How I learned to live in community

Making new friends as an adult can be difficult. For some more than others. As someone who was burned by friends years before, it took me moving to a new state, becoming a certified coach, and having a woman look into my soul to help me stop emotionally stiff-arming the people in my life.


In learning to be a coach, I had to first be a client. I gained much in the way of self awareness over my yearlong coaching program and had begun unraveling years of ill-serving programming. But- the whole notion of living in community was still pretty hard for me. Living in community is one of those coachy phrases, and basically boils down to this: letting others in, letting yourself be supported, being part of a tribe. Did you just recoil at that? Yea, me, too. I get it. The cool thing is that now I don't do a full body shiver upon hearing it anymore. Mostly it's just a little 'ugh' from the back of my mind that I (mostly) do a good job of ignoring. 

Credit: & Pixar What I imagine that voice in my head probably looks like, thanks to Inside Out. 

Credit: & Pixar

What I imagine that voice in my head probably looks like, thanks to Inside Out. 

Every good dysfunction has a backstory

When my dad finally succumbed to cancer a year after college graduation, my best friends at the time let me down when I needed them the most. To use the parlance of today's youth, they ghosted me. I was miserable, sad, and serious all the time, and looking back, I know I was equally miserable to be around. I'm not going to lie- it still stings, but I understand now how I contributed to the situation (albeit for understandable reasons). To try to continue a friendship under such strained circumstances with such deep, prolonged grief would be tough for anyone. Plus, once college ended we no longer lived together, so it was harder to maintain the friendship. We were young people trying to deal with a very huge thing and lacked the emotional maturity and communication skills to effectively deal with it. Instead, I coped by essentially becoming a hermit. I thank goodness for having fantastic coworkers at the time, because without them, I would not have had any social life whatsoever.  

Two years after my dad passed away, I finally came up for air from my depression and moved to Minnesota. Being a self-made hermit on top of moving to a new state did not do me any favors in the 'making new friends' department. I told myself that I didn't go out much because 'I'm not a bar person'. The truth was I just felt very uncertain about having real friends again. 

You see, I was very good at creating new friendships and keeping people at a convivial arm's length. Working in retail at the time, I essentially did it for a living. It was great from a customer service standpoint, but rubbish for my personal life. Yet, it was comfortable. I had convinced myself that it was working for me. My M.O. protected me from potential hurt, but was definitely not serving me big picture. I had friends, and yet I was desperately lonely. 

Delightfully awkward

You know that feeling, the one where you're squirming because you don't want to cry? It's uncomfortable. Messy. Vulnerable. Last June, I attended a fantastic three day conference called Radical Leadership. One afternoon, the facilitator reached into my soul and stayed there. A brilliant coach, she didn't let my aforementioned story simply be told to the room and then let go. No, she dug in deeper. Not only that, but she came right up to me, got on her knees, and held my hands, all the while looking at me with unbroken eye contact. With love. With the kind of look that says 'for the sake of your life I am here with you'.  She saw me, and for someone who had spent the last few years of their life avoiding that kind of intimacy, it was terribly, unnervingly uncomfortable. We hung there in suspended silence, looking at each other. Me trying to lighten things with a chuckle or a look away, and her not having any of it. Always bringing me back to her gaze. Never laughing to collude with my attempts to break the connection. She was completely and utterly present with me. This all happened in a matter of mere minutes, but I swear it was 100 years.  

Tears streamed down my face. Every part of me wanted to hide. Be smaller. Be less. Because I had taught myself to hide. Be smaller. Be less. To emotionally stiff-arm those around me. For so long, my head had been in charge, and I had to learn how to reconnect it with my heart. I had to undo the story in my head that said other people don't want to support me. That other people don't want to be around me when I'm feeling frustrated or blue. That other people don't care and would rather have less of me than more of me. That I had to do the heavy lifting alone.

Fairy dust not included

I'm not going to wrap this up in a pretty bow and tell you that from that point on I went on to have crazy close friendships. Or that I was 'fixed' and went on to live in a magical unicorn world. I still fight against that voice, but thanks to continued work I win more battles than I lose. I have great friends all along the spectrum of closeness instead of a bunch clustered in the middle left and my cat on the right. I let people in more. Emotional intimacy, though uncomfortable, is a bit easier. Easier because I had help. I gave in a little, and my tribe gave me a lot. 

I will never forget that woman looking at me. To be held that way. To be held at all... and most importantly, let it happen.