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  • Writer's pictureRachael Yahne

What's Your Goal In That Friendship?

Structure and intention within friendships, and two ways of navigating pain and discomfort, fast and slow.

adult friendship

Our friendship has a goal. It has a tenet. There is a point to it all that even though we’ve never said it out loud, we know it. The point is to heal ourselves. Growing and healing are what every activity and every conversation is based on. We don’t do things together or to each other that take away from that shared goal. The goal gives a framework to the conversation, even when we’re talking about our families or our jobs. Growing and healing as the goal doesn’t mean every statement is positive. It means that when we’re talking about the hard things, we allow the other enough room to express all the ugliness, pain, and especially shame, and help guide each other toward the light. Even if the only light we can find is accepting the pain is real, and often totally sh*tty.

That is now how we began our friendship. Healing and growth were not our intention when, after an event she’d hosted, we attempted to make each other laugh and found we had the same goofy, all-limbs-flailing humor, and fell in love with each other’s unique talents and gifts pretty immediately. For the first year, our friendship included things like alcohol and crowded social settings (bars and clubs). As months went on, those things dwindled away until we found our favorite places to be were safe places, like our apartments where we could talk about the things we needed to fix. Back then, it was still hilarious to us to talk about what we knew we needed to heal, and all the egregious and dangerous ways we kept the wound open: staying in the wrong relationships, coping through social validation, etc. Our pathetic attempts for love that in hindsight looked comically, insanely obvious. 

Then those tiny apartment conversations expanded as she became my waterfall hunting buddy. We’d load up on a Saturday morning, grab snacks for a picnic on the way, and find a waterfall for a little lunch, still talking through the pieces and trying to make sense of what pains had made us the way we are. Helping each other find clues to where our habits or fears began so that we could resonate with them, but also guide each other toward the safe exits.

“That’s interesting because….” she’d say after I’d open up about something I was struggling with (typically people pleasing, codependency, and being in relationship with an alcoholic) and then she’d share an experience of the same feeling in her own unique setting. In the past two years of my work in 12-step recovery for codependency, she was there. In fact, she shared the journey in her own way, mirroring back to me places I was hiding from the work or had more work to do.

In the past year, I’ve watched her language evolve to be incredibly deliberate, to the point that I almost felt (as someone who lives for and works with words) embarrassed at my inability to be so intentional and purposeful with my statements. When I compliment her, she replies “I will do my best to receive that” and upon offering insights, she often says “I’m going to take the time to sit with that and see what’s true for me”. There’s a kind of present-moment awareness we all strive for, living right in her responses.

We have watched each other heal, but also break down and apart the structures that have trapped us. We’ve spoken, as if casually and nonchalantly and even with morbid jokes along the way, as each of us took a rest among the rubble of what we’d just torn down, knowing the work was far from done but sharing a moment of laughter break from the physical, spiritual and emotional work of trauma healing was good and necessary. 

Two Ways to Heal & Change

Now, however many years into our friendship, we still see the road ahead as long and winding, but the refuge we find in each other makes the path more palatable. And even after these years and conversations, dinners, and waterfall hikes, she still blows my mind. Case in point: last week, when she told me how she is going about breaking the old and limiting pattern-habits she’d developed. She was learning to deliberately tune into herself during discomfort, in order to regulate her own nervous system and personal needs while in the moment, in the action. That is to say: when pain arises, she actually slows down through it. She now intentionally, willingly allows the space to feel through every part, knowing that if she were to rush to the other side, she can’t trust what decisions she’d make to end the discomfort faster. So she must slow the pace, feel one-by-one the emotions and fears AS they arise, and correct, as if watching inch by inch the needle sew each stitch until the thread is finished.

