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The Friend I Couldn’t Fix: A Story of Love, Loss and Letting Go

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The Friend I Couldn’t Fix: A Story of Love, Loss and Letting Go


This post contains a description of domestic violence that may trigger some people.

“You can’t heal the people you love. You can’t make choices for them. You can’t rescue them.” ~Unknown

Each story begins at the beginning. How far back do I need to go? Birth?

I was born at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, in May of 1972…just after three in the morning.

No, wait. That’s not morning. It’s still dark outside.

I’m sorry. That’s an inside joke.

I remember a friend from thirty years ago who came to live with my family a few months back. We agreed that a downtrodden, unemployed, alcoholic who had recently been diagnosed with Stage four cirrhosis could stay for free, six to eight week, while he got his life together.

Even typing this sentence makes me cringe. How did I ever think he’d sort himself out?

I believed people could overcome their problems with enough love and care. It never occurred to ME that they would have to WANT TO overcome their troubles.

In a matter of days after moving into my apartment he insulted his future boss, and blew the opportunity he had counted on. Six to eight weeks turned into eleven and half months. Sorting out his problems morphed to sleeping all day and drinking all night. I was abused in the interim.

This brings me to my inside joke.

Don’t Engage

One day, I woke up before dawn. “Good morning,” I yawned as I flipped the coffee on.

Behind a barricade filled with empty cans, he launched a verbal assault every day. “Are you really that stupid? It’s not morning; it’s still dark. F*cking moron.”

“Don’t engage,” I said to myself. He was angry because he didn’t want to fight. But engaging made him even more upset.

The result of engaging was that things were slammed. Thrown. Shattered. I spent a lot of time searching for glass shards and worrying about eight little paws running around my apartment. I didn’t have it in me to see any more of my belongings broken. I couldn’t bear to see my spirit be broken any more.

His attacks began months prior and consisted of only words at first—a slew of insults he hurled at me as though playing a game of merciless Mad Libs. I was stupid, a blob of fat, ugly and pathetic.

Then came the screams, the throwing, the slamming and the pushing into corners. They also pushed me into walls. Finally, they punched me in the nose.

It’s Not That Simple

Before living with him, domestic violence was not something I thought about much. I’d never witnessed it, and to be honest, it never occurred to me that domestic violence could exist in this type of relationship. You see, he wasn’t my father, my husband, or my boyfriend. He was just a friend.

Moreover, and I’m ashamed to admit it, I unfairly thought people in abusive relationships were weak. And I’m not weak. I’m strong and independent. Now I understand that abuse is more complex than I thought.

It began so slowly I didn’t see it for what it was, nor did I want to. I wanted to see his best. It is only with the gift that I have of hindsight that I see the full picture of three decades’ worth of brushstrokes. For thirty years, I have loved his work. The following are examples of how you can useNot who he is What is the best way to get in touch with you? was. When I look back, it is clear that he has been narcissistic since the beginning, and manipulative.

The Perfect Storm

When he first came to live with me, I was his “angel” and could do no wrong. I won’t lie to you—being an “angel” felt wonderful.

You see, as far back as I can remember I have felt useless and unworthy—the ugliest girl in the room that no one wanted. It’s a paralyzing state of mind that led me to a place of constant giving at my own expense. People-pleasing. Doing anything and everything to make those around me happy so they wouldn’t abandon me. So they’d need me. So they’d love me.

My friend was in need of help, and I desperately wanted to provide it. My friend’s spiral of mental illness, alcoholism and a lack of boundaries was just as destructive as mine and my acute need to be acknowledged. We were caught in the middle of a perfect hurricane.

The Last Day

He was having a “reality break” the last time we spoke. I secretly recorded him ranting on my phone in case I ever needed to prove what was going on. He verbally abused me and threw heavy headphones across the room just inches from my head. The straw finally broke the proverbial camel’s back.

I kicked him out of my home…out of my life. This man, who I admired and loved for so long. This man, in reality, lived his life as if he were a 36-year old toddler. The decision to kick him out of the house was more difficult than having him around. I loved him. I loved him.

I had no choice but to choose me.

The Path to Recovery

Not long after kicking him out, I found myself standing in front of a wall full of light bulbs in Home Depot—with no idea how I got there. I was sinking rapidly.

My primary care doctor was the first person I called when I realized that I was in a difficult situation. I was given a diagnosis of compound trauma and prescribed depression medication. I also received instructions to go for talk therapy.

I was able to get to the core of my problem through talk therapy What is the best way to get in touch with you? I’d “allowed” this situation to carry on as long as I did.

After peeling back the layers, I discovered that I had a deep-seated self-hatred and fear of abandonment. I was willing, therefore, to sacrifice myself in exchange for crumbs of affection, love and validation. It was only by facing my core wound and identifying it that I made significant progress.

Additionally, I explored eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which lifted a weight off of me I wasn’t aware I carried. This technique changed my relationship to my trauma by allowing me to reprocess distressing memories.

I listened to podcasts and watched internet tutorials about emotional abuse, CPTSD and attachment styles. I started eating healthier, exercising regularly, and prioritizing my sleep.

As the architect of my future, I began the painful process of building me into the person I choose to be. I chose warrior. Well, that’s who I am on my good days. I also have days when I’m a little scared mouse, and that’s okay too.

Lessons Learned

It’s been three years since that final day in my apartment. In that time, I’ve accepted there is a difference between showing someone grace and sacrificing oneself for someone who cares only for themselves.

I’ve made peace with the realization that I can’t heal or change anyone—that they need to do that work on their own.

Can I provide love? Yes. Will I be able to hold my space? Absolutely. Am I able to fix anyone? No. Do I have to sacrifice my safety and sanity? Never again.

My love was not able to help him. I could not help him. I could not fix him.

Last Day of the Actual Year

I kept an eye on him during the weeks that followed his departure from my home. He bounced around from friend to friends, various seedy hotels and emergency rooms to get psyche evaluations.

The inevitable follows.

Every story has a beginning and an end.

My friend of 30 years died in the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Camden, New Jersey in September 2020 at 7:13 am.

Even though I can’t remember the exact moment, I do recall that it was a while ago. He Consider the morning.

See more The following posts will help you to understand the importance of this post.

Jennifer Tomlin

Jennifer is a copywriter in advertising with more than 25 years experience. She has worked in corporate communications and creative services. She loves animals, music and coffee. She resides in Philadelphia’s suburbs, where she continues her healing process. Contact Jennifer via Linked In.

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