around you. I suppose that in a sense, it allows the dust around you to settle. Living content is not easy and it's impossible to consistently think and believe these things (in the same way that it is impossible to be 100% positive and happy all of the time). You'll have moments and stages in life where you are tremendously happy and it appears as though nothing can bring you down. Yet, you will also experience moments of dread, sadness, anger or anything "bad" and it seems like nothing that you can say to yourself will make you feel better or grateful. This is just life constantly rolling up and down. And that is okay. It's actually everyone's reality. I argue that to those to decide to be content with where they are in their lives will live a life more fulfilling, and less angsty. It is a way to allow inner peace in, and accept things as the way that they are. I dare you, reading this right now, to attempt it, despite how cliche or hopeful it might sound. Attempt to live a life full of content, and watch how everything around you becomes okay, because it truly has been the entire time. Live a life full of content, and finally feel real inner peace.
Recently there has been an incredible self care movement. There is an enormous amount of self help books, along with various social media posts that encourage solving your problems by taking care of yourself. It's actually quite a wonderful thing. Self love and self care are lacking in most of us, and I would argue that it is harder for millennials to grasp these than other generations before us.
The only thing that I have an issue with is the solutions that many people provide and practice. Many people preach that the way to feel better about yourself, or practice self love is to slap on a face mask, take a bath, listen to some music that you like, and magically find peace within yourself. I won't lie, I have done and do those things and does help. I'm not saying that its a bad thing to take a bath, or use a face mask, or be alone and be okay with it. All of these things are great! But... what happens after your bath water isn't warm anymore? After the 10 minutes you're supposed to take off that face mask? When your favorite playlist ends, or even worse, when you find yourself skipping every song because you don't want to listen to anything?
In moments like this for me, I feel like I am merely putting a band aid on my self worth. I don't actually address what I don't like about myself or even attempt to work on it or accept it. I am not actually purely loving myself, and I fear that many others may feel similar, we just don't discuss it.
I started the beginning of this year in a relationship with the man of my dreams. He was absolutely wonderful, and everything I could have ever wanted or needed in a partner. I felt so secure in this relationship, because it was healthy and we were all around happy. I was content with being alone, and I often found myself preferring to be by myself because I was secure with who I was. When I got out of the shower, I would check myself out in the mirror. I started lounging around my house naked because I was comfortable with my body. I never doubted my abilities or character, and was very confident. Although I never placed my worth in him, all of this happy content-ness and love that I had for myself disappeared when we broke up. In the midst of dealing with a break up, other problems arose in my life. I hated being alone. I became the unproductive stoner. I lost all of my hope and ambitions. I stopped taking care of myself. I started to fall behind in school, I was slacking at my job, and my relationships with my friends and family started to go south. Most importantly, my relationship with myself was unhealthy. I struggled with suicidal ideation. I was full of self loathing and couldn't understand why everything in my life suddenly came crashing down all at once. In April, I began seeing a therapist. I was depressed, and as she put it, I was having a "minor existential crisis." She helped me put my emotions into words, and see my experiences from a different perspective. She helped me accept that I wasn't okay and that that was okay. I had to reach a breaking point with her before I could begin to actively make a change in my life. The most important question that she asked me was "If everything was good right now, what would you be doing?" After many mornings of letting this question boil in my brain, I began to remember my motivations and my goals. I realized that there were a lot of things that I wanted to do, and many places that I wanted to go to. I realized that, in fact, I did NOT want to die.
I began my journey of self care by talking to myself. I know that sounds crazy, but it worked. I would speak out loud and tell myself comforting words that I would tell someone else in a similar position to my own. I would hold myself and rub my head instead of crying myself to sleep. I wrote down my goals, and made a list of places I wanted to go to. I even made little positive affirmation cards and posted them in my room. I acknowledged that the lifestyle I was living was unhealthy for me, and came up with alternative ways to spend my time. I invested into this blog. I forced myself to journal, even if I wanted to rot away in my room instead. I began writing more songs and creating tracks on GarageBand. I wrote poetry. I started watching a new tv series in the name of a "new era." I ended a toxic friendship and stopped drinking. I traveled and started going out of the house to do things I enjoyed, like going to the beach or on a drive. I began taking care of my physical health. I even took a few a baths and used a few face masks.
Currently, I am still practicing self care and self love. I'm still seeing a therapist. I am constantly reminding myself of who I am. I feel as though I am going back to my roots. I even went back to church to connect with old friends and spend time with God. It wasn't until I started acknowledging that I wasn't okay, and working towards getting to a point where I was okay, that I found myself again. I put in many gruesome nights of thinking, writing, feeling, and forgiving. I actively made an effort to be better as an individual. I've found hope again. I've found a new confidence in myself that cannot be shattered.
Self care is a journey, and like almost all other journeys, there really is no destination. Rather, its a state of being. Self love is attained through work, just like any other thing in life that is worth having. Spending time to relax is not a bad thing. Taking care of yourself is an amazing and necessary part of life. Its powerful and terrific, but it is so much deeper than a face mask.