Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer “radical empathy” and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.
Today the hosts take on the role of shared experiences in friendships. A woman writes about experiencing multiple miscarriages and falling into a deep depression. But she can’t relate to her friends, who she says live “charmed lives,” full of “superficial problems.” Are people with “scars” able to be friends with people who don’t have them?
I’m a 30-something woman with a previously “charmed life.” I have friends who have also lived charmed lives. Nothing bad has ever happened to them. They have never suffered or grieved or needed or waited in want.
I was like them until about three years ago when I started having miscarriages. The first was bearable. The second was a late-term loss, where I delivered my child and held her, powerless in my arms, and said goodbye. It was life-changing. I fell into a deep and paralyzing depression but tried to put on a happy face for my “charmed” friends. I kept trying to have a baby. Over the course of the next two years, I had four more miscarriages and six surgeries to fix my “issues.”
The advice I seek from you is not medical. That’s for my doctor to figure out. The question is, rather, how do I continue to put on my “happy face” and try to relate to “the charmed ones” when I have gone through a transformation of heart they cannot relate to, empathize with or even understand? I am not the same person I was three years ago, and this difference seeps from my pores at every social gathering. I’m like an alien.
They don’t know me anymore and I deplore the easy, superficial problems and thoughts that take up the caverns of their minds. My caverns are filled with cogs and wheels that have turned me into a new person — a survivor.
My friends have yet to be tested. They have yet to “survive.” For some reason I cannot relate to those who have no scars. I want companions, compadres, “battalion buddies.” Is it wrong to wish they, too, had scars so I can feel close to them again? I want them to need me the way I have needed them. But mostly, I want them to know me again. The new me, the one with all the scars.
A Lonely War Vet
Cheryl Strayed: This letter really brought me back to when I was this 22-year-old woman whose mother died young and tragically and suddenly, and I wasn’t close to anyone else who had lost a parent. I really identify with Lonely War Vet’s sense of, “Why did I get scarred and you didn’t?”
I just want to extend a hand to you and say, I’m so sorry for your loss. This feeling of isolation is part of the grieving process. There is a way that, in this experience, you are alone. But what’s also true is that there are other people out there who have had this loss, and part of your healing journey as you grieve these losses is finding those other people. When you have those people you can show your true self with, you’re going to be a lot more open and loving and available to those other people you treasure. Just because they don’t have those same scars as you doesn’t mean that they never will. It really goes back to that essential truth about relationships: We can’t get everything from any one person.
Steve Almond: We all walk around wishing to be charmed, and then in one way or another, life dispels us of that. Saying that your friends have never suffered or grieved or waited in want is certainly emotionally true, but it’s not actually true. Sometimes you do actually have to talk to people who have shared a particular type of traumatic experience so you feel less alone with it, and then you become more forgiving of your friends and more able to see them as complicated people whose lives are pretty complicated as well. They’re not marked by a particular experience, but they are marked by yearnings, unmet desires, disappointments.
Cheryl: And you’ll turn this ugly sorrow into something powerful and strong and beautiful when you help those friends through their own griefs and sufferings. As we know, charmed lives only last as long as the days are charming. We never know what’s going to come next. Wait it out with these friends. Don’t expect them to be the greatest resource for you now, but know that someday, that might change. You might be the greatest resource for them.
You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear the Sugars address the issue of “unconscious racism” in relationships.
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