Boundaries. In recovery circles this comes up a LOT. It’s an interesting concept for me because I don’t bloody have them, but now that I’m at my full wits (aka sober) it’s something I’m much better at.
I’m 100% a people pleaser. Not in a Mother Theresa kind of way or necessarily because I just want everyone to be happy, but because I am so fucking terrified of disapproval. I’m desperate for people to like me and it’s taken me all the way to almost 43 years of age to learn I don’t need to give a fuck about any of that. Yes, of course I want everyone to be happy and I really hate it when anyone – anyone at all, whether I know them or otherwise – feels unhappy, don’t get me wrong. But the fact that I’m a total suck-up is completely down to my desperate need for everyone to like me. I quite literally go cold inside any time I feel I’ve got something wrong, even if it’s something that really doesn’t matter. Case in point: in the summer we were doing some target shooting with air rifles. It was me, Bambino, hubby and my dad. I don’t bloody know shooting range code so reloaded whilst Bambino was setting up the apples we used for targets.
“Anna! You can’t do that!” hubby exclaimed, “Never ever load the rifle when someone’s down there.”
My dad came rushing towards me as if I’d aimed a loaded bazooka at my child. For the record, the barrel was pointing up so there was no loaded weapon – heavy or otherwise – aimed at my son. To be honest it was to my mind an absolute over reaction and I had been fully aware of everything around me at all times. But this is a golden rule, clearly, just like you don’t allow the rifle to at any time point at another person even when it’s unloaded. Fair enough.
“Whoa-whoa-whoa, give me that!” dad barked and took the air rifle off me, brow furrowed and bark worse than his bite in his usual manner.
OK. Important and I can see why you should adhere to a rule like that – it makes sense. Only load when everyone is back behind you. I just had it in my head that so long as the rifle is pointed away or up it’s cool bananas. It isn’t. Being in the wrong and being told off made me feel SICK. Yes, sick. I felt utterly shit and almost wanted to cry. This is how sensitive I am to getting something wrong. I’m surprisingly good at taking criticism and I’m not afraid to hold my hands up and admit to being a fucktard when I’ve been one, but I am PETRIFIED of getting things wrong. A contradiction in terms perhaps, but that’s just me. But anyway, look at this scenario and you probably realise that the only person who even remembers this months later is me. I can bet you any money that hubby or dad don’t, because it wasn’t a big deal. Throwing my dad into the mix is of course the cherry on top because I have massive issues with impressing him and getting something wrong in front of him sends me into meltdown. Another thing I’m learning slowly but surely to let go of, but there we are and it is what it is. Yes, I’m kind and yes I’m caring, but my people pleasing has traditionally been down to desperation to be liked and this example illustrates that what made me feel sick wasn’t primarily that people got upset with me (and they weren’t actually upset) but that I wasn’t “good enough”.
Where boundaries come into play when it comes to my incessant people pleasing efforts is how I always agree to stuff I don’t actually want to do only to keep other people happy (and keep liking me). So I’ve always over promised and then, lo and behold, under delivered because what I’ve gone and promised I can’t actually make myself do. It’s insane really and these days I steer clear of such behaviour. If I don’t want to do something, I say one thing and one thing only: no. Before, I would have offered some wishy-washy and long winded excuse, feeling the need to justify, explain and apologise for my decision. Not anymore. I say no and that’s that. And so, when I found myself in a situation that actually really pissed me off and barged WAY over my new found boundaries, I dealt with it in the opposite way to how Drunk Me may have gone about it.
Without apologising for how I feel about it, I kept it matter of fact and removed myself from the situation. I showed appreciation where it was due and didn’t go into a long diatribe about aaaaaaall my feelings on the matter or the implications the situation had actually entailed on a personal level. Thanks but no thanks in a nutshell. Sober Me is surprisingly balanced and also firm. Drunk Me would have gone absolutely ape shit and reacted in anger at the time and at the same time apologised for how I felt about it. Sober Me let it sit for a while, thought it over and then calmly bowed out. I didn’t go into exactly what I found unacceptable because I recognise my part in an unfortunate situation, nor did I go into any other detail that wasn’t actually necessary. It’s not for me and thanks for your time – accurate and honest. This way I don’t need to feel upset and nor does anyone else, yet I’ve been honest and true to myself. In this situation it appears I wasn’t fully aware of how things would work and was a little taken aback (OK, a lot), but this is with hindsight my own fault so I don’t see any need to read anyone the riot act. All involved seemingly had the best intentions and the end result was just a bit unfortunate, that’s all. All that’s needed is exactly what I did: thanks but not thanks, this is not for me. Simples!
And that’s how I intend to keep on going. I don’t have to like everything and I certainly don’t have to explain and apologise for not liking everything. If I don’t want to do something, here it is in all its glory: NO. And when I feel my boundaries are breached, I will in a kind and respectful manner remind people where I’ve drawn them if it wasn’t immediately obvious.
Every cloud has a silver lining however, and this situation that got me thinking about boundaries did trigger some positive conversations. Oh, here we go again, I’m being a little suck-up. It didn’t trigger – it FORCED some conversations that luckily turned out to be very positive ones. When I realised my name now appears in Google’s search results as my full name along with being listed as ‘author’ on a recovery forum, I had no choice but to have the full disclosure discussion with my in-laws on the other side of the world (whose unusual surname I bear) and my teenage son. I’ve been dithering back and forth about the whats the hows and the whens, but this little episode meant it was ALCOHOLIC and SKYPE CALL and NOW. And a chat with Bambino last week. Panicked and in a knee jerk manner, maybe. But it has to come from me, not Google, even though the chances of that happening are in the grand scheme of things minuscule. Even so. Because I’ve been very open about everything it wasn’t difficult, but I would have still been able to choose for myself when I shared the most intimate details of my recovery and indeed when I had the A-word discussion with my child. It would have nice if that had been my own choice as opposed to be put in a situation where I couldn’t do anything other than present it all. Still, none of it was news so no harm was done. In fact, I’m going to take this whole thing to be the push I needed. I’ve not hidden my recovery or shied away from talking openly about it and I’m not about to start now, but I am also going to be in charge of what, when and how I broadcast it.
It’ll all come good. And what it does show is that I’m a freaking WIZARD at handling stressful situations. This little lesson involved another reminder to fully weigh things up and check stuff over before throwing myself in. Or as this father of mine, whom I’m so keen to impress, often puts it: “don’t be so freaking blue eyed“. Ironic perhaps that a Swede who might be aware of the stereotype that might suggest we all have blue eyes uses this as a way of describing naivety!
Boundaries established. I’ll work on communicating them better. And I will always honour them. Sobriety keeps on delivering.
Today I’m not going to drink.