My George Bailey Moment

“You’re a terrible person! This is why you don’t have any friends! No one wants to be your friend!”

Those words still ring in my ears. No one has ever said anything more hurtful to me in my life.

I have struggled all my life with feeling like I fit in, making friends, and social anxiety. I have written several blog posts about this in the past (Friend or Follow?, Not Quite Human). Part of my struggle may be due to Asperger’s Syndrome. Part of my struggle may be that I have moved around a lot and lived a lot of different lives – making it difficult to keep in touch with people as time and distance pulls us apart.

When those words were spoken to me, I had just recently shared with this person my agony that three of my closest friends had dropped off the face of the earth and “disappeared” on me. As it turned out, one friend had been dealing with a drug addiction and rehab, one friend had been dealing with a crippling medical disorder, and the other friend – well, I still don’t know what happened to him, he disappeared from the internet for over a year and who knows what his deal is. Anyway, those words especially hurt me because I was feeling particularly vulnerable and low about the status of some of my most important friendships.

Over the past two and a half years, I have primarily invested my time and energy in friendships with people I met through my wife. I adore my wife’s friends – they are so fun, smart, and interesting. They are my kind of people and I couldn’t seem to get enough of them. Now, because of our relationship status changes and other extenuating factors, pretty much all of those people have cut me off completely – some with very hurtful parting words. This has left me feeling pretty empty and alone. It has left me feeling defeated and worthless. And I have had to start back over from scratch building a new local network of friends just to survive.

I tend to do that, though: pour myself into friendships with people immediately around me. I carry a lot of guilt because when I do this I tend to ignore and lose touch with people from my past who mean a lot to me as well but aren’t in my immediate vicinity. When that person said those hurtful words to me, they were aware that this was a huge struggle for me and I think they were judging me because I didn’t maintain lifelong friendships with people in the same way they had (this person has, literally, hundreds of friends and seems to keep in touch with and stay close to all of them).

In the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, the main character, George Bailey, finds himself at the end of his rope, his life is falling apart, and he attempts to end his life. An angel is sent to rescue him and he tells the angel that he wishes he was never born because he thinks he has ruined everything for so many people. So, the angel grant’s his wish and he gets to see what the world would be like if he had never been born.

George gets to see how different (and mostly bad) people’s lives are because he wasn’t there to have a positive impact on them. He gets to see how the people whose lives he affected were able to affect other people’s lives and how the whole town he lives in (and beyond) has been made better through this ripple effect. This convinces George to appreciate his life and the world is set back to normal and he returns home to have all these people show up at his door to give him money and save his business from eminent financial ruin.

In April 2012, I attempted suicide because a girlfriend broke up with me and pretty much convinced me that I was a terrible person and responsible for all the misery in her life. I convinced myself that despite my best efforts, all I ever did was hurt people, and everyone I knew and loved would have a better future without having to deal with me in it (Blog Post: The Cask of Zachariah).

Obviously, my attempt failed and I did not go through with a second planned attempt (Blog Post: Hints, Allegations, and Things That Need to be Said). There was an outpouring of love and support from friends all over the world and I eventually got back on my feet and put my life back together.

Recently, I have been wrestling with a lot of guilt over everything I did that caused my wife to fall out of love with me and choose to leave me and never want to speak to me again. Every interaction has been playing in my head non-stop on repeat and I have been over-thinking and second guessing everything. Once I got through all the obvious hurtful and spiteful things I did when we would fight, I’ve started to second-guess every interaction we have had, looking for signs of how I might have been hurting her despite my best of intentions.

I have unearthed a lot, and this is helpful – to a point – but without her to go over this kind of stuff with me and tell me how I hurt her, I really am just playing a guessing game at this point. I want to know and take responsibility for everything I have done, but unfortunately that isn’t even possible right now, so I feel stuck in dozens of moments of unresolved conflicts that may never be resolved. Everyone I know to whom I have confessed these sins tell me I am being too hard on myself. Maybe I am. Maybe I’m not being hard enough on myself. It may be a mixture of both. I just don’t really know. Maybe I never will.

What I do know is that this mental exercise has started to spin off into unhealthy territory and I have felt powerless to stop it. Now, I find myself questioning every interaction with every friend I have ever had, wondering if I have been a good enough friend. I have been wondering if the people in my life who fell away over the years did so because they were angry with me over an unspoken offense. Writing someone off and not confronting them with their offenses and giving them a chance to reconcile tends to be how most people deal with other people these days. I have learned first hand that nearly everyone I have made friends with in the past two and a half years are certainly dealing with me in this way.

The list of my “sins” keeps getting longer and longer, and again, without these people telling me one way or another, I can’t really know if I actually offended them or not. All I can do is guess, and my mind tends to err on the side of guilt and self-blame. It doesn’t help that I keep hearing “This is why you don’t have any friends!” playing over and over in my head throughout all this, constantly accusing me, constantly blaming me, constantly calling me out, constantly telling me I am human garbage. That voice has caused me to have suicidal thoughts flash into my head on more than one occasion. Thankfully, my mental health state is in a much better place than it was back in 2012 and these thoughts are easily and quickly dismissed. I have too much hope and optimism about the future these days to ever seriously consider taking the coward’s way out again.

