If you were raised by an alcoholic or if you love someone suffering from addiction, at some point you have struggled with boundaries. Why? Because an alcoholic or an addict crosses boundaries all the time to get their fix. They can be manipulative and even downright cruel if they are craving badly enough and they don’t mind hurting your feelings or the feelings of loved ones. You in return cross boundaries to try to save them, to try to protect them, and to try to protect others. It’s a boundary nightmare.
I have come to find that boundaries are one of the most important aspects in any relationship, even those without addiction. I learned this the hard way over and over again until it really sunk in that I needed to set boundaries not only for myself but for the people I love as well.
First, there are the boundaries we break with the alcoholic themselves. Mine has always been the fact that I tried to take care of my mother constantly. I started cleaning the home more so she wouldn’t be stressed about it. I would do things only she wanted to do so she would stay in a good mood. I would protect my dad by covering up when my mom did something embarrassing and we had guests over. I wanted to remove all triggers from my mom and I wanted my family to be happy. My heart was in the right place but I was still doing the wrong thing.
I could not become the mother to my own mother. You cannot mother the alcoholism out of a person. You cannot remove all triggers in life. You lose yourself in the process of not having those boundaries. It was unfair that the youngest person in the family stepped into the role of the matriarch to keep the peace. My mom took advantage of all of those situations though and I would let her. We had no boundaries with each other because she knew I would try to do what was best for the family and I prayed she would get sober if she saw me trying so hard. That’s how I learned if you are working harder than the addict on getting them sober, they will never be sober.
Second, there is the addict crossing boundaries. As I have wrote about before, my mom is a very appealing person. She is bubbly, pretty, and very outgoing. People are drawn to her naturally, which creates problems for her children. My mom started building a relationship with my then soon to be in-laws. This was bad news for me. For most people that sounds like a good thing. You should want the parents of each spouse to get along, right? Sure! When your mom is an alcoholic though and you are still working on building a relationship with your future in-laws yourself, there are more important things than the in-laws getting along for a meal.
My mom started to go to lunch with my then boyfriend’s mother and it drove me insane. I knew that if his mom got close enough, she was going to learn the truth and try to get involved. I didn’t want them in that part of my life yet and my mom had no sympathy towards me. She knew what she was doing. She was building a support team so that when she did something awful, they wouldn’t be mad at her. I begged my mom to step back and she didn’t. She did not care about the boundary she was crossing.
Of course eventually, his mom did find out the truth about my mom and things went haywire. His mom started talking to me about it and it infuriated me. She had very limited understanding of addiction and was already on my mom’s “side” because she had grown to like her so much. I would try to educate her but it would end in one of us having hurt feelings. My boyfriend and I decided that was a subject not to discuss with his family because they wouldn’t understand and they would give unsolicited advice (and if you have read my previous posts, you know how I feel about that). My mom refused to respect my boundaries and I am still dealing with it years later.
Third, there is you breaking the boundaries about addiction with others. I learned that there are friends you can and cannot open up to about your family problems. I have one friend in particular who I had known for years. She was good friends with my now husband and we had spent a lot of time together. At a time when I was going through a hard time with my mom, I shared some of my concerns with this friend. She immediately was uncomfortable and changed the subject quickly. I was hurt and I was angry. We had been friends for years. Why couldn’t she at least acknowledge my pain? It took me quite a few months to accept this because my mom’s drinking was such a big part of my life. I later learned that this is how she reacts when she is faced with sensitive, personal subjects. She is just not the kind of friend you have those discussions with and that is okay. It is important to know your boundaries with those kinds of friends. That doesn’t mean she can’t be your friend but she just is your friend you talk about more shallow things with. Shallow friends can still be friends and that was a hard lesson for me to learn.
Boundaries are important. Boundaries are needed. Boundaries are not cruel. They are self-preservation. If you never learn to say no, you’ll always say yes. That sounds kind of dumb doesn’t it? It’s true though. Until you say no, they will always think of you as a yes man and they will take advantage of it. So say no for your own family, say no to improve your friendships, and most importantly say no for yourself because you are worth it.
One of the best things I ever did for myself was move about an hour away from my parents. It wasn’t far but it was far enough. My dad couldn’t call me to come over to fix things up before we had company. My mom couldn’t ask for rides because she had lost her license. My sister couldn’t ask me to babysit while she took care of something mom had done. I set one big hour long boundary in between myself and my family and it was so refreshing. It was so needed. I started seeing a complete change in myself when I let go of my guilt for not being there for my family. I started eating better. I started sleeping better. I even became a better friend to others.
I received a lot of guilt tripping about this move. I received it from my family. I received it from my mother’s friends. I even received it from my in-laws. People couldn’t understand how I could “abandon” my family when they needed me. That’s when I learned to set boundaries with people on their thoughts about my parent’s drinking. When my sister would guilt me about she being the only one around to help mom, I would remind her that she didn’t have to clean up after mom. When my dad made me feel bad, I would remind him that I am not the caretaker. When my friends would act surprised, I would match their surprise in how they responded. I had to get comfortable with people thinking I was selfish and thinking I was cold hearted.
If breaking away from a family filled with addiction is selfish, then I am proudly an incredibly selfish person. If learning to love myself away from my family was cold hearted, then my heart is made of ice and I can just throw on an extra blanket. Boundaries are not selfish and they are not cold hearted. Boundaries prevent enabling and they protect you. If you got anything from this article, I hope that it is to respect boundaries that others set with you and to set boundaries with others. There are some people you can be completely vulnerable with, my husband is my person for example, but it is unfair to expect that kind of acceptance from everyone.
Thanks for reading! I have received some great suggestions about what to write on in the next few weeks! Thanks for sending them to me. Please let me know if you have any ideas. Subscribe if you want to read more in the future and please share on social media! I want to continue fighting the stigma of what addiction looks like and I hope people get that from reading my stories.