When a Friend Steals from You

It's a double blow, to lose your hard-earned cash or property and to have such valuables taken by someone you know. The challenge, as the victim, is handling both forms of betrayal to keep the rot from taking hold.
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Thieves steal something even more valuable than money or goods. They also steal trust.

It's a double blow, to lose your hard-earned cash or property and to have such valuables taken by someone you know. Both aspects of the crime are rotten. The challenge, as the victim, is handling both forms of betrayal to keep the rot from taking hold.

It's a paradox to be sure, to cultivate trust even as you recognize that people violate it; or to accept that a crime was perpetrated against you without allowing it to recast your identity. The point is to move on from the event while learning from it, and to reclaim both your stuff and your confidence. It's not easy, and it often hurts like hell, but such is the work of healing.

Imagine this: you call your employer to see what happened to last month's paycheck since it didn't arrive. They tell you that your paycheck was already cashed. You're dumbfounded, having never seen it. Then the HR person starts back-peddling, thinking that trouble might be coming. He contacts the bank and discovers where check went. When you hear the name on the account, you're flabbergasted. The account belongs to someone you know, and have counted as a friend, someone who has no business with your money.

Now what? Let's say you decide to confront the person whose account was credited. She denies all knowledge of the situation, but later that night her spouse shows up at your house and gives you the exact amount of money that was illegally deposited. No matter the coincidence that this guy wants to give you the precise amount contained on missing paycheck just for the heck of it. Oh yeah, by the way, he disavows any knowledge of the criminal action associated with forging your signature and stealing your money.

Weird, huh? This happened, and it gets weirder still. Like when your so-called friend shows up at your workplace to "talk to you" about the situation. Or when her husband calls you repeatedly on the phone, begging you not to "tell." Thing is, "tell" you must, for many reasons, including your own protection.

So you go to the police and tell the story. They're responsive and respectful, and sincerely regretful that you actually accepted the money (even though you only put it in an envelope and present it, otherwise untouched, to the officer). Apparently the repayment means that the situation is now a civil, not a criminal, matter and the police can't do all that much to help.

However, the officer does call the woman to say, "We know what you did." She has the gall to tell the officer that you gave her husband the check. Fortunately, the officer doesn't buy any of that bunk and directs the couple, in no uncertain terms, to "stay away" from you. Should they try to approach you again, well, that's harassment and carries consequences. So much for the past -- and the future; the question is what to do in the present.

Right here, right now, it's all you can do to hold the paradoxes in your hands. You're furious at the betrayal, and you're mourning the loss of your (illusory) friendship. You're astounded at the thief's audacity and baffled by her stupidity and meanness. You feel alone in a big, bad world, and you feel embraced by the friends, family and colleagues who continue to stand by you. You feel everything -- mindful of all the contradictions -- and you wish you were numb, so you needn't feel anything at all.

At the end of the day, the whole miserable experience distills into a simple teaching on ethics, mindfulness and compassion. There is right and wrong to this situation. The ethics are clear, yet the emotions can seem murky.

We get through these experiences by staying present with our feelings and thoughts. The idea is to ride the wave of events, even if it means crashing through lies and violations. We fear that nothing can help, the perpetrators or ourselves. There are tears of anger, grief and loss of innocence. Saltwater tears, like the ocean's spray, sting.

Maybe we feel sorry for ourselves, and perhaps for whatever it was that drove our friends to betrayal. Compassion grows here, for all victims and all perpetrators -- accountable as they are, they suffer, too. In the end, it's the compassion that saves the day, because it helps us heal.

And so it is that mindfulness provides the balance to ride out the waves of theft and loss, of stolen money and broken trust. And then, when the wave breaks, it's the compassion that supports us, like deep, still, buoyant water in which we float to safety.

Deborah Schoeberlein is the author of "Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything." She has more than 20 years' experience teaching fifth- through twelfth-grade students, developing curricular materials, providing professional development for teachers and pursuing freelance journalism. Currently, she directs a multi-site school-based health center for kindergarten through twelfth-grade students and their teachers.