Friendship. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, friendship is defined as “a state of enduring affection, esteem, intimacy, and trust between two people. In all cultures, friendships are important relationships throughout a person’s life span.”

So, it’s a plain and simple fact: We all need friends. Many of us find our person, our best friend, our Cristina to our Meredith as we explore this messy, glorious, difficult, fulfilling thing called life. Our best friend becomes our support system, a shoulder to cry on, a secret keeper, a sibling, and the one in which we can rely on. With love and understanding, our best friend helps guide us to where we are meant to be.

I had this best friend. I found the Cristina to my Meredith. My Bo to my Kenzi (any Lost Girl fans out there?). My person. We told each other everything without fear or judgement. I could be my awkward, anxious, doubtful self around her. She lifted me up and strived to make me a better version of myself. I sent her a quick text message or called her if I needed reassurance and support. And that’s what she was. My reassurance and support. She would tell me not to worry. She was here for me. We would get through things together. And just like that, my worries melted away.

My best friend and I shared many laughs, hopes, dreams, and drinks… lots of drinks. Perhaps we’d find the love of our lives together. We’d go on vacations together. We’d see the world together. We’d simply experience life side by side, hand in hand.

Together we were unstoppable.

This sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is.

There was a time when I truly believed I found my person, my sister. But, pulling back the curtain, like Toto did in The Wizard of Oz, revealed that I didn’t have a genuine best friend. What I discovered was horrifying and heartbreaking. I’m finally ready to tell my story.

I was in a toxic friendship. Yes, I have to admit we had some good times with one another, denying that would be unfair. But, our friendship changed after high school; it only existed within a negative space. My best friend transformed into someone I did not recognize. In her place stood someone who freely used racial slurs, and whose dialogue was filled with homophobic comments. In her place stood someone who was extremely judgmental, greedy, and jealous of those around her. This transformation made me small, weak, and quiet. I cringed at her revolting dialogue. It was nauseating. I was uncomfortable. I am ashamed I didn’t speak up, speak out. I will be ashamed for the rest of my life. And, although unrecognizable I held onto this friendship tightly.

I know some may think I’m silly. Many may think I’m crazy. How could I hold onto such a friendship? Why still be her friend? Why continuously spend time with her? My only answer is: I was afraid of no longer having a best friend. So, I sacrificed my mental health for something, for someone everyone craves. And the friendship continued.

We spent almost every weekend together. Trips to taste wine, going to our favourite pizza place, walking aimlessly around the shopping mall, and tanning by the pool were common occurrences. But, the more time we spent with one another, the worse I felt about myself. My best friend would discuss her future plans, great job opportunities, money, a potential boyfriend, and marriage. She would do so in such a way that it wasn’t a normal conversation between best friends. I could hear each brag roll easily off her lips. She was an expert at that, bragging. I would take each brag and bottle them up for later. Once she left it was time to unbottle them and bathe in my self-hatred.

Amidst the bragging, there were also lies and talking behind my back. My best friend lied to me about being sick, in order to cancel our plans because she wanted to spend time with other friends. I found out through posts on social media, as she sat at a bar looking perfectly healthy. She could have simply told me she wanted to spend time with other friends. Instead, she lied. And although many of the lies were small, they still hurt.

When my best friend talked about me behind my back, much of these conversations were mainly focused on my anxiety and my body image issues. The dialogue she so willingly utilized showed me that she didn’t understand myself and my struggles, and didn’t care to. Each word was laced with judgement. I felt that she, and those she allowed to see a portion of my life, were all laughing at me. It hurt.

Her behaviour only escalated as time progressed. Most of the time, my best friend was on her phone scrolling through Facebook. She’d comment on what people from our high school were doing. This one is married. This one has children. This one is going to graduate school. I didn’t care. She sure did. This is when the talking trash for fun would begin. She would spew cruel and hateful words about people she no longer spoke to, or her current friends… even family. I squirmed uncomfortably. I knew this behaviour was wrong. I began to worry. What would she say to me, or about me, if I ever told her how I felt? My mental health was suffering greatly. Any text message from her would trigger my anxiety.

I stopped seeing my best friend for a while. Taking a step away from the negativity gave me the opportunity to reflect on this friendship. I realized that this friendship made me feel worthless, judged, self-conscious, exhausted, and aided in the worsening of my depression. I knew in my heart that I could no longer hold onto this friendship.

I am no longer in a toxic friendship. Perhaps this is an excellent way to begin 2020. But, I have to say I’ve learned a few things from this friendship. I know now that I deserve a best friend like one of my dreams. I know that I cannot remain in a situation that negatively affects my mental health. I know that the feelings of anxiety, of uncomfortableness, of self-hatred, of pain, are all warning signs. It takes a lot of strength to walk away, but it is certainly possible.

Today, I feel happy. I feel free. And, I have a handful of friends that make me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.