Tell Me About It: A lot of the most memorable times with friends involve going out and staying out well into the next morning, fuelled by recreational drugs
I have an inspiring, kind and loving group of friends. There is care, depth and loyalty to our friendship. We are mostly gay and bisexual men and women in our 30s.
A lot (but not all) of our most memorable times together involve going out and staying out well into the next morning, fuelled by recreational drugs. We do this as safely as we can. We talk about harm reduction. We talk about the kinship and expanded consciousness that “sessioning” like this can create. There is fun.
But I feel I am growing out of this aspect of my life. I worry about sustaining these friendships which are part of my sense of self by not participating (growing up gay, I struggled with alienation and isolation). The comedowns hamper my connection with myself. Occasionally, I recognise behaviour when disinhibited which I later regret, causing me to hold myself in lower esteem.
I feel some pressure to go out in the way described, like it has become a part of my identity and belonging. How do I honour my friends and friendships while also honouring myself? I am struggling to accept the loss and grief of this shift.
You clearly care enormously for your friendship group, feel safe with them and share a deep sense of connection. However, you are now using “fear” as your decision-making mechanism and this needs to be looked at. For someone who was isolated a lot in your young life, these friends may mean as much as, or more than, family to you. But even with family we have disagreements and moments of separation and development.
The challenge with love (and you have love in this friendship group) is that we have to trust it to be strong enough to handle push-back or even criticism. True criticism is where we believe the other to be capable not only of handling a challenge but of being able to stretch themselves to a more evolved response. What is stopping you from telling the group that you don’t want to join in the “sessioning” any more is fear. Fear of loss of belonging, fear of abandonment and fear that the group will not approve or not like you as much afterwards. Both these things, your belief that your friends will not be able to handle your rejection of the “sessioning” and your own fear of loss, are now a block and this will play out in the group anyway, even if you do nothing.
You say that your self-esteem is suffering when you do not like some of your behaviour when you are disinhibited, but your confidence also suffers when you do not speak honestly with those closest to you. The very real effect of fear governing your speech is that it makes you a little smaller every time you block what is coming up naturally. Have you considered that your idea that your friends will take your rejection of the sessions personally may be unfair to them or that some of them too may feel it does not draw out what is best in them?
You ask how to honour your friends as well as yourself, and speaking honestly does both – you have to consider someone worthy of hearing your truth and speaking it also does honour to your own self. Your friends may have gone through alienation and rejection so they may initially react with defensiveness, but do not let this first response put you off. Tell them of your worries about losing their friendship, and how much it means to you, but be firm in your intention to do right by yourself. It may well be that others in the group are arriving at the same spot as you and that they can take inspiration from your ability to assert your wellbeing.
Speaking to the group should not, however, be a single conversation. Rather, it should be the start of an ongoing discussion in which you and the others can come back with reflections and considerations that can add depth to the friendship.
Overcoming fear is a tough enterprise and you will need support in keeping to your goal – can you ask someone to have your back and to keep you on track? This person will need to agree to confidentiality as there is nothing more destructive to friendships than people talking behind other’s backs and later finding out that they have been discussed negatively. Indeed, you can introduce the topic of fear to your friendship conversations and you might be surprised by how much people can contribute to exploring it in a meaningful way in such discussions.
You have a long and shared history with your friendship group, so it is now time to lean into its core and see if it can stretch to allowing you to be self-determining. The expectation is that this group will have the same values as you and so will back you, but if not, it is time to discover this and handle the inevitable breach of friendship and start building other connections. Not facing the challenge increases fear and leads to decreasing confidence, so staying quiet is not a viable option for you.