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Female friendships: How I healed my relationships with women

Female friendships are always I wanted to share a slice of my story that shaped the woman I am today. Up until my mid-30s, I had a rocky relationship with women and found it hard to create lasting friendships. In 2017 I hit rock-bottom which broke me open, and eventually healed my heart. 

This is an honest account of how I transmuted my childhood wounds & came out the other side with some of the most fulfilling relationships I have ever experienced. My heart bursts with gratitude for the incredible women I now have in my life. 

Female Friendship: The Early Years

I was born in a country town in rural Victoria, Australia, called Mildura. I am the youngest of three children, I have an older sister, Cathy, and a brother, Frank. I am told that at the ripe age of five my sister proclaimed that she was going to move to the city (the city being Melbourne) to go to university. Her conviction shook my mum, and like most Italian mothers, she didn’t want her children packing up and leaving, so my parents decided to move to Melbourne for a better life (and better schooling). I was six years old.

The Accident

You know when you are watching the start of a movie and you see this family moving into their new home and they are happy & laughing and everything seems great but the music playing in the background doesn’t match the happy scene and in your body, you start to have this uneasy feeling and you’re like “oh crap, something bad is going to happen to Sally and Johnny.” 

Well, that is how I would describe this time in my life. Without getting into too much detail, in the midst of settling into our new home & life, my father was in a horrific work accident where his right leg was crushed by a faulty steamroller and he almost lost his life. 

At that moment everything changed, forever.  I’d be lying if I said that it was all fine a few months later, that isn’t true. The darkness lasted for some years. Although I cannot remember a lot, I can remember the feeling of my mother, who before this time was there every second of my waking life, my everything – starting to slowly slip away from me. 

She went from taking me to and from school and attending every excursion to working 3 jobs and caring for my dad. I really, really missed her and although she was doing the best she could for our family, I felt invisible and wanted more attention than she had the capacity to give.

Stage 5 Clinger

By the time I was 9 years old, I had a load of anxiety around my mum’s schedule and would agonise over the precise time she would be home. If she was late by even a minute or two, I would stare out the front window focussing like a laser on every car that went by, praying and hoping it would be her. I cannot tell you the sense of relief that rushed over me when I saw her car turning into the driveway. 

After a lot of therapy, I understand now that each time she left the house, my six-year-old self thought this might be the last time that I ever saw her. This is what they call trapped trauma. My body had never processed what happened when my dad had his accident as my nervous system was overloaded & shut down. This meant I was in a constant state of fight or flight, replaying the same program over and over again. 

Neediness to say that this desperation spilled over into my early friendships with other girls. Looking back, I was what you might call a ‘stage 5 clinger’  – I wanted every one of my friends to know that they meant the absolute world to me and in return, I expected the same dedication. Obviously, kids are kids and my devotion was not reciprocated. I had a lot of experiences where overnight my ‘besties’ were no longer my friends (in my head I was like ‘I love you god damn it! Why don’t you love me back?’…perhaps I was a bit much). 

My luck all changed in Grade 6. I had started a new school that year and despite what you may hear about kids not wanting to go to new schools, I was pretty good at it. This was my fifth primary school and I didn’t really have any friends to speak of, so I was happy for the fresh start. In that first week, I met a girl and she instantly became my BFF. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was literally my dream come true. 

For the next three years, we were inseparable. My anxieties about my mum quietened down and I was enjoying myself! Although there were other girls in our friendship group, I knew I had that one rock, who was by my side and I could depend on. I remember the feeling of being able to just relax. I no longer had to hold my breath.

As with all lessons in life, some are tougher than others to learn. Just like my mother’s absence had taken the air out of my lungs all those years ago, my one and only friend decided that she was done with me at age 14. If I’m honest, I could see it coming a mile away. She was interested in different things and was a lot more mature than me. I did not take the news well. I would act as if nothing was wrong and try to wrestle my way into schoolyard conversations. I was desperate. 

Then one Wednesday (yes, tears still run down my face recalling this) after school I went to her house as this was our usual protocol and she would not open the door. I could hear the other kids in the background laughing. It felt like my heart had broken in two.

