I was at one of those mind-boggling AA meetings tonight, where everybody who shared had something I needed to hear. It was also the kind of meeting where drinking was rarely and only briefly touched on. The topic was something like, responsibilities, commitment, and faithfulness. It took off in many different directions! Every woman present had an opportunity to share, and after I talked a little about my commitment to New Beginnings (aka “the Woxall meeting”) and the Sumneytown Women’s Group, I found myself recounting my experience with Dianne and how it affected my life.
Dianne is a woman I became friends with very rapidly in my twenties. We were inseparable for a few years. Besides Margaret, Dianne was the closest female friend I ever had, and I know that at the time I was hers as well. We went through a lot together and both of us made sacrifices for the relationship. She had some serious mental health “issues” such as dissociation, and made one suicide attempt, after which I sat by her bed all night. She was also hospitalized several times. We were roommates for awhile, neighbors for awhile, and co-conspirators in many unrealized business ventures. Our homes were always open to one another, and I was friends with her husband as she was with Larry.
Shortly before Larry died, Dianne washed her hands of me! But when he died, she came to my office to tell me. (Let me mention that his death was a shattering loss for her as well.) A couple of months later she went ballistic and began to “confront” me on an addiction I was in recovery from. She made a scene in a restaurant and later came to my house and telephoned a psychiatric hotline and told them to come get me right away. It was awful. What I did that she couldn’t forgive was to say, “Dianne, get out of my house.”
I decided on reflection that my relationship with Dianne was worth mending at any cost. I tried to contact her, but she wouldn’t speak to me. I wanted to hire a mediator. I was determined that nobody’s Pride, not hers or mine, was going to destroy a friendship built on such a foundation. But Dianne continued to act out, making scenes when she saw me, leaving hateful messages on my answering machine, and generally putting quite a lot of energy into me. Eventually the crisis subsided, but the sense of emptiness did not.
The reason I’m going on so long about this is to make it clear that this was no fly-by-night girl-talk acquaintance. The loss of Dianne was like the loss of a partner, and so soon on the heels of Larry’s death the only way I could deal with it was to shut down. I closed my heart — at seven years sober, I closed my heart. That may sound strange, even to those who know me well, but other than my family members I continued, for nigh on ten years after that horrible winter, to by any means necessary not let anybody close enough to devastate me like I was devastated in 1990. Even though I continued to be social to an extent, particularly with other moms, and to mill around after AA meetings and sponsor people, I let them get just so close and no closer.
(Parenthetically, if it weren’t for Harley being born and needing mothering, I believe my heart would have dried up completely. But I digress.)
About three years ago I made a change. Through a series of events, it became clear to me that I had to learn to forgive and to open my heart. It was a chance I was granted, and I took it. As scary as it was, I began to write affirmations like, “I will answer hatred with love. I will answer meanness with compassion. I will embrace my enemies.” (And I did, literally.) I remembered a journal entry I’d made, that said, in part, “God keeps telling me that His Will for me isn’t this choice or that, this path or that — for I can be equally happy either way — but simply that I live my life in a certain way. Do my work. Be kind. Serve with love. Flee fornication. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.” Three years ago I began to deliberately make those changes, not knowing how much my life would change. All this I shared at the Sumneytown Women’s Group tonight.
After the meeting another member came up and began to express how like mine her defensive I-won’t-let-you-hurt-me stance had been. She was sharing about how she too used to keep people at a distance. After something she said, I replied, “Yeah, and you know, it’s not that I don’t feel that pain sometimes, it’s that I don’t mind it now! I embrace it.” And that’s when it hit me: I was embracing the pain of loving. Not only was I not building defenses and retreating from it, I was embracing it. It was like a light was turned on.
In the car, driving myself home, I suddenly remembered a line from the chapter on love in Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” which I have not read in over twenty years: To be wounded by your own understanding of love, and to bleed willingly and joyfully.
And that’s where I’m at today.