Dealing with losing friends after trauma
November 27, 2017 6:59 PM   Subscribe

CW: sexual assault. It’s been a little over two months since I was raped by one of my closest friends. Last Friday, I had a falling out with another of my closest friends, “Kay,” because she has decided to maintain her close friendship with my rapist. How do I deal?

Kay seems to think that she can maintain friendship with both of us. She also seems to think that he wasn’t truly responsible for his actions because he was drunk when he did it, and ostensibly doesn’t remember most of the night that it happened. Neither my rapist nor Kay deny that it happened; it’s just that Kay seems to think that the assault was something that happened to my rapist more than something that he did.

I told her that I can’t be friends with her if she continues to be so close with him, and she basically said she thinks her friendship with him is too important to give up.

I’m devastated. We’re all in professional school, and until the assault, these people were part of my chosen family, friends I thought I’d have for the rest of my life. Being assaulted by one of those friends was bad enough; but losing another because she has decided that her friendship with my rapist is more important than her friendship with me has absolutely gutted me. It’s just another thing the assault has taken from me (and there are so many).

How do I come to terms with this? I feel so betrayed.
posted by superswell to Human Relations (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I should add: I’m in weekly therapy, as I have been since the assault. I’ll be seeing my therapist on Thursday.
posted by superswell at 7:01 PM on November 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

When I was being abused in graduate school (emotional, physical, and sexual abuse) by my boyfriend who was also in my department, this happened to me. Many people decided to maintain their friendships with him, even after knowing things that should set the hairs on the back of anyone's neck straight up. It was seriously hard. I thought it had taken all it could take, and then it took more. Surviving a thing like this is almost a constant churn of the self for awhile; at least it was for me. It turned things upside down that I did not know were movable. My own mother, who knows some but not all the details, but enough, still asks after him.

Now I look back on those people, on that time, and I feel ... I don't feel anything. It was a thing that happened and it gutted me and changed me, but I am here now. How did I get here? I journaled a lot. I found a hobby where I made things with my hands. I joined a survivors group and group therapy helped a LOT because through that I met women who just got it, no questions, didn't know my abuser or think he was brilliant and great, had no reason to try to make excuses for him.

You know, a lot of the people who do this kind of shit, like your assaulter, they're sociopaths. They don't feel for others and they are also incredible at manipulating and at twisting and at somehow garnering sympathy for their disgusting, vile, inhumane actions. Somehow. So part of me was able to see that, hold it in my hand, and let it be part of the reason that people were still into him, still wanted to be close to him, despite knowing what he did. That helped with acceptance a little. This did not make it ok but it made it possible for me to say "ok" and walk away from it.

Part of what I said about it turning you inside out? ... It really seriously taught me that other people are very complicated and I cannot ever hope to truly know them or their motivations, and I can't control those things either. After what happened I wanted so much to control the whole aftermath, to take back what he took from me. Part of that definitely manifested in my very normal, very understandable desire for others to take my side and to shun him. Lord knows he deserved to be shunned! I was not wrong! But I also had to.... let go. And that was really, really sad. And difficult. And I learned that some people that I really thought good of were very much Not Good, and that it wasn't just the obvious bad guy, my abuser, who was the only bad actor. Other people in our lives helped create the conditions that allowed what happened to me to happen. Not knowingly, but through their complicity.

I am rambling. The way out is through. Write, take up a hobby, spend time away from these people and with people who nourish you and lift you up and say "I believe you." Take care of yourself. Allow yourself to mourn all these losses. Therapy, therapy, therapy - I did EMDR, group therapy for survivors of domestic assault, and individual therapy. You are likely eligible for joining some kind of group and I would ask my local women's shelter what they recommend were I you.

I'm really sorry you are going through this. You are strong. Take care of yourself.
posted by sockermom at 7:39 PM on November 27, 2017 [72 favorites]

I am so sorry, that sucks. I agree that the only way out is through. Keep going.

To share some thoughts, you are learning that your Forever Friend Group...isn't like Friends. This friend is not a good friend for you, not right now...but probably wasn't going to be in the future either. Yes, the assault did this and it is awful that you have to have loss on loss.

But this woman's character was going to bite this friendship in the rear end at some point - now, when you got a serious but temporary illness at 55 and she was just as desirous of not having to inconvenience herself or make hard choices to support you, or at 37 when you got robbed and she only obsessed about her shoes you borrowed...something. She is who she always was going to be. I really am sorry this became clear now. But in time I think you will find deeper and truer friends.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:07 PM on November 27, 2017 [46 favorites]

I'm so sorry that this happened. I think time is the only thing that will help. I lost a friend in a similar situation and I never went back to being friends with her even after she reached out a few times (she never actually did say she was sorry, though). I think about it and I feel strong that I stood by my own side and didn't let her act like what happened was something less than it was. If you can try to imagine yourself 5 years in the future, think about how much better you'll be without someone like her in your life.