It wasn’t until this moment that I saw my own pattern-habit: I like to make a decision of how I will sew next time the same problem arises (IE my boundaries are crossed), and to sew up as quickly as possible the rupture with my prescribed tactic (IE holding firm), then do the emotional work of sorting each emotion and feeling when the stitching is complete. It is not to say I would rush so quickly that I would make a mistake and people-please, put others first, or agree to things I didn’t want to do to end the conflict. My approach to uncomfortability was the opposite of hers: to steadfastly put my nose to the grindstone, buckle down and bare it, putting one foot in front of the other and powering through - not necessarily rushing, but without stopping - until I was on the other side. Trusting that even when my feelings tell me to people please, I wouldn’t listen and I would do what I’d previously decided was right, and just push through. Then once on the other side, safe and alone, is when my processing would begin. It was there, at the other end of things, that I would finally stop to look around, to ask the feelings why they had arisen and what they needed, and finally sort through it all.

These are only two ways of doing ‘the work’ to heal and change our patterns: one is to slowly, methodically, piece-by-piece feel each moment, thought, and fear as they happen. For me that would mean, as I heal my relationship with food in disordered eating recovery, to very slowly approach each bite and sensation and fear and anxiety about food and weight and physical pain caused by eating as it occurs. With a slug-like pace to go through each and every single thought (and there are many, usually an overwhelming amount, happening simultaneously) before even a single crumb touches my mouth, and then as each molecule of food passes the barrier of my lips. It would take ages to eat even a single bite, but it’d be worth it.

The second way, the option I’ve utilized till now: is to have an effective game plan of what to eat, when to eat it, and why. To have scientifically rigged the entire process of eating until no element is unaccounted for, and then just get through it. Don’t think. Don’t trust the fear when it shows up. Stick to the plan. Eat what has been decreed, nothing more and nothing less, allow the feelings to jump on board but without allowing them to take over, and then once the meal is finished, finally sit back to process what came up. Wait till I am safe, then think it through and spend time with the emotions now that they can’t take me under. This hindsight processing has served me incredibly well. It keeps me from making terrible decisions in the moment, and allows me the freedom to explore the feelings of trauma once I feel I am outside of it; safety being part of my deepest needs. 

friendship, adult female friendships

But the grace with which my friend seems to swim through her experiences now looks so majestic. The way she takes, even mid-sentence, the time to formulate her words and explore her ideas as she is speaking. I’m not sure I’ve ever given myself that kind of time and patience. I’m not sure I thought to feel deserving of it. After all, I’ve never given myself permission to take up space at all, that is where my eating disorder comes from: the fear that I do not deserve to take up space, and so must make myself as small as possible. Thus, the idea of ever giving my emotions and experience space has never crossed my mind.

Yet there she is to show me how with such poise and realness. Even as her emotions rage, there is a quiet beauty. And I am thankful, forever, for the example of how, the reflection of where, and the camaraderie of this connection through the harshness of the human experience.

This is not my only friendship that has an obvious commitment to growth. For years now, I’ve met virtually with an amazing group of women, who come together every other Monday to talk about what we are manifesting, the tools we are using to get to our goals, and the challenges we are facing therein. We use the allotted time, 7-9pm,  time to share around the circle, and then offer each other tips or self-reflection of patterns we see and how we might break them. We share lessons we’ve learned and celebrate each other’s victory. The structure, and the clearly defined agenda of these meetings, make opening up easier, not more limited, and ironically we expand because of the confines of our intention. Because there are guardrails, we can endlessly deepen into this one shared goal.

My heart is more alive and awake because of these relationships. And because of this connection you and I share right here and right now, through words and pages and stories. I am in awe of all the ways and processes and channels and paths that we, as Ram Dass so wisely and poetically put it, can walk each other home.

Bring to mind the three people you are closest to.
  • What is your relationship founded on? What is the goal, and what are the priorities for each person in the relationship?

  • Do you feel safe in the relationship to share, improve, and evolve?

  • Do you have, or do you need, relationships in which healing is the end goal?

  • How can you redirect and make space for more positive intentions in your relationships? 

This can mean: committing to not gossiping, using your conversations for love, or creating structure around the time you spend together with conversational frameworks like question prompts (as written about before, games like ‘We’re Not Really Strangers’). 


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