In 2004, I made a huge move to the state of New Jersey after being a valley girl all of my life (the "like, oh my God" valley). Shortly thereafter, my 32-year-old brother Andy passed away from a rare form of cancer. A medical student at Tulane University in New Orleans, he was in the process of trying to become a doctor, but he died before he could graduate. His last week of life was both painful and inspiring for me, as he lay in a hospital bed in the Big Easy, surrounded by family and friends. People shared stories, laughed, sang and celebrated the life of the young man who had made an impact on all of their lives.
At the end of a long week and reeling from the shock of profound loss, I returned back to my new home of less than two months in Jersey City. The leaves were changing, the climate was gray, the cold weather and gloomy disposition seemed to reflect my inner collapse. I was a lone warrior, away from my family in a strange land, grieving the loss of my only brother, unsure of what life held next.
A greater contradiction arose within me when I returned home, the realization that my circle of friends weren't true to me and would abandon me in a time of need -- a pseudo boyfriend whose eye would wander to any moving body parts; an acquaintance who wouldn't visit me and would not naturally comfort me for my loss; other casual acquaintances who could hardly be called "friends" especially after the outpouring of love I saw over my brother's deathbed in New Orleans.
So I was alone in a new land, and yet I had to shed the few "friends" I had. This was an extremely painful part of my life, yet I knew in my heart that I wanted true friends who would love me and support me through good times and bad, more than I wanted to continue a shallow existence. I had to shed the dead weight -- I broke up with the boy, had an accidental (but fortuitous) falling out with the young woman, and there I was evolving (yeah!).
The thing is, evolving sometimes FEELS like you are crawling backward in time, losing complexity and uprightness as you slither back into a single-celled organism. You are moving forward, but cold, alone and distraught, you feel as though you have been knocked backward many years in time. I would lie alone on my couch in my apartment and wonder how my life got to this specific point, and what, if anything, I had done wrong to deserve this. Solitude is a painful blessing that can teach us so much.
The seasons change. I began to see a healer on a regular basis. I started dated someone new. Over time I began to gather some new gal pals. Eventually, I began to have the makings of a real support system, and friends who would be there for me even when things were tough or ugly. It started with a traumatic experience that led me to the desire for a rock solid support system of loved ones surrounding me while I was still alive. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield tells of this evolutionary conundrum:
We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us. What will become of us? We will lose our friends and family, who will no longer recognize us. We will wind up alone, in the cold void of starry space, with nothing and no one to hold onto.
Of course this is exactly what happens. But here's the trick. We wind up in space, but not alone. Instead we are tapped into an unquenchable, undepletable, inexhaustible source of wisdom, consciousness, companionship. Yeah, we lose friends. But we find friends, too, in places we never thought to look. And they're better friends, truer friends. And we're better and truer to them.
My shedding process was painful, but it was worth it. In the process, you get to redefine your relationship to yourself, what you will allow, what does and doesn't work for you, and what you truly want out of life. Now, I no longer worry about good friends and supportive loved ones. I just focus on being myself, and I know whether it's something good or something bad, a painful experience or an exhilarating one, there will always be someone to share it with, if I so desire.