Monday, February 22, 2010

Setting Boundaries

"Setting boundaries" was a term tossed around a lot when I was in rehab. You'd be amazed how many addicts and alcoholics have problems with this. For one thing, many of us have had appropriate boundaries trampled on when we were children (one fella in rehab shared horror stories of repeatedly being raped by his own father), so we weren't really raised understanding what "appropriate" is. We get up in people's faces. We spurt anger. We don't respect others' relationships and we cheat on our own partners. We do all kinds of acting out because we don't really "get" boundaries.

Or, some of us go in the opposite direction and have no clue how to set up boundaries for ourselves. People take advantage of us. We're naively trusting. We're constantly hurt because we somehow seem to be made targets of, or victimized, all the time. We have trouble saying "no." We'll put everyone else's needs before our own.

Or, some of us--like me--do all of these things. I was Jekyll and Hyde--sweet when sober and a furious bitch when I was drunk.

Sure, giving up booze has made me much more even-keeled. But learning about boundaries has helped just as much.

Here's what I've learned so far. When our boundaries are crossed, chaos ensues unless you quickly take hold of the situation. So step number one is, know your boundaries. What is a boundary? As MrSponsorPants says, "A boundary is a limit. 'This is what I will do. This is what I won't do. This is what I will not allow in my life. This is what I will not allow you to say to me. This is what I will not allow you to do to me. This is what I will accept from you. This is what I won't accept from you.'" It is a clear statement that says 'No' to some behavior (an action or an inaction) from another person in any context, be it love, family, work, school, etc." Step number two is actually enforcing that statement in a calm, consistent manner.

Two online friends--well, one a friend, the other an acquaintance--recently tried crossing boundaries with me. One was a guy from college who made a pass at me one night on Facebook. I figured he was drunk and maybe had forgotten I'm a lesbian, so I simply said good-bye and went offline, figuring he'd probably be horrified and apologetic the next day. To my surprise, the next day he was not at all apologetic and commenced his rather pathetic wooing of me, so I politely told him his behavior was unwelcome, and then I blocked him. Period. End of problem. Go get some help, my friend, because I'm pretty sure your wife wouldn't like what you're doing.

The other boundary that was crossed was more heartbreaking, and I alluded to it a few days ago in another post. A friend of mine wanted me to do something I wasn't willing to do, really for two reasons: one, I simply didn't care to because it would've been something that would be a daily aggravation and two, doing this thing would also involve my conspiring with her in a lie to someone else. So, I said "no," and my friend didn't like it. When I explained that I was merely setting a boundary, she didn't seem to get what I was saying and then snapped at me about having boundaries herself (as if my having a boundary was stepping over one of her boundaries). In an instant I understood that this friend preferred me better as a drunk. I was much more compliant as a drunk. Because ... when I was using, this friend did a lot of crossing of boundaries with me, but WITH MY PERMISSION.

She's no longer a friend.

Seriously, I do have to live with myself. And being browbeaten by my own conscience is not my idea of a good time.

So, MrSponsorPants (I just love his handle!) has come up with a list of boundaries that I found worth printing out and sticking on my filing cabinet:

* Other people's behavior does not dictate my behavior. If you lie to me I still speak the truth to you. If you steal from me I do not steal from you. My ethics and my principles are not changed by my anger or my fear, nor are they flexible in the context of "standing up for myself" (which in some situations is just "retaliation" in recovery drag.) You don't get to decide how I behave by the way you behave.

* You can spoil your day -- that's up to you -- but you can't spoil mine -- that's up to me.

* If you want to behave badly that's on you. But I'm not going to be part of it. I leave or you leave if you want to behave in a toxic or hurtful (to me, to you, or to an innocent bystander) manner.

* Helping someone is not the same as enabling someone. Generally I do not shield people from the consequences of their actions (or their inactions), and I do not expect them to shield me from the consequences of mine. I most especially do not shield an alcoholic or addict from the consequences of their using.

* I won't support other people's lies.

* I will not allow people to abuse me verbally, emotionally, mentally or physically -- and while I am not responsible for the whole world around me, I will not sit idly by when others are being abused.

Really, these rules about cover it.

Thanks for reading.

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