“We’re going to be miserable forever,” she would respond.
When I was 19, my best friend and I went through difficult breakups at about the same time.
She and I shared the same reaction to our losses: heartache, anger, insecurity, and depression. We would spend entire weekends in her dark dorm room, watching TV and getting drunk on cases of cheap beer.
We found comfort in each other’s presence, but we also kept each other in really unhealthy cycles of grief that prevented us from actually healing. The times we did go out, it would end in self-medicating our pain by hooking up with random guys that we didn’t even really like.
Encouraging one another to numb the pain with alcohol and parties only made us forget our heartaches for a few hours—but in the morning we’d feel even worse than before, both physically and emotionally.
We were right to rely on friendship to carry us through hard times, but the way we did that only made the healing process take longer. We enabled each other to continue our destructive behaviors. We were both unable to truly care for the other person because we were too busy caring about ourselves.
After about a year I moved away, and this friend and I gradually lost touch. I got the counseling I needed and started getting serious about taking responsibility for my own life. I started forming healthier habits to cope with negative feelings—like regular exercise, journaling, getting enough sleep, and having long conversations with people I really trusted.
I met another girl who also had gotten hurt by guys in similar ways. She and I bonded over our painful and confused feelings, so much so that we became really close and often talked for hours about our ex-boyfriends.
But this time around, things were different. This time we didn’t drown our sorrows in alcohol until we passed out or do anything else that we’d regret. She and I realized we could actually truly support one another through our painful feelings. I found I was cultivating healthier friendships because I was taking better care of myself and making better choices. As I grew in maturity, I also became a better friend.
This friend and I listened when the other needed to talk, but after awhile we knew when it just wasn’t healthy to keep dwelling on the past. We lifted each other out of the pit and walked the path of healing together. Unlike my other friendship, we were able to care for each other because we were caring for ourselves too.
We encouraged each other to get counseling and made each other go to church even when we didn’t feel like it, because we knew there would be something there that would give us hope. We would exercise together to get the serotonin pumping in our bodies and afterwards would enjoy yummy food together. We made sure to make time for things that were fun and refreshing. We were healthy friends working through tough stuff together, and looking out for one another’s best interest.
Having friends at our side is crucial to getting through hard times like big breakups. But unless the friendship is healthy, it’s not going to help either of you.
I’m grateful that I had both of these girls in my life because they both taught me the importance of good friendships, the ones that have propelled me to become a better version of myself. That’s the kind of friend I want to be to others, too.