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by Jenna Drennen

2020‭ ‬was a difficult year for all of us‭. ‬Each of us confronted and overcame obstacles‭, ‬and for me‭, ‬many of those challenges also‭ ‬presented valuable growth opportunities‭. ‬Facing adversity often necessitated reevaluating aspects of my life I took for granted‭. ‬My priorities shifted‭, ‬and I began to identify better what was and wasn’t serving my mental and physical health‭. ‬As our world hit crisis mode‭, ‬so did my relationship with one of my lifelong friends‭. ‬Recognizing what support I needed to get myself and my family through this challenging time also meant identifying and discarding‭ ‬the toxic components that remained in my life‭. ‬The challenges I faced allowed me to more clearly see how toxic my friend‭ (‬and our friendship‭) ‬was‭, ‬and I made the agonizing decision to walk away from the relationship‭. ‬It was a painful confrontation‭, ‬but as‭ ‬I’ve emerged from my tunnel of grief‭, ‬I feel better equipped to focus on relationships that offer me strength and joy‭, ‬and I’ve gained several valuable insights along the way‭.‬

Recognizing the toxic traits my friend exhibited was a slow process that naturally came to a head when crisis hit‭. ‬Her inclination to resist or sabotage my positive growth and change became a common thread in our interactions‭, ‬and it became clear that she‭ ‬did not have my best interest at heart‭. ‬Our communication left me feeling invisible‭, ‬invalidated‭, ‬and emotionally drained‭. ‬I began to realize that I did not enjoy spending time with her or appreciate the energy she put out into the world‭. ‬Worst of all‭, ‬I began to realize our competitive relationship brought out the worst in me as well‭. ‬I did not like who I was when I was around her‭. ‬Prioritizing my mental health during a difficult time also meant acknowledging that friendships should overwhelmingly add to our lives in positive ways‭. ‬Being fundamentally incapable of supporting me‭, ‬my friend could not remain in my life‭. ‬As I took steps to end the friendship‭, ‬these are the lessons I’ve learned‭:‬

1‭. ‬Remaining loyal shouldn’t compromise my mental health‭.‬

My relationship with this friend spanned 30‭ ‬years‭. ‬Our bond seemed impossible to break due to our history and shared life experiences‭. ‬Our relationship’s longevity created a sense of loyalty that may not have been warranted but was nonetheless fierce and seemingly impenetrable‭. ‬It wasn’t until I began to identify and process the difference between our relationship’s quantity and quality that I began to acknowledge that the loyalty I carried shouldn’t come before my well-being‭. ‬In the end‭, ‬my loyalty was one-sided‭, ‬and I walked away‭, ‬not because I didn’t care‭, ‬but because she didn’t‭.‬

2‭. ‬It is ok to go our separate ways‭.‬

Overcoming the initial panic I confronted when ending our relationship meant acknowledging that it is absolutely ok for us to go‭ ‬our separate ways‭. ‬Much like moving on from a romantic partner‭, ‬it is reasonable and healthy to move on from a friend‭. ‬Our needs and values shift over time‭, ‬and the friendship may have come to its natural end‭. ‬Choosing to walk away solidifies healthy boundaries while in no way negating the time we shared‭. ‬

3‭. ‬Sometimes‭, ‬personal growth necessitates losing people along the way‭.‬

As I get older‭, ‬I am more aware of my worth‭. ‬I have established healthier boundaries‭, ‬and these boundaries are maintained by acknowledging what I will and will not tolerate and what a genuinely reciprocal friendship looks like‭. ‬Growing up sometimes means realizing that a lot of your friends aren’t really your friends‭. ‬Moving forward and cherishing those relationships that aren’t lopsided allows me to continue to foster my self-worth‭. ‬

4‭. ‬End contact swiftly‭, ‬and let myself move on‭.‬

In giving myself permission to walk away from someone who hurt me‭, ‬I’m also acknowledging that I don’t owe her an explanation for taking care of myself‭. ‬I stated my point and moved forward‭. ‬Being pulled into an argument will not‭ ‬change the outcome‭; ‬it only delays the healing process‭.‬

5‭. ‬Stop expecting an apology‭.‬

In an ideal world‭, ‬my friend would acknowledge and apologize for the ways she demeaned and invalidated me‭. ‬I spent many sleepless nights hoping for this outcome but eventually realized how unrealistic this expectation was‭. ‬If my friend could recognize and‭ ‬correct her toxic behavior‭, ‬we would still be friends‭, ‬and waiting around for an apology only allows her to maintain a negative‭ ‬hold over my life‭.‬

6‭. ‬Allow myself to just sit in my feelings and be sad‭.‬

I am entitled to my grief‭, ‬and making room for it does not mean I made the wrong choice in ending the friendship‭. ‬Recognizing that I can be simultaneously relieved and heartbroken and making room for both emotions validates these feelings‭. ‬It allows me to‭ ‬appropriately process them while trusting in the knowledge that I’m going to be ok‭.‬

7‭. ‬Find support from family and friends while investing in the healthy relationships in my life‭.‬

Talking through my feelings‭, ‬rather than bottling them up‭, ‬allows me to work through them‭. ‬Sharing the ups and downs and vulnerability that accompany the loss of a friendship lessens the burden of these emotions‭. ‬It lets me shift my focus to the relationships in my life that offer me support‭, ‬strength‭, ‬and joy‭.‬

8‭. ‬Stop stewing in my bitterness‭. ‬

Ruminating on what went wrong in the friendship or refusing to let go of my anger only perpetuated my grief and anxiety‭. ‬By feeding my bitterness‭, ‬I was continuing to nurture the toxicity I walked away from‭. ‬I could not completely break free from that toxicity until I made a conscious choice to forgive my friend for not being the person I needed her to be‭.‬

9‭. ‬Grieving the loss of a cherished relationship is not a linear process‭.‬

Nine months after ending our friendship‭, ‬I’ve come to accept that my grief and anxiety will ebb and flow‭. ‬Some days I’m completely at peace with my decision‭; ‬other days‭, ‬I’m wracked with anger or guilt‭. ‬I’ve learned to give myself the room to feel or not feel these feelings while continuing to remind myself that I made the right choice in removing a toxic person from my life‭.‬

10‭. ‬Acknowledge all that I’ve gained from the relationship‭.‬

Even overwhelmingly negative relationships teach us something and offer opportunities for growth‭. ‬In recognizing toxic traits and dynamics in our friendship‭, ‬I can more readily identify and avoid these pitfalls in the future‭. ‬Shutting down an unhealthy relationship solidifies my ability to uphold that boundary and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships going forward‭.‬

While my friend will always be a part of my journey‭, ‬she was not meant to stay until the end‭. ‬Letting go and moving on did not dishonor the friendship we shared but honored the person I am striving to become‭. ‬

Jenna lives in Firestone with her husband‭, ‬two kids‭, ‬and a house full of animals‭. ‬She enjoys‭, ‬running‭, ‬gardening‭, ‬and climbing mountains in her spare time‭.‬