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.

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 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.

I recently left a sick situation. It was a group of people who had a task to complete, but the focus of the task shifted from “how can we build our group” to “how can we keep people like this one we know from being jerks in our group” to “how can we keep that jerk out of our group”. I gave my input about this several times and finally had to set the boundary that if all group members are not invited and if the group can’t maintain its focus on its primary purpose, I would have to stop participating.

I stopped participating.

The members continue to email me about their progress, but it’s more of the same. Mostly I don’t respond. One member has been trying to get me to re-join the group, with lots of explanations about why I need to be there and what the group dynamics are and how my influence helps, etc.

It still boils down to those boundaries, though. That situation is about personalities instead of principles, and that’s a bad foundation for building something. I can’t get on board with that.

I’m done explaining. One thing I learned from working the program is that I am responsible for what I say. I am not responsible for what someone else understands. If I am as clear – simple and brief – about my boundaries as I can be, and they still don’t understand, they may never understand. It serves neither of us for me to keep explaining. My rule of thumb: I usually give it one first try and two clarifications before I give up.

The above graphic appeared on my Facebook one day. I laughed and told my spouse, expecting to share the laugh. My spouse did not think it funny, instead considering this as an excuse to shut someone down, or shut them out, refusing to discuss a situation at all. I explained that the graphic isn’t about how to have a conversation. It’s about sick situations where someone is (or some people are) trying to gain control.

  • One tries to control by explaining in an effort to turn the other person around.
  • One tries to control by claiming not to understand in an effort to wear the other out. 

Guess which one I generally was? If that person would only understand, they’d know how right I am and they would do the obvious right thing, which is what I want them to.

I had to learn to simplify my thinking and my language. I need to admit I might be wrong. If I can’t express my idea simply in few sentences, I really, really need to examine my thinking and my motives. Over-explaining is for me usually means I am making justifications. I’m trying to build a case for what I want. And here we are at control again.

I’m a little discouraged. Generally, my spouse hosts a discussion group a few times a year that involve using the 12 traditions in our personal lives, and I’m now involved in hosting as well. Used to be, it was hard to get a seat in one of these, they’d fill up so fast, and people would have to wait for the next round.

We had one scheduled for January and had to cancel because nearly all the confirmed participants canceled the week prior. There’s one this weekend, and it too is being swept by last-minute cancellations. This happened for one of the sessions last year as well.

This is baffling. Is it God trying to tell us to stop hosting them? We usually schedule one when lots of people start asking us when the next one will be, expressing a lot of interest in participating.

We’ve decided that our boundary is going to be that when people start asking again, to tell them we’ll happily chair it, but they have to host it. I expect most if not all will decline, but that gives people a chance to find their level of commitment before we discover it in their last-minute cancellation.

I’m having the food fight again. Most of the fight is internal to me, but it’s in reaction to my spouse. Oh, Al-Anon tools, how rusty you get when you’re not being picked up!

I perceive pressure from my spouse to eat, eat, eat. It’s relentless. It’s interminable queries about whether I really did get enough to eat. It’s handing me a plate heaped with enough to stuff two teenagers. It’s handing me a bowl with enough ice cream in it to wipe out three days’ worth of calories. It’s constant offers of cookies.

I know my spouse loves me. I’m also a Southerner, so I understand the mentality that food = love. I get that.

I also get that I do get to choose what to eat, how much, and when. I get to have boundaries – and I’ve been letting those slip. That’s on me.

Whatever my spouse does, there is nothing in the world stopping me from taking my plate to the kitchen and putting away the portions I don’t want into the fridge. Same for all the extra ice cream in the bowl. I don’t have to accept the whole helping; I don’t have to eat it all. And when the question, “Did you get enough to eat?” turns into nagging, it’s completely okay for me to smile, get up, and go somewhere else. I don’t have to sit still for it.

All the above is a reminder for me, because I’ve been forgetting. I’ve been getting so angry and sulky and resentful. I’ve gained weight again and my pants don’t fit and I’ve been blaming the spouse instead of taking responsibility.