But that voice just won’t go away. And those thoughts, easy to dismiss as they are, are a constant annoyance that distracts and derails me from focusing on what I need to be focusing on to have a productive and meaningful life.

That is why I am so grateful for my recent crisis that echoed George Bailey’s crisis in It’s A Wonderful Life. Due to a series of financial and personal set backs over the past six months I found myself without any savings, maxed out on all my credit cards, and getting behind on my rent.

The final straw came when a cashier’s check I had made to pay rent disappeared and I had lost the records of the check so I couldn’t trace it and recover the funds. I was served a three day notice to pay up the month and a half of rent I was behind on or get evicted. In a panic, I reached out to dozens of friends asking for help. And just like the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, these friends came through with small gifts and some rather generous short-term loans. I was able to get my rent paid and caught back up financially. As a side benefit, I am feeling incredibly positive and motivated again without the crushing weight of being impossibly behind on my back.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express just how grateful I am to these friends who came through for me. What really surprises me, though, is the diversity that they all represent from various eras of my life. For example, among the people who made contributions were:

  • A friend from Seneca High School
  • A friend from Greenville College
  • An Air Force buddy from DLI
  • A classmate from UIC
  • Someone I sang in an a capella group with at UIC
  • A friend from my summer job at Oak Street Beachstro
  • A friend I was in a sketch comedy troupe with
  • A friend from church when I was in Arlington, TX
  • And even a friend I recently met in L.A. whom I cast as an extra in a couple different projects

What is even more amazing is how many of these people have shared messages of encouragement with me, telling me about how much of a positive impact I made in their lives and how grateful they are to count me among their friends.

I keep trying to shake those awful, hurtful words out of my head that have left me in tears so many times since I heard them. I even broke down today as the negative thoughts came back to haunt me once again.

That is why I am so grateful to everyone who has contacted me throughout these past few months of crisis and through other crises in my past to tell me how much I mean to them and remind me that I am a good person who had a positive impact on their life. That person who said I have no friends couldn’t be more wrong. As I am being reminded, I am incredibly rich in friends!

I have friends from two different high schools, two different colleges (and two completely different eras at one college), the Air Force, plays I have done, churches I have attended, old work buddies from jobs I have had going back almost 25 years, my time working on ships… it seems like from every different era of my life there are people who have stuck by me, and are fiercely loyal to me, even when I haven’t been the best at staying in touch at times.

Many of these friends have seen my many flaws and even been on the receiving end of some of my worst moments. Yet, they have chosen to forgive me, to love me, to pray for me, and to always be a friend. When I sometimes ask people why they want to be my friend (a weird question, I know, but you know, Asperger’s), I am told of times when I showed them compassion and was a friend to them when no one else would be, when I stuck by their side when no one else did, and when I forgave them when they did something that was “unforgivable.” I’ve even had people remind me of times when I didn’t even know them and I spotted them in a crowd and saw that they were alone, or hurting, or in need, and I sought them out and tried to help and encourage them.

When I am feeling like a failure, when I am feeling guilty, when I am feeling like all I do is hurt people, when I am feeling unloved and unlovable, when I am feeling unforgiven and unforgivable… and when I get in that dark place and start to wonder to myself how long it will be before the other shoe drops with my current friendships and they “find me out” or are hurt by me and eventually turn their backs on me too… that is when I am so grateful for these friends and their encouraging words and stories reminding me that I am a good person and I have made a positive impact in their lives, that I am worth forgiving and I am worthy of love and loyalty.

“Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”

The Angel Clarence, from It’s A Wonderful Life

Thank you everyone who has contributed so much to my life and stuck by my side through thick and thin, and encouraged me so much even though lately I have been so needy and depressed and just not very fun or communicative.

If you get anything from reading this blog post, I hope it is this: I want to encourage you to think of some people in your life who you value and love, people you have been offended by and found it in your heart to forgive, and people who made a positive impact and then lost touch with. Do you have some people in mind?

Now, go reach out to them. Give them a call or a send them a message – maybe leave a comment on their blog 😉 – and tell them something good about themselves, how much you care about them and why you care about them, that you don’t hold anything against them and what specific positive impact they had in your life that has caused you to value them as a person.

Who knows? Maybe some of those people are feeling like human garbage right now and your words of encouragement might be just what they need to hear to get through this current moment to the next one. I’ve been there so many times – especially lately (sometimes multiple times a day!) – and those words of encouragement are what are getting me through.

Reminding people of the good they have done in your life and for the world, that is possibly the best form of encouragement available. Especially when those people might have a voice in their head saying to them over and over, “You’re a terrible person! This is why you don’t have any friends! No one wants to be your friend!”