Long ago, I gave money to a younger friend who said he needed it to buy tires. Then, some five years into his recovery from what turned out to be an addiction to cocaine, he told me the truth.
Long ago, I gave money to a younger friend who said he needed it to buy tires.
Then, some five years into his recovery from what turned out to be an addiction to cocaine, he told me the truth:
“Remember that $80 you gave me for tires? It went straight up my nose. You’re the adult child of an alcoholic, right? You should go to 12-step meetings yourself you know. You need work on your boundaries.”
It was true. In my single years I was always getting kissed by people I didn’t even like. I could sit through a three-hour bus ride while some bigot seated beside me spouted hateful talk without ever requesting that he stop.
I didn’t even know what the word boundaries meant.
So I had to study up on them, watch people who seemed to have good ones, even role-play situations where they come into play before I developed even the weakest grasp of how to patrol my own borders.
Because that’s what boundaries are, really. They’re borders that help us keep what’s important in and what’s harmful out.
Yet since old habits die hard, I have sometimes fallen back into old ways.
I did this last spring when a woman I have never met called me on the phone.
She said she wanted to surprise her boyfriend on his birthday by bringing him for a long weekend to my family’s summer place.
Along with his kids, she said. And, oh, her kids too.
Now it’s true that this “boyfriend” was once close to our family, which I guess is why I found myself saying a tentative yes.
“But could you come mid-week instead of on a busy summer weekend?” I heard myself asking, because they would need a lot of beds.
“And could you maybe … help with the cooking?”
“Oh, sure,” she said.
Then she gave me email address and said she would call the following week to nail things down.
She hung up.
And it was only then that I realized how, in a single instant, I had forgotten every last thing I had ever learned about boundaries.
Because If she and her party did come to our summer cottage I would have to (a) drive the 200 miles there, (b) arrange to work remotely, (c) miss a week of crucial back exercises at the Y, (d) leave my husband and 90-year-old uncle, both of whom count on me for food and companionship, and (e) closely monitor the waterfront activities of the group.
Five of them total strangers and the sixth a person who has not once in 20 years’ time picked up the phone to ask how any of us are doing.
My friend the former addict is now many years sober, and I know he would be proud to see how I handled the situation, though I am not proud of it particularly.
I wrote the woman an email explaining that it was wrong of me to assume I could just sweep past the potential plans of my family who wait all year to use this place during our short northern summers, so I was sorry but it wasn’t going to work.
I also mentioned the 20 years, which I should not have done.
But if you didn’t grow up with good boundaries, you sometimes panic as you try to set one and forget to put kindness first.
Anyway, I never heard from her again.
I still have a long way to go, but like my friend in his longtime sobriety, I try again every day. And like him I too take things one day at a time.
Write Terry c/o Ravenscroft Press, P.O. Box 270, Winchester, MA 01890 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or at in the “comments” section of her blog Exit Only www.terrymarotta.wordpress.com.