boundaries, electric fences & cattleprods

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“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.ย 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 anย 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.

people (insert head shake and deep sigh)

The songstress in the photo below once crooned, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” While the inherent codependency of that lyric could be undoubtedly discussed until my computer exploded, I guess the 1960’s wisdom of ‘needing people’ to express not isolating from others is sweet. Yet seeing what a pain in the ass they are, people who tell other people to go screw themselves might be luckiest people in the world.

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Now relax, I’m not going to launch into a post about how people suck and how wronged I’ve been by the entire planet beginning with my abusive 1st grade teacher(affectionately known as Sister Snake Face) leading all the way up to the cashier at Starbucks from last week who ignored me (affectionately known as “douche waffle”). Sadly, recovery has forever tainted my bitch sessions about others. I’ve been programmed to look at my part first and to have compassion for crazy people and to pray for people I want to kill. Really takes the fun out of the whole ritual. As a drug, people really suck. Next to slamming Robotussin, no other substance provides such an unreliable high and such a flaming hot headache. As former grand marshal of the codependents parade, which never happened on the account of all of our time being spent worrying about each other, people addiction is something I know a little about. Listen, like I said, if drugs or a bottle were available I’d gladly take them first. But people were more like cigarettes. Not a fast high but a habit that would make me sicker and crazier the longer I did it. Just how I like my habits to behave. A year and half away from romantic relationships and some gnarly soul-searching helped me kick my people drug. However, that detox was a slower and more slippery one. I never had normal relationships. Like ever. So sliding into crazyland behavior like trying to control when people call me, not eating in hopes that we’ll go out to dinner together and generally trying to manipulate people into spending time with me was incredibly easy. It took my several failed friendships in sobriety and months of dating hell to realize, I had a long way to go in building a health relationships with these ‘people’ Babs was singing about.

I bring this up today because people as they are known to do, have been a disappointment lately. And by lately I mean since that whole Garden of Eden fuckup. Seriously, my relationships get complicated and that’s a blessing. Really. My relationships these days are real and authentically human with actual people. Which is terrific for somebody who use to refer to friends who he knew from nightclubs as “We Hate Her” and “Snaggle Toe”. The flipside of these real relationships is that alwaysย  sometimes people let you down. Again, they’re an incredibly dicey drug. I’d be better off with a pack of Kools and a box of wine if I wanted to check out. Thankfully, I don’t want to check out today. I also know that humans being human is a two-way street. I let people down too. I screw up constantly. And , yes, 12-steppers, I’m usually to blame, at least partially, for whatever issue I have with people is. Sigh.

I heard Barbra say in an interview she always thought the lyric should be that “people who don’t need people are the luckiest people in the world” as it expressed the heartbreak her character in Funny Girl went through. I get it. But it seems like that song turned out okay. I know that if I just let things happens, just forgive people for being people and just be grateful for having the people in my life that I do have, I’ll be okay too.