I’ve been finding out that the way my sponsor explained boundaries to me is not very typical, but it certainly works really well for me.

Someone in an online group recently pointed out that a boundary that had been mentioned was actually a rule. It was along the lines of, “You may not x while y, and if you do, I will z.” I’m so used to everyone’s boundaries being expressed differently that I totally didn’t notice the poster had posted a rule. So glad the commenter said something.

My first sponsor said that a boundary is a deal I make with myself to take care of me. It comes in the form of, “If x happens, then I will y.”

The way to apply it is to think of 3-5 things that are most likely to happen. If I think of every single thing that might happen, I get drawn into futurizing, and that’s no good, so 5 is the limit for now.

For each thing that might happen, I think of an appropriate way to take care of myself in that situation. I might even give myself alternatives, or set up escalating boundaries.

  • If my mom criticizes me on the phone, I will:
    • Say, “Gotta go, Mom. Love you. Bye!” and hang up. Or,
    • Ask her how her peach trees are. Or,
    • Ask her to hang on a second, I need a drink of water. And then get one.
  • If someone keeps interrupting me at a meeting, I will:
    • The first time, say, “Hang on, I’m not done.”
    • The second time, stand up to speak.
    • The third time, leave the room.
I get to change my boundaries as needs and circumstances change.
I don’t necessarily have to tell other people what the boundaries are. It’s even probably better that I don’t, unless exercising my boundary will have a direct effect on them.

  • If the other adults in the house don’t have a job by the end of next month, I will:
    • Get an apartment and move myself and my kids out. And
    • I will also stop paying for the house.
That last one might be a rule, now that I think about it. Boundaries are not meant to be about controlling another person’s behavior, but instead about taking care of myself. I’m not sure how else to handle the situation of a house bought with the expectation of 3 full-time salaries that actually had only 1 to support it.

What I want in a partner:
  • Respects me
  • Respect for others
  • A service ethic
  • Shares some of my interests
  • Has interests of their own
  • Humble, for real
  • Respects and supports their family
  • Responsible with money
  • Well employed or otherwise self-supporting (7th tradition)
  • Encourages me to be self-supporting
  • Can be silly, but not the default state
  • Can be very serious
  • Has goals and plans of their own
  • Expresses self in work or hobbies
  • Has their own sense of self worth
  • At least as mature as I am
  • Independent
  • Dependable 
  • Caring, thoughtful
  • A good neighbor
  • A good friend
  • Accepting of me
  • Accepting of my sexuality
  • Accepting of my orientation
  • Willing to dance, can enjoy it
  • Sexual compatibility
  • Political compatibility
  • Similar values
  • Healthy attitudes about sex
  • Is happy
  • Generous
  • Fair-minded
  • Has or is willing to have a dog
  • Respects whether I’m ready to live together or not
What I don’t want:
  • Racist
  • Sexist
  • Politically extreme
  • Prone to rage
  • Controlling, dominating
  • Codependent
  • Criticizing, disparaging, judgmental, blaming
  • Conformist
  • Buys into toxic masculinity or the patriarchy
  • Buys into toxic femininity
  • Expects all my unstructured time to belong to them
  • Greedy
  • Advantage-seeking
  • Conservative
  • Assumes I’m wrong about everything I say
  • Hoarding
  • An alcoholic or addict
  • Insists that we have to live together

One of the mistakes I made early in the last relationship was to contribute financially well over the level of being self-supporting. When I got laid off, I couldn’t do that anymore. While I was training for a new career, I contributed right at the level of being self-supporting through my severance pay, and later, through acquiring credit card debt. But it was so much less money than they were used to.

My spouse deeply resented the reduced level of contribution and saw it as changing their life without their permission, because I chose to train for a new career instead of starting over in my old one (which is what happens when you get laid off – in my industry, nobody hires at higher levels from outside the company – you start at entry level again). It didn’t matter that a new job would still not pay enough. 

Also the layoff happened just after I had borrowed a lot from my 401k for a project, so I was trying to pay back the loan so as not to incur a heavy tax penalty. My spouse blamed my project for changing their life as well, even though commitment to carry out that project was made plain before we ever married.

Sorry I’m not explaining it well without anonymity-breaking specifics.

Another mistake I made was justifying making my career decisions unilaterally as long as I was meeting my 7th tradition. Right or wrong, my spouse felt left out. It would have been more respectful to fully discuss these things beforehand.

In any case, my business in my new career didn’t take off soon enough to prevent me maxing out the credit cards, so it became necessary to fall back on the old career and, yes, start at entry level, which is where I still am now. It’s taken a few years to pay off all that debt, plus defaulting on the 401k and assisting them with their tax burden.

