Dreaming of Healthy Relationships With Friends

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healthy realtionships with freinds

Like a lot of daughters of toxic mothers, I struggle with the care and feeding of friends. I’ve had friend “droughts” by choice and have been known to talk to myself in my bathroom mirror during parties, telling myself,

These are your friends, you like them, you wanted them to come.

My friends always laugh at me when I say I don’t have a lot of friends. Their noses scrunch up; they tilt their heads back and guffaw. I’m so easy to be around, they say. I’m so sweet, funny and smart, they insist.

As a child I had all the friends a happy little roller-skating girl could handle. I knew all their moms, their houses, their garages as well as my own. I had the great city kid experience of growing up among a pack of kids on our block. I had home friends, school friends, playground friends, summer camp friends, and friends of my friends.

I was one of the same group of 30 kids — give or take — who went from kindergarten with Miss Carr to sixth grade with Mrs. Ryder at Cabrillo Elementary. We learned folk dancing for May Day celebrations, dragged pillow cases behind us on Halloween and showed off our hauls from Christmas morning to each other for years and years and years.

We were all nervous when we entered junior high and soon after that my parents divorced and we moved across town.

For the first time in my life I felt utterly friendless.

The new school was bigger, the classes were bigger and I felt small. I had the dorkiest experience of thinking about leaving school one day and like a rat in a maze not being able to find my way OUTSIDE.

After I mastered my new school’s floor plan, taking into consideration where monitors stood and teachers sightlines ran, I took to skipping out before lunch to ride a bus from my new life back to my old life a couple of times a week. Eventually my old school caught on and teachers would eject me from campus on sight.

You know how newspapers always have those stories of seniors with Alzheimer’s walking away from home and being found miles away, or in the next town and nobody can figure out how they got there in one piece? I always identify with those stories, because I’ve been there in that tiny, panicked fugue state of wanting to get away but having no place to go.

High school was another no man’s land for me. I was suddenly dressed in a plaid skirt and Peter Pan collared blouse walking the halls of a strict Catholic girl’s school where all the students had known each other since their confirmations. Plus, I’m not Catholic.

Not to say I had no friends in high school. I was loosely associated with a band of misfits who hated school as much as I did. A few might have hated their home lives for the same reasons I did. Hard to know. We never discussed stuff like that. We were too busy talking about bands and boys.

My mother was deep in her denial about her sad life and too busy dragging my brother and me along behind her to notice I had no friends. No sleepovers, no vacations, no social outings for me or my brother.

I wouldn’t have suggested a friend visit our house any more than I would have demanded a pony for my birthday. My parents could fight or my mother could be lit and loud and embarrassing. It would have been too risky.

And so, I turned inward and lost the gift of girlfriends, friends, social intercourse, discovery and emotional risk-taking. Did I know that had happened? Had I lost trust in other human beings? Not really. I did trust some people; a few kind-hearted souls. And I believed in my friendships from childhood despite loss of contact.

This is a common experience of daughters of toxic mothers. Having friends seems risky to a kid who doesn’t trust her own mother.

As a young adult I made friends but I never truly believed they were really, really my friends. No college so there were no dorm friends, no covey of weddings and babies and reunions. I made friends of all ages through work and dating and Jazzercise at the community center.

I realize now what I didn’t then; that not believing in friendships has everything to do with not being open with your friends. I had secrets about my life and family. I knew I had very sad aspects to my life and I hid them. How could anyone be my true friend if they didn’t really know me?

Fast forward, 20, 30 years.

Fast forward through love, therapy, hope and dreams focused on a normal, happy life.

These days I have plenty of friends and they know that I adore them.

Is it because I’ve learned to adore myself?

Well, let’s not get carried away.

I have a nice group of diverse friends; men and women, young and old. I actually initiate contact and welcome spontaneous get-togethers. (Yes, the doorbell still makes me cringe, but I’m working on it.) Unlike my approach in the past of forcing myself to make plans, then dreading them and fighting my impulse to cut things short — because really, who would want to hang out with me? – I enjoy get-togethers.

My friend Katherine giggles at my friendship issues. She knows all about how I struggle. Over a girl dinner recently she tipped her head back and laughed until her eyes crinkled up. She loves the idea that I constantly question friendships and doubt my own friend worthiness. She’s comfortable telling me that I am so ridiculous because we’ve been friends for years.

And you? Do you have healthy relationships with your friends?

Rayne Wolfe’s dream is to write her first book Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter by the end of 2011. She completed her dream journey May of 2011 on 8WD after a year living her dream. You can find her at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook.

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  • Rayne,

    This one threw me. My whole life I have thought that having friends was over-rated. I have had them, held them, hurt them and was always confused by the notion of life long friendships. Never once did I consider myself worthy of having a true friend or circle of friends because they were kept far away from my “real” life at my mother’s house.

