My small group of friends from high school is still very close after 30 years. We take a trip together every 4 years and at our last planning meeting everyone was asking about “Sally” and why she hadn’t been to the last two meetings or returned phone calls or emails.
Finally her best friend “Anne” told the group that Sally and her husband were going through some very difficult times and that Sally’s husband had been in rehab for alcohol addiction and depression after a serious drunk driving arrest but that he’s been sober for 6 weeks. Anne made it clear that Sally did not want this information shared with anyone as they are a very private couple.
Of course, someone blabbed and now Sally is not only not going on the trip but she has disconnected totally from the group and told Anne, who she has been friends with since grade school, that she will never speak to her again.
Anne tried to explain why she shared with the group and apologize but Sally isn’t responding. What do you think she should do?
Tess in Phoenix
My first reaction to your story was annoyance at Sally. She seems hyper-sensitive and I wonder if she would be so withdrawn and secretive if her husband was suffering from cancer. I detest the implication that addiction and mental illness are conditions to be hidden and of which one should be ashamed.
However, I decided to use my big brainy brain and think a little further in an effort to understand Sally’s exit from your group and why she discarded a friendship that goes back decades. I came to the conclusion that Sally is probably worried her husband will sabotage his sobriety and suffer a recurrence of depression due to the shame and embarrassment of his condition becoming public.
And that gets us right back to my initial reaction, doesn’t it? If we would all come to think of addiction issues and mental illness as medical conditions like any others, those who struggle with them (and their families) would not be forced to suffer alone, afraid to ask others for support and shoulders upon which to lean.
Pardon me while I climb down from my soapbox…
Tess, I don’t give advice through a proxy. If Anne would like to write to me I welcome the opportunity to help her, but I am not comfortable telling you what to tell Anne to do. AskDesCamp advice cannot be properly conveyed second hand and I won’t risk the chance of dilution or misrepresentation via a game of “Telephone.”
That’s the bad news.
The good news is, I have advice for you!
You can play a role in the mending of this fence between Anne and Sally while offering support to Sally and encouraging her to reconnect with her old friends.
Please follow the AskDesCamp Advice by Numbers list below:
- Call Sally and invite her over for a glass/bottle of wine. I suggest having her to your house because this will be a sensitive and probably emotional conversation better held in private, especially given Sally’s circumspect nature. The wine is obviously to loosen things up a bit before you dive in. If she doesn’t drink, I’d remind her how screwed up her life is right now and that it may be a good time to start.*
- Acknowledge that the group knows about Sally’s husband and emphasize that Anne only revealed his condition because so many people were questioning Sally’s absence and expressing concern about her. Sally may not accept Anne’s story of altruistic disclosure but if you can describe the circumstances she may be more inclined to believe she was not gossiping but was instead trying to quiet the chatter and churn up some support for Sally and her family.
- Ask if she has considered that keeping this secret may have been a terrible burden for Anne and one that she needed to discuss with your common friends in order to lighten that load a bit.
- Tell Sally you consider addiction and mental illness to be no different than a heart condition or testicular strangulation in that they are medical issues requiring treatment by doctors along with support and love from friends and family.
- Remind Sally that her friendship with Anne goes back over 30 years during which time they have gone through many of life’s monumental moments and changes together. This friendship deserves to be resuscitated, not left on the table to die. Anne’s indiscretion was unfortunate but certainly not worthy of terminating such a longterm relationship.
- Make those same arguments regarding the group as a whole and impress upon her how important it is to have good people around you in a time of crisis. Recall times over the years when you have all banded together to get through life’s ups and downs.
- Offer your support in specific ways and follow up regardless of her response. Too many people just stop at “what can I do to help?” when the person to whom they are offering assistance says “probably nothing” or “I don’t know.” Some examples of ways you can help include dropping off home-cooked meals, running errands for the family, helping with their kids and pets, and the like.
Most of all, offer your time, your ear and your support. Sally is living through a tough chapter in the book that is her life and she shouldn’t do it on her own.
Please let me know if this approach works and good luck!
*hate mail writers please be advised I am joking so cool your jets and look up “sarcasm” in the dictionary.