In my next relationship (if any), I want money to not be a factor.

I haven’t been posting in a long time. It became a lot less convenient after Google took over Blogger and made a lot of changes. To preserve anonymity at the level of press, radio, TV, films, and the Internet, I had to put my Al-Anon account on a separate Google ID than the rest of my life. So that meant doing a lot of login shuffle. And I … just didn’t.

So it’s been a few years. I’m not married anymore. My spouse changed my life without my consent, and I wasn’t willing to go further. I learned a lot about my program and ways to apply it during our marriage, and it was a growing experience. I remain sure my HP wanted me to have that experience, and I’m glad I did.

I am happily single again. My first sponsor would have told me right after the divorce that it was the right time to make a new list of what I want in a partner. I did give it a half-hearted attempt, but I just didn’t bring myself to do it. There are a few drafts in my various notebooks. Also I have started lists of what I don’t want in a partner.

Looking over my old list, I see that my former spouse did not meet some of these criteria, but I didn’t know it at the time. They did engage in criticism (I would say even derision and scorn.). They were not mature. They were indeed controlling and not dependable. How would I not get fooled again?

In any case, I am not looking for a partner. I am happily living on my own, in my own space, with my own pets. I have a good job. I have goals and plans. My program is not as strong as it was, probably because I’m not leaning on it as heavily. That’s something to work on. I would like to have great program regardless the circumstances.

I am working the 12 steps again and am now at Step 6. I have been for quite a long time. Maybe I’ll be “entirely ready” soon?

Sometimes I get so frustrated with me because I keep forgetting that a key symptom of alcoholism is acting like an asshole. It seems I get complacent and cozy, and then when my alcoholic says or does something that is just unbelievable, I forget just what a cunning, baffling, and powerful insidious disease I am dealing with. Instead I think, “What an asshole!” I get judgmental. I get offended. What the alcoholic does is just so incredibly painful to me, when it has no right to be.

I bet this means my program has weakened again. Or that something is going on with me, and I’m practicing my program poorly because of it.

There are some days when my alcoholic is so deep in the disease that it’s just this avalanche of continuous unacceptable behavior.

Scenario 1:

Me: Okay I’m running late now, so I need to leave by 8:15. I have to go finish getting ready.
Alcoholic: Okay darling, Just take a minute and show me how to …
(Insert several interruptions, distractions, trying to carry on conversation from a different room, etc.)
Alcoholic: Look what time it is. (It’s 9:00.) You are getting quite late now. What happened?

Scenario 2:

I am a spectator at an event, sitting next to my alcoholic. I have been watching the proceedings off and on through a pair of binoculars. As the event approaches a climax, this is when my alcoholic begins affectionately, yet vigorously, rubbing the arm that is involved in binocular holding.

Scenario 3

It is a day that begins very early and contains many events and tasks. As we get home, I let my alcoholic know that I am exhausted and going to bed now. The next day, while I am expressing my appreciation for all the things my alcoholic does, the alcoholic complains about having felt abandoned the night before.

Imagine this kind of thing all day, every day! Pity me! Poor poor me! Wah wah wah.

Truly, it does feel like the disease within the alcoholic is constantly trying to provoke a fight with me. If I say anything at the time about the alcoholic’s behavior, next comes huge offense, sulky behavior, and snide remarks for days. No wonder one of my parents firmly believes that alcoholism is actually demon possession! My perfectly wonderful, lovable alcoholic becomes this complete asshole, and then tries to make me pay for standing up for myself.

So it’s probably obvious to you that Scenario 1 displays a lack of practicing my boundaries. When the alcoholic attempts to derail my schedule, I can weigh my options and choose to come in late, or to ignore the distractions, or maybe even some other choice that I am not aware of. Whatever I choose is my choice, so fuming about it all day means I’m having a slip and need to work on acceptance.

Scenarios 2 and 3 are plainly in No Big Deal territory, and don’t really require a response. They certainly don’t require fuming resentment for hours or even days. Again, guess just whose sickness is really messing with me!

I know that I can take care of myself by going elsewhere, by doing something else, by diverting my attention to the next right thing to do right know. I know that in my brain. I don’t always know it in my bones, and sometimes I get really, really tired. It feels like I can never really relax and just be there. That’s when I start asking myself just what the hell am I doing in this relationship anyway. What is the point? What am I supposed to be doing?

When I have no answers, I become depressed.

