Well, I took the plunge recently and ended a thirty-year friendship with a rather toxic person.
The decision to end the relationship was easy; it became abundantly clear the time had come to part ways. It was my body, in fact, who brought this news to my attention.
I last spoke to this person six months ago. She made a casual but insensitive remark that triggered a volcano of anger to come surging to the surface. After the phone call ended, I hurled F-bombs at the wall for a few hours. The next morning, the eruption raged on.
I was beyond livid.
One month later, when the anger was still bubbling to the surface, I knew I had a choice to make: have a candid conversation with the person in question or end the relationship.
I chose to end it. This wasn’t the first time she’d upset me, nor would it be the last.
I admitted to myself that I had no interest in having a conversation with someone I no longer wanted to be friends with. Instead, I ignored her texts, e-mails, and phone calls for another five months. Whenever she contacted me, I would send her a short, polite text or e-mail explaining that I was doing my own thing in my creative bubble and not talking to many people.
Part of me hoped she would get the hint and leave me alone. But another part of me—the wise part—knew she wouldn’t. For we had down gone this road many times before. She would say something that infuriated me or ask—again—to come and stay with me for a long weekend.
I would keep her at bay as long as possible. She would back off for a bit…just long enough for me to let my guard down. Then she would resume her pattern of asking to come and visit me again…or at the very least have a phone call. For ten years, we had done this weird dance of her asking to see me, then me pulling away, then her backing off for a bit—then starting in with the pushing again.
So why didn’t I want to spend time with her (either on the phone or in person)? Because most of the time, I didn’t like how I felt afterward: exhausted, drained, frustrated, angry, and negative. Eventually, I figured out that I may be dealing with a toxic person. Or…our friendship had become a toxic relationship. Either way, I suspected I needed to extricate myself.
I didn’t want to do the dance anymore.
And so, six months after the volcanic phone-call, I took the next step—a huge one for me—and blocked her on all communication fronts: text, phone call, e-mail, social media.
Much to my surprise, this felt right. What I mostly felt was relief. Like I should have done this years ago.
The only way she could still contact me was to show up at my door (we live three hours apart) or post a comment on my blog. The comment I could delete. The door? Well, I’m not sure yet what I will do if she shows up at my door. I will deal with that if it happens. But I hope it doesn’t.
After all communication blocking mechanisms were put in place, I sat down and wrote her a letter. Then I put it aside for a few days and mulled it over. A week later, I re-read the letter, made a few modifications (softened it a bit but remained honest) then mailed it to her.
This, too, felt right. The friendship was over—but I felt she deserved to know why I had ended it. The letter was for her.
I am a kind and caring person and the last thing I ever want to do is hurt someone—even someone I don’t want to be friends with anymore. It broke my heart to know I likely hurt this person. But it broke my heart more when I thought of having another phone conversation like the last one we’d had, six months earlier.
But here’s the kicker: right before I blocked this person on all communication fronts, she e-mailed me to let me know that she may have cancer.
Yet I still blocked her, wrote her the letter, and ended our friendship.
What kind of person does that? What does that say about me?
That I finally reached the end of my rope with this person. That I should have ended this unhealthy friendship years ago. That I made a mistake allowing it to continue as long as it did.
It also says that at the age of fifty-three, I finally chose self-preservation over compassion.
Why? Because my body screamed “NO!” when I considered doing what the old me would have considered to be the right thing: put my own needs aside, pick up the phone and make amends with a friend in need. But the thought of doing this only tightened the knots in my stomach. I felt physically ill at the thought of continuing a friendship with this person.
And so, for the first time in my life, I listened to my body…and took action.
Yes, it was extremely difficult. Yes, it broke my heart. Yes, I felt tsunami-sized waves of guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, and dread.
But I did what I had to do…for me. And perhaps my candour—and refusal to be an inauthentic friend for one second longer—was a gift to this person, should they choose to view it that way.
What I didn’t bank on was the toxic hangover I experienced a few days after mailing the letter. Three days in a row, I woke up at 4:00 am, with my stomach knotted in fear.
Fear of what?
Repercussion? Retribution? Hurting someone? Not being liked?
I don’t know what I was afraid of. All I know is that on the fourth day after mailing the letter, I made an executive decision: I decided to STOP thinking about this person, and whether or not I made the right decision. Instead, I chose to accept my decision and move forward with my life.
I realized I had been tormenting my own self with my repetitive thoughts. The relationship was over…why did I keep thinking about it? About her? So I stopped thinking about it…about her.
In other words, the toxic hangover ended when I decided it was over.
Dealing with a toxic person–or ending a toxic relationship—is extremely difficult. It took me three decades to end this friendship. I did an awful lot of soul-searching as I worked my way through the decision…and an awful lot of discomfort as the resultant emotions made their way to the surface. But now that I am through that process, I feel lighter, happier and at peace.
If you are considering ending a toxic relationship, I strongly suggest you listen to the podcast, “It’s Not Normal, It’s Toxic,” by Dr. Heidi. It is outstanding. These podcasts were a lifeline that pulled me through my toxic hangover.