But something else happened in that thin slice of a moment, a switch went off in my head. I made a decision that I was done with girls, they could all go to hell. I would only depend on myself and let no one in. I even closed myself off to my mum and sister.

Karma, Karma, Karma Chameleon.

It is wild how powerful moments like that can be in your life. Although I did cry a lot for the friendship I had lost, I also felt a new sense of power within. I built my wall and put on my armour and I felt strong. At the time I thought this was some sort of superpower, but after reading a lot of Brene Brown’s work, I came to realise that I was closing off any access to authentic relationships. 

I managed to find other ‘friends’, in fact, I had many different friendship groups. I was a sort of chameleon. I adapted myself to fit into the situation. This suited me fine as I was a genuinely curious person and I loved all sorts of music, some days I was wearing ripped jeans and a Nirvana t-shirt, other days I would braid my long hair and write ‘R.I.P TUPAC’ on my arms and later I was your classic House Music party scene girl. 

There were many moments when a knock would tap on my heart after seeing pictures of groups of girls posted on Facebook (Social Media could be annoying like that). Other times I felt so lonely and was desperately scrambling to find women (other than my sister) to attend my Hen’s Night because I didn’t have any friends. I kept telling myself, I am fine, I am fine… am I fine? 

Breakdown or Breakthrough – The Body Really Does Keep The Score.

Fast forward to 2017 and I was getting ready for the biggest adventure of my life. I was moving to London from Sydney for work. 

I had mixed feelings about the move because I absolutely LOVED my life in Sydney. I had so many jarring experiences in Melbourne that when I left in 2014, I didn’t really miss it. I had just had my son and met some really lovely women in Mother’s Group. I was surprised at how much I was enjoying female company. This sparked something inside me, and I felt a shift, ‘Was I ready to try this female friend thing again?’ – part of me said yes, the other part was scared as hell. So like most difficult things, I bypassed my emotions by keeping myself busy. 

I landed in London on October 11th, 2017, and was ready to hit the ground running. My new boss told me that there was no rush and I could take it easy and start in January. January? Is he crazy? I have been running on a pretty high-speed treadmill for most of my life and I ain’t slowing down now. 

I cannot explain what exactly happened in the proceeding 3 months but it was like my body, mind, and spirit aligned and said ‘Enough is enough girl. You’re doing this.’ Without going through each glorious detail I documented in my journal, what I experienced was a sort of breakthrough (or breakdown, it really depends on the day how I describe it) – all of the past hurt, my childhood abandonment issues, the various walls I had created to protect myself started to dissolve.  

It was my version of Joseph Campell’s dark night of the soul. I knew I was ready to transmute my pain and take the step forward into creating deeper connections with the women in my life and the women I wanted in my life. I am privileged enough to have been able to seek professional help; I talked to a therapist, I hired a coach and I even tried somatic healing, which helps people work through old trauma trapped in the body. 

I read books and listened to podcasts about others who had experienced their own trauma. I cried a river of tears for six-year-old Julie who felt abandoned. I forgave my mother, I forgave myself, I even forgave the girl who broke my heart at 14. The pause was a blessing. I learned more about myself in those 3 months than I had in the 37 years preceding them. I now build in pauses. 

I May Not Need Girlfriends, But I Do Need My Sisterhood.

Once I felt ready, I started taking steps towards making intentional connections with women I had met or admired. Each time, I had a catch-up or got off a phone call with a new female friend, I felt buzzed and lit up. I started asking myself how I could support and help more women on their journey. This is when I made moves into mentoring and investing in female founders in the Femtech space. I couldn’t believe how alive I felt. 

As life has it, sometimes you meet real-life angels who come to connect you with people you were just meant to know in this lifetime. I started to get introduced to women who didn’t feel like girlfriends, but more like sisters. We had deep conversations and held space for each other.

There were times where I would be going for my morning run and tears would stream down my face because I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. And to be honest, I was also proud of the woman I was becoming and the steps I had taken to heal. 

Only 3 short years after I felt like my whole world had collapsed, I can say my heart is filled with so much joy, love, and gratitude for the women I get to work and connect with on a daily basis. I cannot imagine my life without them. What I know for sure is that I may not need girlfriends, but I sure as hell do need my sisterhood.