    I was and am a very different version of myself with people who consider themselves my friends, and it is an uncomfortable, slightly sickening feeling being this way. Four years ago my husband and children and I moved way out in the country and live on 200 acres where the closest neighbor is 1/2 mile away. I have been very happy out here, isolated, until I discovered Facebook, and reconnected with people who live close enough to visit. It’s been a strange and wonderful revelation that sharing honesty over the internet with people has somehow made me think I am (possibly) worthy of experiencing something that might enhance my life and my childrens’ lives. We’re going to have a play date in Portland tomorrow, and company out to the vineyard on Sunday. Baby steps.

    This blog entry from you, has once again, shined a very bright light on a very dark place for me. I AM worthy of giving and receiving the joys of real friends and can learn how to give this gift to my children as well.

    Thank you!


    • Rayne

      Good to hear from you Shellie. So glad that this posting was meaningful to you. When I started to write professionally – shopping personal essays to newspapers and mags – my mentor told me “That which is MOST personal is most universal.” Getting down to the nitty-gritty, quirky, confusing and isolating stuff – if done with kindness and understanding – can be really amazing. I quickly realized that if you didn’t tell the truth in your writing no one would read it. It’s a good lesson for life, too. You won’t be punished for telling the truth. Chances are you’ll feel better, make friends and enjoy a much more authentic life. And I truly believe baby steps is a great way to start that journey.

      • Rayne,

        I happen to think you’re wonderful.

        • Rayne

          Aw, shucks!

  • Carole

    My friends and I talk about this a lot. They always say they are amazed at how many LOYAL friends I have.
    It is true I have some great friends – male and female in my life. I can call anyone of them at anytime and they would (have been) be there for me in a flash.

    I grew up in a very very abusive household. I never had friends. Therefore, I did not know what to look for in a friend. So I looked for those who were familiar and had traits like mom.

    I went through my drought of (no) friends. For awhile there I realized that I was choosing friends who were toxic just like my mother. No matter how nice I was to them, they treated me like crap. One day I woke up and said “I would rather be friendless, then to be treated like shit.” I slowly let all my “friends” go. And as I let new friends into my life I asked myself “do they remind me of mom?” If the answer was “yes” I ran like hell.

    Most people say that they are happy if they have one or two good friends in their life. I am very fortunate – I have TEN super close friends, who not only do I always have their back, they always have mine.

  • Shannon

    Yeah Rayne,

    You definitely saved my newsroom life, with your great first impression. As time went on and new people started jobs in the newsroom, I would always think about the way you treated me, when I wasn’t feeling so sure about myself in my new job. I’d try to make new staffers feel at ease with a little encouragement and friendliness. Honestly, I’d try my best to make an effort and be more like Rayne. I still do, in other situations. Thanks for the little life lesson, girlfriend. It’s come in pretty handy. :) Oh and thanks for having A LOT of faith in me and leaving me with your Audi keys, that one time.

    Big hug to one of my favorite writers of all time. You’re the best Raynster!!!!

  • Girlfriends Rule! I talked my oldest daughter and her best friend into staying close during a painful time of being “in love” with the same boy. I reminded them daily how men would come and go and how sad it would be for them to lose each other over a high school love affair. What could have been a disaster turned out to bring them closer and they are still best friends. As women, we need to mentor young girls about the value of truly loving and being present for your girlfriends. You know women used to live in clans and men would visit occasionally….that seems to be a little out of balance in our world today. Heartfelt post Rayne, Thanks, Laurie

    • Rayne

      I always think our friends give us courage. Especially our girlfriends. Especially over man drama, mama!

  • Shannon

    When I first started working in the newsroom as an EA, many years ago. The first couple of weeks really sucked (as most new jobs do, before you feel comfortable or really know who you can trust and who you can’t.) I was thinking about what a crappy day I was probably going to have, before you walked in. You’d just gotten back from a vacation (traveling around Europe, I think.) You walked through the Ross street door, all sophisticated looking and adorable with your pink pashmina and darling black outfit.

    After settling into your desk, you quickly realized there was a newcomer in the room, I think you could see the sheer terror in my eyes. You walked up to me and introduced yourself, and told me that everything would be ok and not to worry, that I would do great etc., you made me feel accepted and part of the group. From that moment on, I felt ok, and calm and knew I had someone I could talk to if a panic attack should strike. I got a good vibe from you the day I met you, a down-to-earth, cut the crap, no-phoniness vibe, which made me feel happy and safe in my crazy, new newsroom world. If it weren’t for you, I probably would have run out the door crying, never to return. I got through it though and lasted a pretty long time! Thanks for being you, Rayne :)

    • Rayne

      OH Shannon, you’re getting me all misty, girlfriend!
      Really, I was super nice to you? Well, who couldn’t be nice to adorable, smart you? It’s funny how rough that newsroom was and yet many staffers made time to help, protect and encourage others. Does anyone outside that shark tank really understand how much editorial assistants do for reporters? Thanks for reading my blog and for posting. And for reminding me that occassionally I make a good first impression! Mwah!