Today, I am sure I am here because my HP has something for me to learn. I feel that there is so much for me to learn, and that’s why I am so uncomfortable.

It’s the alcoholism that’s the asshole, and I don’t have to take it personally. If I can remember that and practice it, I’ll do better.

Twice in recent times I’ve gotten into trouble by thinking that I could change my attitude just by deciding to. I’ve thought I could refocus my obsessions just by recognizing them for what they are and trying like hell to think of something else. Invariably, my mind returns to that which is upsetting me in short order.

I forget sometimes that everything has a process. When I decide to turn my will and my life over to the care of my Higher Power, it hasn’t been accomplished yet. Doing the rest of the steps is the how, the process. The same is true of forgiveness. I’ve never been able to just up and forgive anyone through sheer force of will. It only ever happened as a by-product of a vigorous fourth step.

So it is with changing my attitude. I have to do a process. One great process I sometimes forget to use is the first process my first sponsor taught me – the control list.

I take a piece of paper and draw lines vertically that divide it into three columns. In the first column I list something that is on my mind. In the second column I list all the aspects of that situation that I cannot control. In the third column, I list the things I can control.

This process serves a few purposes. First, it organizes my thoughts. When they grind around in my head, they are unclear and infused with emotion. Second, it makes clear what concerns I can let go of. Whatever I can’t control, I feel absolved of responsibility for. Third, the column of things I can control gives me ideas for how to build my boundaries. I can decide what to do to take care of myself.

All of this gives me a feeling of purpose and optimism. I feel less lost and more able to meet my situation sanely. That’s a much better attitude!

I’d like to start one, and possibly a series, of writing workshops. Right now, there are lots of opportunities open for writing:

  • Our Area newsletter
  • The Forum
  • Al-Anon Faces Alcoholism
  • The new CAL about intimacy
  • The new daily reader
Some ideas of things to write about:
  • A Step Two experience
  • What it was like to be a newcomer
  • How my HP differs from my previous understanding of God
  • How something I observed in the natural world relates to my recovery
  • How something I observed can be a metaphor for a principle of recovery
  • How a relationship changed as I began applying program tools
  • How a particular activity is different now with new perspective
  • What it is like to be a sponsor
  • What it is like to have a sponsor
  • Ways that the amends process surprised me
  • How any of the steps surprised me
  • How service affected my recovery
  • How sponsorship affected my recovery
  • How working the steps affected my recovery
  • What it was like to accept the opportunity to share my story as a speaker
  • What specific benefit(s) I received from working a particular step
  • A favorite slogan and ways that it helps me
  • How a particular meeting format (speaker, step study, newcomer, spiritual, etc.) works especially well for me
I recently took some time off to train our puppies. They needed some intense attention to get past the need to eliminate indoors, and my spouse couldn’t give it. I was also having some monstrous depression attacks. Really intense ones. Frequent ones.

Not working my program well makes me a lot more vulnerable to depression, a mostly biological condition for me. Taking time off to watch animals for signs of impending toilet activity left me with some mental resources idle enough to turn toward things that make me unhappy. Unsurprisingly, they all had to do with slapdash application of program tools.

At the end of the time off, I started writing down what I didn’t want to forget again. One post-it note became four, became ten. So now they are all over my mirror. I thought it might help to blog my thoughts on these.

This past week and a half have been much better.

The biggest problem had to do with gossip. Of course I’ve always known that gossiping is bad. It’s hurtful and negative. What I forgot was that even listening to gossip poisons my peace. It fills the air around my head with judgment, scorn, derision. That stuff seeps in, and it spurs me to judgment and criticism myself. In such a mindset, everyone is screwed up, malicious, stupid – and life just sucks.

But really it doesn’t. Everyone screws up, but we are all sacred, unrepeatable creations of a loving Higher Power. Most of us mean well, and we all are doing the best we can with the light we have to see by.

To take care of myself, I need to practice good boundaries regarding unacceptable behavior. I need to have an agreement with myself regarding what to do when confronted with spouting negativity. The strategy I decided on was to change the subject. If necessary, I could ask the other person to change the subject. I could also remove myself from the area, but since I encounter a lot of gossip in the car, it’s not practical to use that as a primary strategy.

This one thing has made more of a difference than anything. I am so grateful that my HP brought this to my attention.

Sometimes judgment and prejudice hamper my ability to hear my HP’s messages for me. My HP talks to me through other people. I can’t hear those messages if I am constantly scoffing at or dismissing what other people say. I need to listen. I don’t need to believe all that is said to me whole cloth, but I do need to listen and think, looking for those nuggets of value.