I’m a big believer in second chances. Having made a lot of silly drunken mistakes in my teens and early twenties, I understand what it’s like to cause destruction and hurt in your quest for self-discovery, so I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt when they act like assholes. This extends to giving friends and family second, third, fourth and fifth chances even when they have hurt me beyond repair. Over the last few years, I believe my friends have come to rely on my high levels of patience and tolerance, to the point where people occasionally take advantage of my kind nature. It was in around 2009, when the long-term bully I had called my best friend for eighteen years sent me endless text messages of outright abuse in a disproportionate reaction to some journal entries I had posted that mentioned her name, and I came to the realisation that I had to develop thicker skin.
In the months following my fall-out with my toxic ex best friend, I was an utter mess, crying constantly and torturing myself with an endless cycle of guilt and shame, going over and over every mistake I’d ever made during the years of our friendship, telling myself that I was the cause of her inappropriate behaviour. This all happened five years ago, and at nearly twenty-nine, I am older and wiser now, still tolerant and patient, but less willing to stand for abuse and bullying of my friends or myself. I told myself that I had moved on from my self-loathing guilt spiral, and that I could take anything the universe threw at me. I was wrong.
The winter season in Scotland, and around the world, is a difficult time for many people. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and find the long dark nights utterly torturous, as I’m starved for just a slither of sunlight to bring me out of my dark moods. I invested in a SAD lamp a few years ago, and while it hasn’t entirely cured my seasonal depression, it does offer a little boost on the darker days. That said, Christmas brings additional stress that I always forget to account for when November hits, and I’m only ever reminded when I’m sitting crying on my husband after my family’s annual festive argument. It’s easy for me to get distracted by the shiny lights and cheery music, forgetting that Christmas is always a difficult time for families and friends.
Just when I thought I had it all figured out this year, the universe threw me a curve ball, and I reverted to my old cycle of guilt and shame. A friend of twelve years behaved inappropriately at a social event at my house, and was asked to leave, to which she reacted by sending me a barrage of personal messages that drew attention to all of my past errors in judgment, and essentially told me that my other ex friend had it right about me – that I was a cold and uncaring person who would never maintain a long-term friendship.
I slipped back into my old habits, reiterating the toxic thoughts that had haunted me constantly five years ago – ‘I’m a toxic and damaging person, undeserving of love’; ‘Sooner or later everyone will see my inadequacies and leave me for good’. Of course, this meant that when my family’s annual festive argument occurred, my defences were down, and the cruel words hurled around the room cut me deeply, leaving me believing that I couldn’t trust anyone.
A week later, I came home from work to a Christmas card and a cat calendar that my fearfully strong grandparents had posted through my front door. I’d been beating myself up for a week, worried that my family had all turned against each other, and that I would be left spending the entire festive season with my husband and cat, but my family had all but forgotten the drunken bickering, and was ready to move on.
We cannot choose our families, but we can choose who we allow into our hearts, who we forgive and who we move past in life. For so long, I’ve been desperate to please everybody in my life, and never once did I consider if they were a worthy source of my worry. The Dalai Lama tells us to, ‘Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible’, and he is absolutely correct in this assertion, but it’s important to note that kindness does not equal weakness, and that sometimes relationships fall apart despite our best efforts.
We are constantly evolving beings, and the people who remain in our lives long-term are often those who respect our evolution, willing to move on from our past misdemeanours as they realise we have learned and grown from these experiences. Too often, the people who have been in our lives for the longest want to keep us in little labelled boxes, and they fixate on who we were five, ten or twenty years ago, rather than the people we’ve become. Families are particularly talented at this unwillingness to see our self-growth, but it can also happen with long-term friends and partners.
This Christmas, I recommend that everybody tries to avoid making assumptions of their loved ones’ behaviour and reactions. We are all learning and growing every single day that we are on this incredible planet, and it’s okay for people to grow out of certain behaviours and friendships. You have an opportunity to be kind and forgiving this festive season – don’t let it go to waste.