The AA Connection
Amy P: 57, married
Best friend of 28 years: Chris Z, married, artist, committed suicide at age 56
“With a best friend you are 100 percent you and you allow them to be 100 percent them.”
How did you meet?
I met Chris when I was 28 in Alcoholics Anonymous. We were both brand new to AA and became inseparable from almost the moment we met. She was the tall blonde who wore only black and I was the brunette who wore only white. That was just the way it always was and it never changed over the 28 years. She always had red lipstick on, that was her signature.
I was totally outgoing and boisterous; I don’t have a shy bone in my body. Chris was so shy, sometimes she could barely speak. If she was attracted to a guy, she would get completely tongue-tied. She was beautiful, I mean she was absolutely stunning, but she would just become incapacitated.
We did a lot of wandering around the streets of New York together, people watching, going for meals, hanging out and talking on the phone incessantly. We would call and say, “Oh, I forgot to tell you this, I forgot to tell you that.” We were each other’s cheerleaders. It was really like we were growing up together, because you know when you put down alcohol you are all of a sudden back to being 12 years old. We were raw, figuring things out.
There was absolutely nothing that we did not know about each other, like every last ridiculous thought, every horrible thing we did, any awful, embarrassing, shameful, things that we had done when we were younger, how we grew up, how we felt around our families. Nothing that was off limits.
I was a successful career woman and I had made a lot of money. When I got to 90 days sober I bought myself a pair of blue topaz earrings to celebrate. Chris was blown away because she was staying at someone’s house and not working. I never struggled from deserving and Chris always struggled with deserving. She was a talented artist. She could make anything, do anything, fix anything. She was an art restorer and at some point she did have a lot of success when the art world went crazy. She worked for a big art dealer and travelled all over the world, but that was a very short period of time for her and then the art market crashed. She struggled with debt, but she was also one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. She was always buying little presents for me and for others.
What was the friendship like?
We could be with each other and not be talking or we could be with each other and not shut up for like 15 hours straight. We never ran out of anything to say. That’s the magical thing about our friendship! Sometimes now I feel challenged doing things with my other friends and I know it’s crazy because I will talk with my other friends, but that piece is different. It’s not that we will have nothing to talk about, but it’s not the same. Chris would be out every weekend during the summer. We would go to Riverhead and noodle around for a couple of hours, go pick out fabric, get a new comforter, do this, do that.
I don’t think a friendship like this is fairly common. I don’t really think any of my girlfriends have friendships with this kind of longevity, depth and breadth. Unfortunately, that was tragically cut short by a choice that Chris made. She decided she had enough.
Chris had a lot of hormonal challenges. This was another one of those ways in which we were so different. I never even had PMS. I never had a mood-altering moment when it was that time of the month; my body didn’t go through craziness and Chris would just lose a couple of weeks a month. Chris was moody. She had ups and downs. She’d get up in the morning and it was, “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my tea.” I wake in the morning and I am ready to go.
She struggled in her marriage. I would say to her, “I support you with whatever you do. You are not a victim. If you choose to stay with him, you stay. If you choose to leave, I support you in that.” I knew that I couldn’t judge. I learned that my opinions have nothing to do with what someone else’s life is and that’s from not only having a black belt in AA, but having a black belt in Al-Anon. Even to my best friend, I couldn’t say to her, “Leave him.” When Chris talked to me about the challenges she had with her husband I would often say, “You need to tell him that. If not you are wasting the relationship.”
When my marriage broke up, she had gone through a period beforehand where her husband had left her for somebody else and then she had gone back with him. She stayed with him, though there were things that he did that made her very unhappy. She came to a place with depression where her husband took her to a doctor and she went on medication. Her husband said the medicine killed her, and I say that’s not taking responsibility for your part in anything. I have no relationship with him now, zero. I have made a choice. I didn’t like how he treated her then, I don’t seen why I need to be friends with him now.
When I met my second husband I was 18 or 19 years sober. The person I was when I was drinking was not the person he met. Any information about what I used to be like would not serve our relationship. Sometimes I’ll tell a story and he’ll look at me and say, “Who are you?” In my friendship with Chris there were no holds barred, there was nothing hidden. I think it is not necessary for my husband to know everything, but it was kind of necessary for girlfriends to grow together to know who we were.
Describe how the friendship ended.
You want to talk about powerlessness. I’m on an airplane leaving Costa Rica after being gone for four months and I’m looking at emails. Her sister emails me and I recognize the address and I’m like, “Why is Vicky emailing me?” Vicky never emailed me. She said call me when you get in. And I pop back an email saying, “Hey Vicky, I am on the runway what’s going on? I’m leaving, I am coming back to New York.” She said call me when you get in. And you know what I actually thought was that Chris had picked up a drink and was in the mental hospital. That’s what I really thought had happened.
When we landed there were a ton of messages on my voicemail, even one from her husband. It took us hours to get through the airport with three dogs, immigration and customs. We landed at 8-something and I don’t think we got to the car until after 11. I said, okay, who do I call? I decided to call her sister and that’s when I found out that I no longer had my friend. That she had chosen to take her own life and he found her. I had to know that no matter if I spoke to her at the end, I am not powerful enough to have changed her course. I didn’t speak to her very much the last month or two of her life. She told me she had gotten medicine, she was seeing a doctor, but she wasn’t returning phone calls or emails. She was depressed, but again, it’s not anything I identified with or understood.
How did you cope with her loss?
I called in the girlfriends. I got home on a Sunday and I knew I wasn’t working on Monday. Three girlfriends came over and then the next day I went to another good friend’s house that I was actually able to help with what she was going through, so I didn’t have to be mired in my own stuff. So it was just showing up for life. I went to meetings. I shared about it. I talked to people. It’s a year now. I guess it all feels like a blur. I don’t really know exactly how I got through this.
I’m almost 30 years sober, so I’m pretty entrenched in living my life in a way that brings me joy. Life is too precious, too short and I don’t really do things I don’t want to do. I’m fully present in my life so it’s not like I had to start getting present in my life. I’m in a program that makes you look at yourself every day. I have that self-examination piece, that part of my daily living, that belly barometer that says are you happy or not, are you doing the right thing or not, are your ethics being compromised or not.
For me the big change is the loss of not having that one person to call up and just say, “Hey” or “Can you imagine that I actually got a pillow that matched the comforter. “ I mean I miss the minutiae of that life much more than the global stuff. It’s the day-to-day ridiculous things that we would talk about that I miss. Everybody loved Chris, there was no one that didn’t love her, but she couldn’t see that, she couldn’t feel it.
I think the grieving for her was worse than with my father because she was in my life for a thousand hours a day. I may have had my father longer, but that’s not the same. The reality was this loss was way bigger. There was so much more time spent, so many bigger emptier hours, different than one or two phone calls a week.
With a best friend you are 100% you and you allow them to be 100% them. It just gives you great joy to be with each other, great learning opportunities, great fun and great ridiculousness. It’s who can you be silly with, completely totally silly.
Is there anything else that you'd like to add about your friendship?
We found this soldier and quarter on the beach. We made up a song about it and sang it as we walked for miles. We would still sing that song 28 years later. I gave the two items to Chris for her 25th anniversary with AA. It was a surprise to her that I kept them for over 20 years.
Before Friendship Dialogues was a gleam in founder Ellen Pearlman’s eyes, a group of over two dozen women answered her online plea for women who had lost a female best friend. Ellen is eternally grateful to all the women, including Amy, for opening their hearts to her and sharing their personal stories of love and loss. It was through this process that the seeds for Friendship Dialogues were planted. Thank you!