From Sorting the Pieces of Your Life, A Woman’s Guide to Simplicity, Order, Renewal, and Trust
“‘Have you noticed how much faster we can go when we paddle together? Look what happens to the canoe when I work against you,’ she said as she moved her paddle in an opposing direction. We started to pitch and tip dangerously. As she corrected we began to move forward easily again and she said, ‘With the support of other women you can do practically anything.” – Lynn Andrews, Flight of the Seventh Moon
My heart beat quickly in anticipation as I made my way through the color and clamor of Pike Market in Seattle, Washington. The vendor stalls bloomed with life—deep fuchsia peonies, purple lilacs, bold red strawberries, woven hand goods in a rainbow of colors. I could hear the call of the fish sellers, “We ship anywhere in the world!” And a fragrant waft of the scent of homemade bread, drifted past.
Finally I found Pike’s popular meeting place—the large brass pig stanchly placed on a brick sidewalk at the entrance. I was there to meet four of my college roommates for the first time in years. The first to arrive, I leaned against the heft of the pig and listened to a string quartet play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on the sidewalk.
Suddenly I heard squeals and laughter, “There she is,” one of them cried out. Four women rushed toward me and immediately we were in a huddle hug, laughing and our eyes flooded with emotion.
Many years before we arrived at our college apartment strangers, but became fast friends. There was constant music playing in the apartment, which seemed to be a magnet for a steady stream of other people and activity. There was always a conversation going on, people playing games, studying together, or making brownies.
We supported each other through the rigors of academia, the coming and going of romance in our lives, the death of one roommate’s lifelong friend, and the announcement of another that she was leaving school to serve a mission. Eventually some of us married and left, others pursued higher education, and some careers.
Now, all these years later, we were reclaiming our circle of support.
We talked constantly over the next few days as we went sight-seeing, shopping, and eating, finally ending up on the rocky shore of the Puget Sound on Whidbey Island. Sitting on huge driftwood logs and playing with the smooth pebbles of the beach we sat in silence. We had learned of each other’s marriages, divorces, heartaches with children and with infertility, struggles with addiction and other destructive habits, weight and aging. The secret sorrows of our lives hadn’t been mentioned in the cheery cards that had crossed the country between us at Christmas.
As the sun began to set we moved closer together, holding hands, snuggling against each other in the cool evening, tears streaming down our cheeks. Life had been good in many ways, difficult in others, and we realized we still had each other.
In my past battle with addiction (see chapters 13 and 14 in the archives) I learned that creating support is crucial to successful recovery, or change of any kind. Both seeking and offering support to others creates fertile ground in which new behavior can take root. By inviting others, who are safe, into our lives, we create a container where both parties can honestly share and emphatically listen without judging. This act of witnessing, both as voice and ear is enormously empowering and healing.
Friendship is one of life’s many forms of intimacy and is worth the time, effort, and risk required. True intimacy is created when we allow ourselves to be authentic and accept another’s uniqueness without needing to change or ‘fix.’
Often our interaction with others is superficial—exchanging information about carpooling, our children’s sports and lessons, work schedules, etc. If we allow ourselves to venture a little deeper we are soon able to tell if a deeper connection is possible.
Sometimes we may unconsciously hold others at bay as an act of self-protection. To be open and honest in relationship is to be known. And would we still be accepted if we were really known? What if our secrets—messy houses, yelling at the kids, struggles with addiction; surviving sexual abuse; an abortion or affair, and any number of struggles that are fraught with shame—were discovered! Some things are private and don’t need to be disclosed, but coming to know and being known happens as we are willing to be honest and vulnerable. Maybe it just starts with how much we charged at Christmas; how much chocolate we eat and where we hide it; that we’re afraid of the dark or to take a driver’s test? In so doing the biggest truth of all is revealed—we are human!
Sometimes our support comes in a form slightly more formal than a friendship: A sponsor provides the addict with daily accountability around their use or acting out; a counselor can create a non-judgmental safe place to explore our lives where the focus is solely on the client’s needs (unlike friendship); a spiritual advisor can offer spiritual guidance and encourage introspection; a mentor who has walked a similar path can teach and guide us; the right relative can love us no matter what, and give us hugs and encouragement; sometimes parents can be safe supporters letting us know they believe in us.
I also encourage support groups, Twelve Step meetings, and educational groups often offered by hospitals or mental health agencies.
When I was in the early days of my own recovery I found support in some unlikely places. One was my Twelve Step sponsor, a widowed father of five, who had maintained his sobriety even through the tragic death of his wife. I remember vividly one day when we met and he gave me a challenge in my recovery journey that felt impossible for me to do.
When I told him I couldn’t he didn’t give up on me and he didn’t let me off the hook. He said, “What can you do?” His question helped me see that there was always something of which I was capable in the ongoing journey of change.
Many years ago I was told a story by a 16-year-old teenage girl whose father was killed in an accident one spring morning. She had an important track meet scheduled for what would be two days after her father’s death. As part of a girls’ cross country team that was ranked third in the nation, she would be running to secure her place in the upcoming regional and state meets.
She talked it over with her mother and they both decided her Dad would have wanted her to run. Besides the fact she was overwhelmed by the death of her father, her times had varied putting her in either seventh or eighth place. To move to the next level she would have to be in at least seventh.
The day of the race, after the gun was fired and runners legs sprinted into motion and unusual thing happened, instead of the top runners moving ahead, like a pack, they surrounded this girl so that they were abreast and as they ran encouraged her by calling out, “stay with us, you can do it!”
“They didn’t leave me,” she told me, “They made sure I stayed with them.” As she approached the finish line she was very close to the two other runners who had been ranked first and second in previous races. Hearts throbbing, their breath exhausted, the two runners instead of racing ahead, each grabbed one of the hands of the girl who had lost her father crossing the finish line together. It was called as a three-way tie for first.
“With the support of other women (and men) you can do practically anything!”