“I’ve got to set some boundaries.” I never understood when people said that. It sounded so self-involved and overly serious. However, as a person would routinely get drunk and tell you what I thought of your personality and how you live your life, the concept of boundaries is something clearly lost on me. I never had boundaries. My motto for two Clinton administrations as well as two with Bush was firmly, “I don’t give a fuck.” Being inappropriate wasn’t something I worried about. It was a life-goal. Now, with a few years sober, I have new life goals that, thankfully, don’t involve telling people to fuck themselves. And recently, I’ve found myself setting boundaries of my own.
Here’s the deal with this “boundaries” thing as I currently understand it. Turns out, they start with me and rarely do other people–you know, the inappropriate ones– even know this big dramatic boundary was even set! Go figure. My emotional sobriety over the last several months has put me in several situations where professionally, personally and even in recovery I’ve had to say, “Hey this feels crazy and I need to nip it in the bud.” This is progress for the guy who used to send drunken tirade text messages. But it’s an unfamiliar practice for me as a chronic people pleaser who also likes to get drunk and yell at you.
It’s helped to have spiritual guidance. The person I call my sponsor has guided me through these uncharted waters. I need a push occasionally from a person outside the situation and he’s always good for that. He’s showed me that boundaries like fences keep us safe and keep us out of sticky situations. I need to set boundaries for me. Other people, as it turns out, kind of don’t give a crap. With a work situation recently, I agonized over sending an email because I worried that I’d come off as a jerk or that I over-stepped. My boss wrote me back quickly and basically thanked me profusely for letting him know what the issues were. This boundary and the subsequent response blew my mind open. I’m in charge of my own self-esteem. It doesn’t matter how I draw the line in the sand or how dramatic a pronouncement I make. If I don’t take the actions and if I’m doing it for other people, it ain’t gonna work out. I couldn’t get sober for other people and I can’t stay emotionally sober for them either. Recovery has taught me that I can open my mouth when something isn’t right and more often than not that simple act can save my life.