Saturday, July 26

Becoming a Friend

I've wanted friends for years. Growing up I saw my siblings with their entourage of friends, and me seemingly alone... and somehow I felt superior. I felt like I didn't need friends. The reality is that I had people who were my friends, but I took them for granted. And I lived somewhat in my own autistic-no-one-else-really-exists world. My friends moved away, and I was still just fine. But a few years later, during a bipolar mood swing, something switched inside my mind. I became acutely aware that I had no friends and suddenly I needed them.

But I couldn't make them. I could be a friend, but something always kept the relationship from working out. My efforts to make friends were smashed over and over and over again. I was probably too needy this time, instead of too detached, and my social awareness was on the level of a newborn. A slow-learning newborn.

After a few years of incredible pain where I realized that I couldn't make friends, I turned to God in total anguish. One night, as I was talking with God, He told me what to do. If I was willing to reach out and help other people - to be a friend to them - He would take care of me.

So I tried.

I tried to make the part of myself that needed friends die, and instead let God be my only Friend. And it worked. Each day I would try to reach out, and the pain would slowly accumulate, and each night God would heal me and give me peace. Sometimes I would wish for something else, but at least I had peace.

I went on my mission and despite my efforts somehow pushed away most of my companions. I still had trouble maintaining friendships. Instead of coming home with a slew of lifelong friends, I had only a few people who were still willing to talk with me. I was getting old enough that everyone I tried to befriend already had friends.

Then God began helping me see some of my personal problems - things that were making it harder for me to be a friend and accept others. Huge pride. Addictions. Mental illness. A lack of awareness of the needs, feelings, and methods of communication of others. Fear.

And slowly we began touching the parts and trying to make them whole.

Addiction was the simplest, but also the longest road. Talk with my bishop, and do anything to get out of it, forever. I turned off my internet and avoided places that could trigger temptation... and didn't give up even after messing up time and time again. I still fight it sometimes.

Learning how others communicate came partially through getting an MBA. Ironic? Yeah. But it worked, at least somewhat. That same group of people helped me overcome fear. I was afraid that people who knew the real me would reject me. But when I shared everything about my life with them, including my blog, the reaction was opposite.

And then I began to tackle mental illness. I did the zero-carb ketogenic diet and the bipolar mood swings went away completely. 2 years on it, and today I'm free of mood swings... permanently. At least so far.

I was at Institute this Wednesday and the teacher mentioned how she wanted to teach dating and courtship because it was such an "awesome" topic. I responded that, for some of us with major issues, dating and courtship is a bittersweet topic. She looked at me as if I were wearing a T-shirt with all my issues listed on it and gave the token "everyone has major issues" response and that there was a girl out there who was willing to live and work through my issues with me. I felt somewhat rebuffed... and countered that a major issue would be falling in love. On that, she agreed - falling in love could be an obstacle.

That's how the conversation has gone for years. But as I walked out to my car, I had a realization. I don't have tons of major issues. At least not anymore. My bipolar has dwindled to simply being a way of thinking - not a life-altering pendulum of despair. My same-sex attraction is only in the background. The demons of addiction are firmly on the losing side of my spiritual war. I am slowly understanding people, and even recognizing sarcastic and nonliteral remarks more often.

And the one issue I have (as far as marriage goes) - falling in love - is something I can't control.

But you don't need to fall in love to make friendship work, and right now I have a best friend. After years of working on myself, I was finally ready for a friend... and I'm grateful.

I looked up at the sunset outside the institute building and felt a wave of peace and surrender. I'm doing my part. God is doing His. Which means it will all work out in the end.