Wednesday, September 10, 2008

finding true community

Shadow - Owl Mountain Retreat in Abiquiu, New Mexico
Copyright (c) 2006 Wendee Holtcamp

We cannot be truly ourselves until we are able to share freely the things we most have in common: our weakness, our incompleteness, our imperfection, our inadequacy, our sins, our lack of wholeness and self-sufficiency.
-Scott Peck, in The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace

I came across this quote last week when I was going through a communication breakdown with a group of friends that had been a big support to me over the past couple years. Sometimes I am asked why I bare my soul on my blog, and besides the fact that I'm just a heart on my sleeve kinda gal, I think that I relate to the common writing advice of, "What is most personal is most universal." I self-criticize because I want to grow spiritually and emotionally, and I write and express so that maybe someone else will find some nugget of wisdom or truth or resonance for their own circumstance. God works that way, I think, through His people. And in our weakness we are strong. I am also as open with my friends as I am on my blog, probably far more so. My openness came back to bite me in the ass the other day because I learned that people can take things the wrong way, and can read something and think they know the whole story. People sometimes read a memoir and feel like they "know" the person but in reality it's just a snapshot. People can feel like they know you, and can offer advice where they think they know what is best for you, when they really don't have a clue. But I'm grateful for the lesson. Another awakening.

A support group or a community of friends can be a tremendous benefit to people for all kinds of reasons. But Peck, in his book about community making quoted above, writes that there is often a superficiality to groups for some time - even when there's a guise of it being a place where deep discussions and openness about people's lives takes place. People tend to just say positive things and let things slide if another says something that bothers them. No one wants to offend anyone else. But true intimacy, true friendship, true relationship can not be tested until a conflict arises and is worked through successfully. Most women in general tend to keep things inside more than I do. I am hard to offend, really I am, but some things just really piss me off and step on my toes. I'm not different in that way - we all have unique childhood wounds and you never know when one is going to push that button in anyone. Most people will just walk away and avoid, but I have learned that it's important to speak my truth and try to see if the relationship can withstand it.

In this case, the whole thing fell apart in a grand way. It was not what I'd have wanted, and most certainly I did not react perfectly or say all the right things, but all I can say is that it's always good to know true friends, versus... not. I have always maintained that true friends will be there no matter what, and will not walk away, and will work through things. Communication, especially during conflict, is always challenging. Who will step up to the plate? Fortunately I have many dear and precious friends who have stuck around for many many years, through conflicts, through ups and downs, not judged, listened, truly supported, been there for me and vice versa. And once you've experienced true community and friendship (Peck writes about this, and it's so true for me) that it's very hard to go back to a community that really is still shallow even in the guise of being "deep" when you've previously experienced true community. I think this was also why it was hard for me to return to living with my mom as a child after living with my dad, who genuinely listened to me and supported me.

So what upset me in the first place in the group was something that sounded superficially like "support" when in reality it was an underhanded jab, and if she didn't mean it that way, well she had an opportunity to fix it and didn't. As a child of a narcissistic mom, I'm highly sensitive to such things because duplicity in behavior versus words is something I grew up with. So in the situation, I spoke up and said that thing you said offended me and I said why, but instead of apologizing or acknowledging the person denied it and insisted on the initial statement which was unasked for advice and a judgment and criticism. Then others jumped into the ring and it was just like, whoa you guys are trying to tell me what to do with my life and it's just not resonating with me - it's not the right thing.

There are rules for say 12-step support groups where no one "cross-talks" so that kind of thing doesn't happen (cross-talk is when you "answer" someone else's statement). Everyone is just allowed to speak their own truth and find out their own issues through sharing and listening. No one calls another person on their stuff. The weird thing is I had just had this big breakthrough in understanding myself, and told the group that when this all happened. I can't imagine it's coincidence. Suffice it to say, I would not have tested the group's strength if I didn't think it important to find out. This is what I am learning, sadly, that I truly love everyone, but often I find I do not like a lot of people. Once you've had the real deal, it's just not worth having fake or shallow friendships.

On Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy blog, life coach Terri Cole posted something about communication (In Are they deaf or is it you? Trust me, it's you) and one of the commenters said something that was just what I'd experienced. And I read it at the same time I was going through this.

Do you speak your truth loudly when you know it might hurt? I have a friend that recently made some scathing comments and I was very direct about telling her how much it hurt me and how offended I was. What I got in response was a passive aggressive commentary and a knife twist to make the unsolicited and unwarranted dig a little deeper. We haven't talked in months and I have no desire to back down from my stance that I am owed an apology before we can move forward. I have even seen two other mutual friends drop off my radar since then. It's really upsetting, but not long after this all happened, I saw Kris on Oprah, then read your book and watched the DVD. I told myself that I should stick what I felt say screw it. My mental and social health is just as important as my physical health. And, real friends don't hurt you, they help you and you return the favor. Anyhow, I spoke up and told my truth firmly, stuck with my guns....and now I feel alienated. But, that feeling is better than backing down and doing what's right doesn't always feel good….right? I have to keep reminding myself of that.....

So whenever someone is going through a process of self-discovery and recovery from one or more of our "issues" (sadly, many people ignore their issues their whole lives!) it will be full of ups and downs and lessons. True friends support the process, as I support myself in my own journey. I don't berate myself at my mistakes. Or at least not for long! I can get really annoyed with myself sometimes... But it doesn't last long.

Author and Licensed Professional Counselor Charlotte Kasl writes, "Recovery is not about becoming perfect; you are perfectly human right this minute. It is not about being happy all the time; indeed the journey can be gut-wrenching. Recovery won't remove all the ups and downs of life or keep you from putting your foot in your mouth on occasion. So why try? Because the process of self-discovery will help you stay centered in your power, accept your humanness, and develop a sense of humor. It will help you stay calm in the midst of a storm, and open your heart to love....You can learn that recovery is not so much about "fixing" yourself as about stripping away the negative conditioning that gets in the way of your being the vital, sacred person you have always been."

And I love this: "The more you live by the truth, the more freely the energy will flow in your body."


Melanie said...

I'm sorry that you had this happen to you, but it doesn't necessarily surprise me. That's one of the reasons I have such a hard time making good's hard to find people who will genuinely support and be "real" with you. If you get a chance, read the book "Boundaries." From what I gather about you, you probably don't need all of the lessons about how to set them, but it also helped me understand the different people around me and why they behave the way they do. At any rate, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Anonymous said...

So sorry Wendee. You're a tough chicky and will survive, even thrive after dumping your dead weight unfriends. Stay safe and keep away from Ike!

Unknown said...

Melanie - I wanted to reply to your comment about that book Boundaries. I do have that book, and I also do have boundary issues! LOL. I relate very much to Liz Gilbert's line in Eat, Pray Love that she is like a cross between a golden retriever and a barnacle. LOL! She also says something like for people to have boundary issues, they have to HAVE boundaries. That is me! ha! She's a fellow Cancerian :) I love her!