You will get through this and you will have a much better understanding of what it means to stand by your own side and protect yourself and others who are going through something similar.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:33 PM on November 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am so sorry that happened to you. I believe you. You did not deserve it. It was not ok, and his drunkenness is not an excuse for his violence.

A while back, I had a very bad difficult overwhelming thing happen to me. I only told a few friends. They reacted in one of 3 ways:

Incredibly supportive - Several friends went above and beyond, and continued to support me beyond the visible moment when I was most broken - and now we are closer, more like family. I cherish them.

Fairly supportive - Many friends were kind and appropriate in the moment, and then the moment passed and they went back to normal and never checked in on me again (which I would have appreciated as I still needed extra love). But... when things were the worst, they did their best to be there and I know if I asked again, they'd be there again. And now we are still good friends.

Awful - Three important people reacted in brutal ways that did not support me. It was devastating- actually almost as bad as the Bad Thing itself. One had been my "best friend" for 15 years, and we had dated and loved each other deeply, but they were horrifically, appallingly unsupportive. It was a horrible betrayal. We had a huge confrontation about it, and then, excruciatingly, I cut them from my life. It hurt a lot and I missed them terribly at the time.

Importantly- it's now a few years later, and now, on the other side of that experience, I am changed in some permanent ways (I am harder, and softer, and a bit jaded, but also more clear, more sure, and more myself) - but the most important thing for your purposes is for me to tell you that I do not miss that formerly-best-friend now. They asked about me longingly to a mutual friend recently, who told me. I didn't even have a flash of missing them. And I wasn't angry. I just thought, "What a weak, cowardly, unprincipled, disloyal person. I am glad they're not an influence in my life any more." I really felt that. I didn't feel sad.

And there were a few other friends, who were people I "should" have been able to tell given how "close" we were, but in the moment, my gut had screamed "you cannot trust this person, don't tell them" and so I didn't... and I eventually eithr cut them from my life too, or else I re-framed my mental picture of them to a level more like "colleague" than "friend". I do not miss them either.

So over the time I was being dragged down by the Bad Thing (which was essentially 1.5 years of PTSD and hideous depression) I lost my best friend, and two other very close friends, and my relationships with about 8 other close friends are irrevocably more distant. It hurt a lot at the time and compounded the already bad pain. But I also had another close friend who was SO THERE for me, which really strengthened our relationship, and several other close friends really came through and I love them even more now. So yes, I lost... but I also gained.

Again, it's now several years out. I am not "over" the thing that happened. But I'm also not actively traumatized, nor do I feel constant pain or fury or despair the way I did for the first 1.5 years. I am stronger and clearer. And I am GLAD those "friends" are gone. They weren't real and I didn't need them.

You will be ok, and you will be stronger without false friends. The way I saw my own situation, I'd say, you're in a fire right now, and everything hurts. But fire burns away bullshit, and what's left is cleaner and stronger. I wish you all the best.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:26 PM on November 27, 2017 [18 favorites]

The trouble with “chosen family” friends is that they can turn out to be even bigger letdowns than the family you didn’t get to choose — because they can betray you in equally awful ways, and then, because you chose them, you feel somehow culpable in the harm they did.

You know, logically, that you aren’t culpable, but you’ve had a sacred trust violated horribly, twice, and this is bound to shake you up emotionally, no matter how sound your reasoning is.

And it is sound, just in case you need to hear that from an outsider: you had the guts and sense and strength to cut ties with both these people when it became clear they were untrustworthy. Shock upon shock, betrayal upon betrayal, and yet you stood your ground. That right there is the survival instinct you might be doubting after a multilayered ordeal such as this.

Take my word: you couldn’t have predicted that these people would harm you, but once they made that clear, you DID NOT hesitate to protect yourself against further potential harm at their hands. Please do not underestimate how exceptionally badass this really is, especially when the initial harm comes from a close friend or family member. (What happened to me was much less severe and long ago, but it had to happen several times with the “friends” as witnesses before I had my “WTF?! GTFO” epiphany, so you’re my hero.)

It is perfectly normal for you to mourn the loss of this chosen family — of who you knew them to be, and the potential for good that you recognized in them, which they chose not to live up to. There is a lot of real tragedy here, and injustice, and these things are not Pollyanna-soluble. They require some messy sadness and fury and horror to process, so please allow yourself those feelings without any added guilt. And yet, when you find the light breaking back in, don’t feel ashamed of that either: better times and better friends are still to come, and you will more than deserve them. I imagine trust might seem too tall an order sometimes; other times it will seem too easy and you won’t trust yourself. All of that is 100% OK too. Be gentle with yourself, and continue to be tough with the world.