  • Judy

    I feel honored to be called your friend and you know that I, as your friend, am here for you. Great posting.

    • Rayne

      Judy, you’re the bestest! Thank you for your support!

  • Remy G

    My best friend in the world stood by me during my divorce in a way I couldn’t have even imagined. Care and concern and love so deep for me, at that point of my low life, I hardly felt I deserved it from anyone. He would sit still while I cried. He would hug me if I need one. He would leave me alone if he sensed my need for that (I couldn’t ask for it at the time) and still today, when I ask him about it, his comments are like it was nothin….”you would do the same for me” and “of course I would support you, that is what friends do” – I feel blessed always. xo Rem

    • Rayne

      It’s so true – good friends don’t have to do heroic things they just have to be there – even if there’s nothing to do; nothing to be said.

  • Lori

    Excuse me while I cry for a bit. I’ve just started reading your postings and they ring true like the Liberty Bell.
    I’ve cringed when the doorbell rang too, and wished the party would get over so I could just say that I did it.
    Now that I have toxic Ma all moved up here so I can once again be the dutiful daughter through her dementia, I’ve lost touch with my friends. Who wants to hear about my frustrations and aggravations with her? And what else do I have to talk about?
    I am blessed with a wonderful partner in my life and if it weren’t for him I would be drooling and talking to myself. (OK, I do talk to myself…I just try to not do it in the grocery store.)
    You give me so much to think about. And believe me, anything in my head but her is a blessing.
    Keep up the truth-spreading.

    • Rayne

      Oh, would you please leave comments every week because your honesty is charming! Yep, mom-care; that’s a tough one. Set your boundaries, delegate and hire helpers if you can and if you can’t make appointments with yourself to do something you love – even if it’s just drawing or watching the wind blow through the trees for half an hour. When you have nothing to talk about except your mom – be a good friend and listen. Sometimes I find not talking about a problem is good too – if it’s your choice to just be… and enjoy being with a friend.

    • Catherine, Site Admin

      I agree with Rayne – please come back and we’ll be here with you.

  • Catherine, Site Admin

    My best friends (both male and female) have saved me.

    My dearest friend Laura was with me through all of high schools woes and was there with me for my fathers death. She just came and stayed until she was sure I was going to be okay. I will never forget going down the isle behind my fathers coffin, and seeing her inch through an isle to get to me, grab my arm and hand, then walk out with me. It was like she didn’t let go for a week.

    I will cherish her forever for that moment in time.

    I have so many stories like this, including the Christmas Laurie showed up with groceries from Whole Foods, or Heather when she helped me leave the symphony, or my friend Elisabet who made it so I could take a job with the Royal Bank of Canada – just story after story.

    And then there are the great men friends who have been there for me too every step of the way.

    I am so grateful that you have allowed us in – we think the world of you.


    • Rayne

      My step-mother always said “one good girlfriend can help you get through any number of bad husbands.” Which reminds me, I’ve got to write about my darling step-mother!

  • Toni Schram

    Friends are my lifeline. They have seen me through the darkest moments of my life. And hopefully, they believe that I’ve been there for them as well.

    I’m very grateful that my childhood home which had a open door policy. My friends were always welcome and my Mom made everyone feel included.

    Things were definitely different when I lived in a marriage with an alcoholic/bipolar husband. I never invited people over because of what could happen. Not
    that anything had to happen (yelling, belittling, judging,
    etc.), but just the chance that it would.

    I was trying to protect my friends/me from his wrath and the denial that I was living with someone that was toxic and making me sick mentally, physically and emotionally.

    I am so thankful, Rayne, that you have opened up your heart and have been able to accept friends into your life. Friends make us better people and catch us when we fall.

    Keep up the great meaningful and painful work you are doing!


    • Rayne

      I hear you! Friendships during tough marriages. That’s a whole nuther book! Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts.

  • Laura

    Verry touching article. Thanks for sharing your experience, I really needed to hear how somebody is handling this kind of feelings.. It is surprising how calm and assured I feel at the moment:) Now I know there are more people out there who yern for truthfull, simple, unconditional, in other words, childhood like friendships.. Now I just know what kind of people to look for in life:)))
    Take care

    • Rayne

      I often joke that I don’t feel like I’m truly in friend until we run out of gas together or miss a plane or spazz out in front of each other. I have a lot of funny ideas about friendship. Luckily my friends are laughing along with me.