“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.” ~don Miguel Ruiz.
She drinks too much, and I know it. Through the multiple 2am calls of slurred speech it became painfully obvious. The countless tears and broken promises only supported the contention that I was, forever, losing my friend.
She would call for help, and I would lose sleep and little bits of me giving it to her. She would cry, scream, and then sit idly quiet for minutes at a time. Then came the question, and the answer she wanted to hear only so she could start the cycle all over again.
Sometimes she was coherent, but mostly she wasn’t. One time she knocked on my apartment door and fell inside when I answered it, reeking of the disgusting combination of alcohol, sweat and cigarettes. She knelt where she fell, sobbing uncontrollably about all of the ills she saw as uniquely hers. When the sobbing stopped she reached for my manhood, telling me she wanted to get me off for “being such a good friend.”
I declined, and kicked her out of my apartment after getting her car keys from her. I yelled at her to sleep it off, and that I’d talk to her when she had sobered up. I watched her stumble to her car, at which time I use the remote to unlock the doors so she could climb into her back seat. I then locked the car, uttered a silent intention for her safety, and went to bed.
At 5am I was woken up by her knocking at the door. I invited her in, and made her some tea. She sat there, apologizing, telling me about the events that led up to her drunken stupor. These were excuses, of course, because her destination was always the bottle, but watching her create these grand schemes forcing her to drink herself into oblivion were both painful and fascinating at the same time. She had a fantastic wit when it suited her addiction, a wit she’d purposely dull in order to be unnoticeable in the room when sober.
After a short time she left. It was the last time I would see my friend again physically. She would call all of the time, always drunk beyond description and completely out of her mind. She’d ask me about meditation, about awareness, about how to heal, and my answer was always the same:
“You’ll heal when you make the choice to heal, and evidence of that choice will be in your arriving at a therapist’s office, or a rehab center somewhere. I’ll drive you if you want.”
That would be met with momentary silence, and then a powerful diatribe of profanity and insults. Most she directed at me, some she directed at her. I always had the feeling that she was looking in a mirror somewhere, shouting all of these insults at that reflection. Sometimes tears would form and make their way down my cheek. Sometimes I’d threaten to call the authorities. Sometimes, I’d just hang up.
The last time I talked to her was typical. My cell ringtone woke me from a dead sleep, and the combination of my own fatigue coupled with her own inability to talk made for an interesting beginning to this particular conversation. The words weren’t much different, but she seemed a bit off. Even for her.
“I’ve taken some downers,” she finally admitted. I sighed.
“How many?” I answered.
“Just a few. You have nothing to worry about.”
More insanity followed, finally by the icing on the proverbial cake.
“I’m coming over there and I’m going to fuck you.”
“No, you’re not,” I answered tersely.
“I’m such a loser that I throw myself at you and you won’t take me.”
“I think you are a winner. The alcohol and drugs? Well, not so much.”
“Fuck you, asshole…”
More insults and names, none of which I could take very personally. I cared for her, as a friend, and would sit there with her until she got tired of the bullshit. I would not take a thing she was saying personally. That really seemed to piss her off.
Finally, after a few minutes of trying, she had enough.
“Just go fuck yourself,” she yelled. “I’m done with you. You can’t make me feel this way. You can’t just reject me and get away with it. You’re a piece of shit, and I can’t believe I wanted you anyway. I’m too good for you.”
Then the click. I was used to the click, what I wasn’t used to was the lack of her apologetic call the next morning.
A week went by when I got the news. It came from a Facebook friend who she thought would be my “perfect match.” That friend, however, was engaged to be married. I laughed at the mistake.
“She’s dead,” read the message.
“Her organs shut down and she passed away. She drank herself to death. Her funeral is this weekend.”
I just sat there. I can’t say I was shocked, but I was stunned. Apparently, she had never sobered up, then slipped into unconsciousness and died. Her life and her potential both snuffed out yet fully realized in long moment of suffering.
“Thank you,” were my last words on the subject.
It took me a while to allow the experience to settle. I lit an incense stick, sat on my meditation pillow, and just let everything swirl and fall into place.
In the end, I realized love. I loved my friend, so much that I let her be even as I tried to help her with her suffering. I would offer her the information she requested while letting her choose what to do with it. I would try to pick her up when she fell, fully realizing that sometimes she just needed to sit in her own stew. I let her be her, never judging her as much as I reflected on my own reactions to her. I’d only leave her when her path was too much for me, when she seemed intent on carrying me back into the proverbial burning house.
In the end she felt I rejected her, but I know I didn’t. She offered many beautiful things to the world, and I had embraced them with such dedication that I had no room for the darkest parts. I let dark areas linger around us because she wanted them to, but they were rarely the things I saw. I knew many beautiful things about my friend, and in my truth, in my compassion, in my love, I could not let what I saw as darkness enter.
Sometimes it’s not dark at all. Sometimes my eyes are closed.
When she was hungry, I gave her food while always allowing her the choice to eat. When she was thirsty, I gave her something to drink while always protecting her right to choose whether or not to drink it. When she was naked, I gave her clothes, always allowing her the choice to put them on. She, in turn, gave me insights that will always serve me if I’d only choose to use them.
In the end, I gave her the best of me while always honoring her choice on whether or not to accept. I believe she also gave me the best of her while always honoring my own choice to accept or not.
In the end, she made her choice on how to end her experience. While I might not agree with it, I realize that is my problem, not hers. Maybe at some level she did hear me. I can almost hear her contort my words to suit her own needs, and I chuckle a bit at the wisdom.
“I will destroy my body if I so choose. Your acceptance of this is not mandatory nor necessary.”
She would be right, of course. Well played, my friend. Well played.
I sometimes wonder if I just didn’t get the fact that not only did she understand what I was saying to her, but that she was a tremendous student. She’d often say that she loved my philosophy of living, and her questions always seemed to be directed at exactly how to live it. We’d talk about the Four Agreements, and how the essence of suffering is found in the strength it provides, both in its experience and in its survival.
“We just need to stop seeing suffering as so ‘bad’. Then we can discover its true value and we can ride that wonderful wave for all its worth,” I’d say to her often. She didn’t object as much as most do when I describe suffering in this way. Perhaps she understood much better than I gave her credit for.
It’s been almost a year since she passed, and I’ll admit there’s been more than a few times I’d wake up at 2am, half expecting the phone to ring. It doesn’t, of course, and I often smile at the expectation. There are times when I will sit in stillness and honor her memory, not as some wayward person on the path to self-destruction, but as another in a line of great Masters that have been in my life to which I gently bow in honor. I only hope I’ve been a student equal to their task.