Sometimes I feel so tired, and so discouraged. Maybe when I feel like this, I can pray for help.

I was recently cold-called by a property investor in the part of the country where I lived before now. There was a message on my voicemail vaguely mentioning distressed properties. Part of the meltdown that was my Al-Anon bottom had to do with losing a house, only it doesn’t seem I actually lost it. I’m involved with a “bank walkaway”, apparently.

Interesting that this should come now, as I’m working my way through the 9th Step. Right now I’m doing letters to dead and otherwise unavailable people, moving to letters that can be mailed, before proceeding with Internet, phone, and face-to-face amends.

Everything I needed to get the process of a short sale started was readily available, so after speaking with the person and doing some research to be sure this isn’t a scam, I rounded it all up and sent it on over. That person mentioned that it usually takes a month or so to do the part I did in about six hours. But everything I needed was right there.

My spouse and I are also doing a new budget, now that we are at the half-year mark and understand what changes to our finances this being married thing has wrought. We’re both religious folk, so this has brought up the topic of tithing, which has also brought up the topic of our (individual and differing) faiths both in general and specifically.

As a member of my faith, I haven’t been doing my part. I haven’t been tithing or showing up to services. I haven’t been engaged in service projects. It’s time. It’s time I put my Time, Treasure, and Talent where my mouth is. Treasure being metaphorical, of course.

I also need to meet with a representative of the faith to which I no longer belong. There are, I think, some administrative and community tasks that need to be done to formalize my separation from that religious body. Whether I’ve done so or not has an effect on my relationship to its adherents, so it’s helpful to settle it. It’s probably also good for my soul to get some resolution on what happened, and why I subscribe to the faith that I do now. I’d like to get some peace around this.

Part of inventorying the budget has also brought to light some recurring expenses for various friends and organizations that I’ve just been paying, as a donation or a gift. These are teensy tiny annual expenses, and I don’t mind, but part of doing my 7th Tradition and letting others do theirs compels me to reach out to these folks to ask what they want done with them. It’s not really fair to them, to myself, and to my family for me to keep on silently handling these costs.

So far, one has responded to let the expense go – they don’t need the service anymore. Two others are sending me checks to cover the costs. I have a boundary that if I haven’t heard back from the others within a reasonable period of time and after a couple of reminders, I’ll let those go as well, as they plainly are not vital services to those folks.

Another sudden 9th Step money thing is the realization that I owe someone money. I had borrowed money from someone with a clear expectation of paying it back, and then got into an arrangement with them wherein they were expected to contribute and they didn’t. I rationalized and justified and wrote off my debt to that person out of hand. I put it out of my mind completely, only remembering it while going through my amends list. I have to talk this over with my sponsor and with the individual involved to see what the correct amends would be, but some repayment at least is in order. Oddly, I’m not afraid of this.

I do feel some anxiety about my 9th step, but nothing like the stark fear I used to feel. I feel well-equipped for this. The Steps are in order for a reason, and I can clearly see it now.

I just got back from a long weekend with my spouse, and it was wonderful. I didn’t completely expect it to be, but it worked out really well. Acceptance was the key. I need to develop more fully the practice of acceptance, of keeping my mind on right now, and turning things over to my HP.

Before the trip, I was concerned that my spouse’s control issues were going to make me crazy the whole time. The week leading up to it was anxious and fraught with tension as my lover tried to get things satisfactorily organized. My sweetheart prepares. A lot. A whole lot more than I do. And my dear heart was suffering from self-inflicted strife over it.

I did my very best to prepare what I could for my part and stay as far out of the way as possible. I didn’t want to get sucked into insanity and I believe I did rather well at that. But it was so intense that I worried it would come along with us on the trip.

It didn’t. At least mostly it didn’t. And what little control-itis crept in was easily handled by good boundaries. I didn’t take things personally and I had a great time. A really great time.