I don’t know which kind of professional school you’re in, but I get the feeling the profession will be very fortunate to have you. None of this will be easy, but it is no match for might such as yours.
posted by armeowda at 10:40 PM on November 27, 2017 [24 favorites]

It sounds a bit awful, but, these things can be little blessings in disguise. They sure as hell do not feel like it at the time, but. As mentioned, you are doing wonderfully merely by booting these people to the curb and not entertaining excuses. Ah, poor thing was drunk! She can fuck right off. Most people have been drunk; a good number are drunk semi-regularly, and it does not turn them into rapists.

Years ago a close old friend killed himself, in circumstances which left me carrying a heavy load of guilt for a long time. A guy I was dating at the time inexplicably forgot the plans for the day of the funeral, and decided on new ones that made no sense -- why would we be meeting at and departing from his apartment? WTF? It just sounded like he didn't want to deal, and he made a bunch of stupid excuses that made even less sense. I said we didn't have time to pick him up (as we tried to sort this on the phone at zero hour), I have to go, goodbye, and I think he came over later that day or the next, and kept blithering about his still impossible to understand excuses for why he messed up on the plans.

Maybe if he had come over with flowers and a sincere apology I could have let it go. I don't know. But that he screwed up, and in lieu of walking over to my place, waited until I called him to find out what the delay was, and then, in the middle of my going insane with grief, tried to keep making it all about him...ugh! I dumped him. Just a "sorry, this isn't going to work out, and you need to get out of my apartment. Now."

And it was shitty that I had to "lose" someone else, but. Seeing that he was not a person I could count on, at all, in a bad situation left me relieved to know that and know the relationship was going nowhere and to be free of him. And I quickly discarded any emotion over him because I needed to grieve and process the much more enormous issue of my friend's death.

There is a lot to be said for having found out that Kay is not a worthwhile friend before you invested more time in her. Brush her off as quickly and brusquely as possible and be "selfish" and work on the primary trauma; my advice, even though a betrayal by a friend is absolutely awful, is to decide you haven't the time for Kay's BS and to try to forget her ASAP. Twice in crisis situations, "friends" became not-friends very quickly and I decided I just did not have the time or interest to deal with dirtballs; I absolutely has to focus on myself, dealing with the crisis, and so on, and by the time I came out on the other side I felt nothing about the old "friends" -- I had neither sadness nor regret, maybe just a little relief to have found things out and said goodbye, but that was it.

Obviously I can't tell you what you personally would best benefit from as far as reporting or not reporting it goes. But I can say I deeply regret not having reported where I should have reported a wee handful of times, even though I did not want to be victimised again by what would be set in motion if I reported, and it goes...quadruply or so for men who are in careers that sexual predators should not be in. If you are all studying in a field that involves minimal if any interaction with the general public, that's one thing, but if you're going to be lawyers or doctors or psychologists, I wonder if you don't have an obligation to report unethical behaviour by someone else in the program? Something to talk over with the therapist...

I am really sorry. As dawkins_7 touches on, there is some cold comfort here: it will make you a better friend. Being a good friend is a learned skill in many ways, and a very valuable and meaningful one, nothing to take lightly. When the dust settles you will have learned a lot, and be better off for it.
posted by kmennie at 11:27 PM on November 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

kmennie, I did report, and there is a Title IX investigation currently ongoing.
posted by superswell at 1:43 AM on November 28, 2017 [9 favorites]

(The thought of my assailant practicing the profession we’ve been training for makes me physically sick. It’s still a possibility, alas.)
posted by superswell at 1:44 AM on November 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

fire burns away bullshit, and what's left is cleaner and stronger

This. It's true. Stay strong and take care of yourself in as many ways as you can. *hugs*
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:33 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is far easier said than done, but in your shoes, I would try to focus on the fact that you didn't lose friends. You lost shitty people who weren't and aren't worth your time.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:00 AM on November 28, 2017 [10 favorites]

It’s awful and hard, and you’ll plod through the muck slowly, slowly, and one day (that will feel very far away, but I promise will come, if you just keep on plodding) it will be better. It’s just the world’s slowest marathon, but you’ll get there. I’m cheering on the sidelines for you.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 6:58 AM on November 28, 2017

I know this has been said upthread multiple times, but I hope it's ok to say it again so you know you're not alone. I had a physical/emotional abuse situation 20 years or so ago within a fairly small friend group. The two people who stood by me during that time are still my friends. The people that did not are not, and it's not entirely as a result of that, but it was a symptom of the overarching "not going to be long term friends" situation. You're in a program that takes up all of your bandwidth already, so all of these folks are your world right now. As bighappyhairdog says, one day it will be better.

