The see-saw of friendship.

It was just another day at the local swimming pool for our weekly lesson as part of our physical education class in Secondary School.  I wasn’t a very good swimmer, and nor was my friend ‘Kaye’.  So while the rest of our class were in the deep end of the pool practising for their Life Saving Certificate, Kaye and I weren’t allowed to go any deeper than where we could stand on the bottom of the pool with our heads still above water.

On this day Kaye and I were practising our skills at treading water and dog paddling.  Then our swimming teacher had a ‘brilliant’ idea to get us more involved.  So we were called up to the deep end of the pool, and told to stay close to the side, so we had something to hold onto if we needed to.

Everyone was paired up with a buddy, including Kaye and I . . . with each other.  While the rest of the class were practising for their certificate, our teacher felt the life-saving skill was a good one to have, and so Kaye and I would also participate in the learning process.

Then one person from each pair was sent out away from the poolside to tread water, representing the ‘drowning’ swimmer in need of being rescued.  Then the second person in each pair the ‘rescuer’ would swim out, approach the ‘drowning’ from behind (which protects the rescuer from being attacked by the drowning), embracing them across the shoulders, under the jaw with one arm, pulling them onto their back for the ‘rescuer’ to then return them both to the pool side using a side paddle stroke with their other arm.  Or something like that . . .  this was 35 years ago . . . and a skill I never did successfully acquire.

I knew I didn’t have the ability to be the ‘rescuer’ as I could barely swim for myself, let alone swim for two of us.  But I thought I could at least tread water long enough for this task, and Kaye is surely the better swimmer.   So I volunteered to be the ‘drowning’ swimmer moving out only a little way from the poolside, and I started treading water.  Then my ‘rescuer’ and best friend swam out to rescue me . . . or at least that was her plan.  But as she reached me from in front,  already tired from treading water, I grabbed hold of her  . . . and so the disaster unfolded . . .  under the water, then above the water gasping for air, before going under the water again.  Unbeknown to me in my state of panic (until after the event), Kaye and I were like a see- saw in the water.  I had hold of her shoulders, and she had hold of mine.  When I was up she was down, and when she was up I was down.  In trying to save ourselves  . . . we were drowning each other!

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Eventually, our teacher realised our predicament and sent out the exemplary swimming student, who pulled us apart.  Kaye was then able to swim to the poolside, and I was rescued by the school ‘spunk’ with his newly acquired life-saving skills.  Needless to say, he was successful in achieving his certificate that day.

For many years I had a scar as a memoir.  A scar from when Kaye’s hand must have hit my chest wall, and one of her finger nails dug in and drew blood.  Thankfully this event did not drown or scar our friendship, and we went on to survive all of secondary school together . . . and for some years beyond.

And so once again . . .  I see how that experience reflects real life experiences of my own.  And maybe you can relate?  Back to friendship(s) where you were in effect unintentionally ‘drowning’ the other while trying to save yourself, or vice versa in that they were ‘drowning’ you.  Or maybe it’s a case of you ‘drowning’ yourself in order to save/promote/lift up a friend?   All of which are unhealthy foundations for a good, solid, healthy friendship.  Behaviours that are the result of brokenness and wrong self-beliefs that lead to toxic behaviours, as you search the outside world, looking to find something to fill whatever it is you feel lacking inside of you.  When you’re in over your head, not seeing the situation for what it is, and the only way out is when someone else sees the situation, and acts to separate, so as to rescue both parties from each other.

Friendships need to be balanced. Like kids of similar weight on a see-saw . . . alternating up and down.  An unbalanced see-saw is no fun . . . where the struggle to ‘see-saw’ easily is difficult due to the ‘weight’ of the person on the other end.  And so it is with friends.  While we need to support and encourage one another, making allowances for the varying seasons we all go through . . . we still need to choose our friends carefully: as they can determine the course of our life.  Sometimes without us even being aware of their influence.

The Innocent curse!
Despise not your innocence
For you know not what you have
Til it’s lost to experience
And you cant get back what you gave.

I remember as a teenager my mum at times accusing me of ‘changing’ and she’d say . . . “It’s that girl you hang out with . . . she’s a bad influence on you!”  I couldn’t see it then.  But as an adult, with hind sight on life experience, I can see some ‘stuff’ all too clearly now.  Not that it was all their fault, or all my fault . . . but that their issues meshed with my issues, bringing about behavioural changes in us both, that were like that of an unbalanced see-saw.  Not moving fluidly between the ‘ups and downs’ . . . it was dysfunctional, it was non-functional.   Choices and compromises made that once would never have been considered.  While some such friendships just naturally fizzle out, others seem to feed on the dysfunction as it serves to meet a deeper need.  And so the downward spiral begins . . .

Issues can act like a repellent,
driving each other in the opposite direction.
Or attract like a magnet,
establishing a setup for enmeshment.

I think sometimes it’s due to a deep longing for: Acceptance, Assurance, and Adequacy in who we are.  It’s the AAA (Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm) of our emotional core.   An ever increasing and weakening part of the vessel that can rupture at any moment . . . a ticking time bomb . . . that if not dealt with in time, could well be fatal.

We too can find ourselves rupturing emotionally when we seek to find Acceptance, Assurance, and Adequacy from others, instead of seeking to find it within ourselves.  So it is, we all need to deal with our own issues before the ‘time bomb’ ruptures.  Cause it will rupture, if it’s not dealt with.  It’s just a matter of time.

It’s not an ‘outside job’ for others to bear.
But an ’inside job’ in need of repair.

In my own experience, at various times and in different situations, I’ve been both: the friend with toxic behaviours, and the friend of those with toxic behaviours.  Oblivious (or in denial) to my own influence and impact.  Not ever having fully dealt with my own AAA issues.   Resulting in an outcome that was never what was intended.  Dealing with guilt, shame, regret and consequential judgements.  That which cannot be explained with any amount of words, but to know in entirety, the meaning behind: “cause it hurts when you hurt somebody”   (Hurt Somebody by Noah Kahan and Julia Michaels.)

As I learnt on that day in the swimming pool, participating in the ‘learning process’ can be costly, especially when you’re in deep water over your head, unable to stand up, and unskilled to be able to manage the situation in water too deep.  It was almost a fatal learning process!

And so in the hope that by sharing this, I may prevent someone from having to go through the ‘learning process’ for themselves . . .  here’s some thoughts:

  • Don’t let your choice of friends be a fatal (or even near fatal) learning process.
  • Don’t go in over your head, where you know it’s too deep, despite what anyone says.
  • There may not always be a ‘skilled rescuer’ on site to separate you from your choices.
  • Don’t look to people as your ‘rescue’ source: they may not be as equipped as you think they are.
  • Don’t seek to be the ‘rescuer’ unless you’re in a ‘healthy, skilled’ position to do so safely.

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