After ringing the upper middle-class door bell, I shifted my weight scanning the intricate autumn décor around me wondering if Joanna Gaines herself had flown in to supervise.
Behind the brightly colored accent door was a room full of people who used to know me better than anyone else on the planet. And isn’t that what we all crave the most—to be known and loved.
The passage of time and major life events had created a distance between us I promised the universe would never happen. These were my people and we were in this thing for life, till death do us fraternize.
That “forever” word has come back to burn me more times than I can count. When you grow up without much family around, you spend a lot time trying to make people permanent so you never end up alone. You learn to do anything to keep relationships alive even when others don’t need you as much as you need them.
Without realizing it, I became the guy who went to extremes for everybody else.
I drove to visit my friends at their respective colleges and shrugged it off when no one came to visit me.
I drove 4 states away to help someone sell their first house and could only find one friend to help me move out of mine.
I planned camping trips and progressive dinners and surprise birthday parties until I was blue in the face but never found the love or favors come back my way.
At the core of who I am I believe we’re supposed to go to extremes to love people, no matter the cost. I believed for a long time that if you always come through for everybody else, they’ll come through for you in your darkest hour of need.
Then a few years ago my life bottomed out again as I found myself back in a residential mental health facility hanging on day-to-day. Suddenly I wasn’t in a season where I could go the extra mile for anyone, even myself. Suddenly I had less than nothing to give.
I woke up alone in a cold medical room wondering who, if anyone, I should call. It was only then I started to realize how lopsided most of my relationships had been for so many years. I worked tirelessly to build connection, but it still wasn’t enough. I still wasn’t enough.
So there I was, attending this fall gathering grasping at tiniest of festive party straws pretending that nothing had changed when everything had. A year out of that treatment, I smiled at these former besties, hiding and pretending like everything was cool.
As the afternoon went on, I felt more and more alone as a quiet funeral started taking place in my heart for these people I no longer knew.
Suddenly, a spouse who… was never my biggest fan, looked across the room and said, “So are we all going on that big sky trip again this year? That was the best.”
The room spun as I time-traveled back to 12 years-old, listening to the cool kids around me talk about the party I wasn’t invited to. I, the one who spent more than a decade trying to keep everyone together, was the outsider that was no longer invited in.
And that’s normal, isn’t it?
As painful as it is, we all grow and change and move on. We spend so much of our lives with people based on vicinity and comfort that sometimes we forget to actually go out and find the people we need. We fill our schedules with small talk and faux-connections that never actually quench our soul’s thirst for being seen because, well, at least we’re not alone.
As I turned 30 this summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about these two questions:
What are you bringing with you into your 30’s and what are you leaving behind?
I’m leaving behind shallow connections and unsafe people.
I’m leaving behind friendships who aren’t cheering me on and supporting Recklessly Alive as it keeps exploding into a nationally recognized source of hope and light.
I’m leaving behind shame of losing touch when someone never goes an extra mile to love me back.
I’m leaving behind people who say, “Here if you need me” but never actually show up.
At one point, my grief started to change as I began to feel sorry for those people who lost the chance to have me in their life. Without losing sight of my enormous faults and short-comings, I am pretty awesome.
How sad for them I won’t be around to plan their surprise parties and trips. They don’t get to experience my incredible playlists and DJ skillz, my knack for inside jokes and spontaneity; my thirst for adventure and meaning and bonfires under the stars dreaming about the future.
People are broken and messed up. Most people won’t go to extremes to love you. Most people won’t practice true forgiveness. Most people won’t drive across the country to help you in your hour of greatest need.
And you don’t need those people in your life. You don’t need anyone who doesn’t see your worth and value. You don’t need to support anyone who doesn’t support you in even the most basic of ways. You don’t need lukewarm “I’ll care about you when it’s convenient” humans.
Yes, you need people. For me, it doesn’t seem to be a lot—a handful of souls who truly get my heart and my junk. The people who ask questions about darkest parts of my story instead of squirm from the discomfort of my deep struggles.
I am certainly NOT an expert on relationships, but I’m trying with all my might to move towards people who make me a priority, who equally support me in the highs and lows, and who I don’t have to shelter from my battles with mental illness.
And I hope you’ll join me.
I hope you will stop pretending.
I hope you keep going to extremes to love people, but never forget to care for your own heart too.
I hope you will call people out on their bullshit.
I hope you’ll let yourself grieve the people who you loved more than anything but walked away anyway.
I hope you’ll appreciate the awesome memories instead of sinking into bitterness and anger.
I hope you’ll allow your heart to feel full weight of sadness and loneliness, for our emotions—if we’re brave enough to listen—tell us what we want most out of life.
Enough with shame and regret. Enough with the “only if I’d…”. Enough with the hamster wheels and striving to worthy of love. Enough.
You are worthy of love and belonging. It doesn’t come easy. It’s messy and hard, but you are worthy of all of it every day you are alive.
As I drove home from the fall party, I finally began to grieve the magnitude of losing my people, the intensity of feeling like a failure for letting them get away, and the shame of no longer being wanted by the humans I never dreamed would cast me out.
Tears fell as I realized we weren’t ever going back to the people we used to be. And the hardest truth of all—that moving on is okay.
Perhaps we have to let go of the relationships we’ve been forcing to make room for the people who can love us in a way we never knew was possible. Perhaps grief and loss when it’s time to move on can actually be a celebration of the joy that was, the acceptance of the change that is, and the hope of more incredible relationships to come.
Keep moving forward towards the life and relationships you’ve always dreamed of. They’re out there and they’re waiting for you.
In this together.
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