I’ve had a complicated past with friendships. I know this is hard to believe for many of you who know me now, but it used to be difficult for me to make friends. Growing up I had several tight-knit friendships with a few different girls, each one dying out on its own, but that separation was always hard for me to accept. In 6th grade I even signed up for a “how to make friends” course with my school guidance counselor, on a recommendation from my mother. In 8th grade I finally found a group of girls who would become my best friends, some of them I knew earlier than that from soccer and elementary school, but we solidified as a group at the end of middle school. They made my days brighter and we vowed to be friends for life.
High school was also the time when I started making tons of friendships that didn’t do much for me besides take me to parties, help me drink, and smoke weed. Attention was my first drug of choice. I loved the attention from new friends, I loved being included in important parties, being in on the jokes, being invited places others weren’t. It all made me feel important, like I was someone. I started ditching my main group of loyal girlfriends here and there for other people who wanted to party, or who I thought were “cool” and would do crazy things with me.
Going off to college I knew I would have to make new friendships. I was starting preseason soccer with a whole new group of girls and living in a dorm with countless strangers. College is when things really took off. I had several different groups of friends. I ended up knowing everyone, or everyone knew me. That was in large part due to partying. I kept in contact with my high school group of girlfriends and one of them even went to my college but I barely saw her because I was too busy drinking and making party friends.
Obviously, following college and living in Ocean City, Maryland, and then permanently in Cancun, I continued to get a groove going with making friends. Alcohol always made it super simple for me. If you were willing to go out to the club/bar with me, we were instant friends, and some of these friends I made at the club. There wasn’t much to talk about besides what we were drinking, what drugs we were taking and who we were fucking.
At that time in my life I was at the height of my addiction, yet I had more friends than I ever had before. Friends from all over the world, from different walks of life, and endless love interests. I can’t tell you how many times people would say to me, “wow Kelly you know everyone! You are so popular!” Words that I wanted to hear my whole life. Part of me believes that I kept that many friendships because when I was feeling let down by one, I could always go to another. I never wanted to be vulnerable enough to say I was hurt by a friend. If I had a plethora to choose from, what was there to be upset about?
Things changed drastically when I got sober. As we all know, we lose friends when we get sober. Some we lose on purpose, some we have to let go because they are toxic, some change and evolve, and some gradually fade away. But of course, we also make new friends in sobriety and that is amazing. Being sober, I’ve had to learn how to make friends again. I can no longer ask other women for lines of coke in the bathroom. It doesn’t come as easy when you don’t have the alcohol and drugs as a social lubricant and common interest. Not only that, the older and more sober you get, the more sure you are of who you are and what you want out of life. You’re willing to tolerate less. And even those who are not sober, develop their own lives and friendships and move away, change, or move on.
When I got sober I made amends to many of the girls in my group from high school because I know I wasn’t a good friend during the years I drank. I vowed to be a good friend, to deepen our connections again, and I was excited about being involved in their lives. Of course, most of them still live in Pennsylvania and several of them were married in their 20’s and they were already having babies and planning their lives when I decided to stop drinking and get my life together. We were/are at different points in our lives. When I got married this year, only two of the girls showed up at my wedding and only 1 was present at my bachelorette party. There are 7 of us in total. This fact hurt me. It still does. It has been a long process of grief and acceptance.
And it was in these last few months after my wedding that I’ve learned so much about friendship. I know in my heart that those girls love me, but they couldn’t show up for me. It showed me the importance of our friendship in their lives. It showed me how much I put out there and how many times I don’t get the same back. I’ve had to accept that these relationships were not what I thought they were.
Since getting sober, I’ve also learned how important it is to be alone, to cherish time to recharge and to have time to sit and think about everything that happens every day. But I’ve also learned that being alone all the time can become lonely.
My attitude changed in the months leading up to, and after, the wedding. Making friendships meant I could be hurt again, like how I was feeling with my high school friends. Since moving to Florida I have made several friends, but I’ve still felt as if I’ve had some sort of wall up. I have avoided putting myself out there because I know how badly it can hurt. I even thought to myself, “well I already have enough friends and they’re great. I don’t need anymore!” Which is true, I still keep in contact with many people from Cancun and college, even if I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, and I have wonderful online friends I’ve met through my blog and recovery. Keeping in contact with friends that don’t live nearby has been easier, less threatening perhaps. But here locally in Florida, I felt like I didn’t want to put myself out there. It was too much. It was too hard. I didn’t feel like the rewards outweighed the risks.
As I became more and more involved with CrossFit, the girls at my gym kept inviting me places and I would always say no. I knew they were fun and nice, but I just didn’t want to put myself out there. I didn’t want to put my heart on my sleeve again. I didn’t want to form more tight bonds that I know could eventually change, or be broken or lost over time. I used every excuse in the book to justify my behavior to avoid them. Until one day, I thought to myself, “what are you doing Kelly? Are you going to keep every person you meet at arm’s length? Only get to know them briefly enough that they can’t make their way into your heart?” I already knew the answer. By shielding my heart and building walls, I wasn’t only keeping out the possibility of being hurt by new relationships, I was keeping out the good too. I was keeping out people who could make me a better person, people who push me to work out harder and learn new things, people who open my mind, people who could care about me and love me just like I could do for them.
Yes, being alone is important to me. Yes, socializing and making friendships are different now that I am sober. But it’s not like me to completely miss out on life, on friends, on relationships that could change the course or my life or who I am as a human being, or at the very least provide me with moments of joy in my day-to-day life. I finally said yes. I said yes to the girls at my CrossFit, I planned a birthday party for myself and invited all my local friends. I started creating new relationships. I said yes to life, I said yes to friendships, I said yes to the unknown. And I’m so glad I did.
It doesn’t mean the possibility of being hurt isn’t there because it is. It always is, in life, in love, in relationships of any and every kind. But I realized I can’t hide in my house and avoid people forever. I can’t let past hurt sideline me from creating new thriving relationships today. Let’s be honest, I’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines. Sobriety won’t stop me from partying sober, having fun, or creating new friendships.
Since I let my walls down, I’ve felt more love, connection, excitement and joy from these new people in my life. I think I’m going to keep that in mind the next time I’m feeling like I already have enough friends.
I can worry about putting out only the amount of energy I get back in my relationships, or I can emit the energy I feel is line with myself and the universe. And I choose to give freely.