Also, I'm so sorry this happened to you. It isn't your fault.
posted by freezer cake at 7:38 AM on November 28, 2017

As many people have suggested, this is unfortunately something that happens a lot to people who have had truly terrible things happen to them. I can think of multiple examples from my own life and the lives of people I know. Some people just do not deal with hard things very well. The one thing I'd like to add to the excellent advice above is that it might help you to bear in mind that Kay was always this person - you just didn't know it. It's not your fault for not recognizing it - some people seem like the greatest friends in the world when everything is going well or your problems are relatively minor. But when you really need them, they let you down or sometimes completely disappear. It's hard. It hurts.

I lost the person I considered my best friend when she couldn't deal with a tragic death in my family. Sometimes I still wonder how she is and what she's doing. But for the most part, I don't think about her that much. I've gained better friends, and it's really just as well she wasn't part of my life when I got diagnosed with cancer.

In my experience, I've also had a few people who've been absolutely wonderful when times were hard. Is there anyone like that in your life now? Even if it's just your therapist, it can help to think about the people who have your back. I'm not trying to minimize how horrible it is to have two people you trusted end up betraying you - that is a truly terrible thing to go through. But it's helped me to try to focus my attention on the people who've been there for me.
posted by FencingGal at 7:56 AM on November 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am so sorry this happened to you: both the rape itself and your friend's lack of support.

I wanted to echo this:

But this woman's character was going to bite this friendship in the rear end at some point - now, when you got a serious but temporary illness at 55 and she was just as desirous of not having to inconvenience herself or make hard choices to support you, or at 37 when you got robbed and she only obsessed about her shoes you borrowed...something. She is who she always was going to be. I really am sorry this became clear now. But in time I think you will find deeper and truer friends.

Though the circumstances for the discovery are awful, it's better to find this out now than having the same thing happen after investing twenty years in this woman. In general, these are people you know from professional maximum you've known them three-ish years. Even with the intensity of a particularly rigorous program, you just don't know them that well. I'd gently suggest avoiding that seductive "chosen family" concept with ANYONE until you've had more time with them and more chances to see how they will react in crisis times. Otherwise, you are unintentionally setting yourself up to be blindsided again and again when they demonstrate they don't feel the same degree of commitment to you (or lack the character required to act on it).
posted by praemunire at 8:34 AM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry. I agree it's a case of good riddance to bad rubbish, but it's really unfair you now have to mourn this friendship on top of everything else.

So, this is cold comfort, but in time she may understand the side she's actually taken and realize what that makes her (a shitty friend and rape apologist.) I wouldn't hold my breath, but she might.

Excusing rape is built into our culture. For many years, I excused and sympathized with my OWN attacker, criticized my own actions more harshly than I did his, valued what was good in him rather than accepting the total reality of who he was, even romanticized his fuck-uppedness. Denial and low self-esteem and patriarchy and rape culture (and possibly self-preservation gone awry) did this to me. However, when it comes to my friends (or even a woman I don't know), I would never apply that lens.

The worst thing about coming forward wasn't that people didn't believe me (I was prepared for that.) It's the ones who believed me but didn't care. What got me through was that my TRUE squad was revealed. The squad was basically one person all told, someone I didn't think I was that close to. Embrace anyone offering fierce loyalty.
posted by kapers at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2017 [11 favorites]

Hey. I'm really sorry you're going through this. I had a similar situation and two betrayals in one go is so hard.

This is not your fault. Go wherever love is and where you feel safe. Lean on those who are there and just look after yourself. This is going to be shaky time but you'll be two a***holes lighter at the end of it.

Don't be afraid to tell Kay in no uncertain times why you are doing this, if you feel like that would help - she doesn't have a leg to stand on and you're right to feel angry. Or just cut her off and concentrate on a good life. I wish you the best.
posted by starstarstar at 9:52 AM on November 28, 2017

So sorry you're going through this, so I'll say it as simply as I can: Kay sounds like a asshole and doesn't deserve your friendship.

I think it's perfectly OK in this case to be pissed off and drop this person from your life.
posted by cnc at 12:00 PM on November 28, 2017

echoing the fact that responses like this can be almost as damaging as the original violation.

we sometime make an assumption, that female friends will get us & support us, be on our side because of sisterhood.....when that does not happen it is a particular kind of burn.

but really the reason we still experience misogyny in 2017 is that there are people across the gender divide supporting unhelpful beliefs and behaviours, like this 'friend'

her support is NOT necessary to your healing, there's lots of good advice above, really practical stuff and the Mefite community supports you, hold to your true support network and do not interact with people whose behaviour is inimical to your healing. It is tempting because of the sheer injustice of her response to want to press the issue. DO NOT DO THAT! she's shown you what she values and it is not you.

posted by Wilder at 1:17 AM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

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