THE FIGHT

“Son,” I say, “You slept all day and I had work for you to do.”

“Mom, I do everything right for weeks and then one screw-up and you’re all over me. Quit treating me like I’m twelve! Leave me alone. “

“If you don’t want to be treated like a 12-year-old don’t act like one!”

It’s been like this all day. “We have snapped and snarled at each other non-stop.

“Mom, I’m getting really angry, you need to get out of my room NOW!”

“My house, my room,” I snap.

My 33-year-old son, who is twice my size puffs up with rage and glares at me. He’s never struck me, but I’m scared. I turn to leave, but I’m angry, and I slam the door.

Suddenly, behind me the door comes flying out into the hallway, the frame splintering. “I can’t believe you!” I scream. Then I come to my senses and I walk away and try to calm down.

I sit on the couch, stony faced, thinking how ungrateful he is. I’m full of self-righteous anger. He has been living with us for the last three months after a year-long meth relapse. We offered him a chance to start over. Now I’m thinking, “and this is the thanks I get.”

He comes out of his room. He is silent and his face is an impenetrable mask of fury.

As I sit and use every bit of self-control to keep my mouth shut, I realize he is replacing the broken pieces of the door jam. He’s pulled out his tools and is rehanging the door.  I get up and start dishes. We move carefully around each other in strained silence the rest of the day.

The next morning, I notice he is doing every chore I ask with childlike obedience, I can tell he’s trying to make amends, although he would never say sorry.

He is acting better, but I want him to acknowledge that his behavior was inappropriate and promise that it won’t happen again. This conversation makes the fight flare back up and I wonder if twelve weeks of sobriety are headed down the drain. He yells about leaving and I tell him he’ll be walking since he doesn’t have a car.

At some point I say, “watch it, I can kick you out!”

We are supposed drive into Kansas City today for his psychologist appointment and have been preparing to leave while we argue.

Finally I sigh, “We should leave.”

“Why should I bother,” he says, “if you’re kicking me out it’s pointless.”

“I haven’t decided if I’m kicking you out yet, and it’s a requirement for living here,” I say, “I’m very angry and I don’t make decisions while I’m angry.”

We drag ourselves into the car. The two of us in a confined space isn’t good. He will not talk calmly or listen to anything I say. He is irrational and refuses all responsibility for his actions. Everything is my fault and he screams it at me over and over.  I pull over, in the middle of no-where, “Get out,” I say with extreme calmness. His rage in the confined space of the car is distressing me. He gets out and slams the door, I burn rubber. I drive a while and cool down. I really don’t want him back in the car, but I know I will do nothing but worry if I leave him. I turn around and go back for him. At first he won’t get in, but he finally flings himself into the passenger seat. We don’t speak the rest of the trip.

I have an appointment with my counselor at the same time as his appointment, so I drop him off first. As he’s leaving the car, I say, “Tell your psychologist how you’re about to lose everything because of your temper.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” he snarls and slams the door.

I talk to my counselor for an hour. I go from furious, to defeated, to sad. My son had been doing so well. As I discussed his behavior, I realize he is truly mentally ill. I know he is sober, so I can’t blame his behavior on drugs. For the first time it hits me that his problems are really about his unregulated emotions. He usually gets furious and leaves and does drugs when we fight, but because he didn’t have a car and we were at the lake far from his friends, he couldn’t run off like he normally does. This was the first time a fight had been able to play out and I could see how out of control his emotions were even without drugs.

I pick my son up from his appointment and my husband calls while we are in the car together. My husband says we will discuss this when he gets home on Friday. He encourages us both to just breath and try to drop it till we we’re all together.

After my husband hangs up, I ask my son, “shall we just start over?”

“I don’t care,” he growls and stares angrily ahead. I’m hurt, but I am beginning to realize that he is in a dark place he does not know how to get out of.  For the first time I’m thinking about how he is held hostage by his rage.  I decide to follow my husband’s advice and just breath.

We go home and do not speak to each other. We sit in front of the TV and he falls asleep. I seethed on the couch across the room. I am still irritated and hurt. Eventually we go our separate ways to bed.

In bed, with the help of google, I study his diagnosis, Borderline Personality Disorder. I learn how a BPD person is like a burn victim with no skin and every touch is painful. Only with BPD it’s the emotions that are raw and exposed to the world and everything is emotionally painful. Today, I really saw that play out. I saw what those raw emotions do to him.

I also read how a BPD sufferers biggest fear is abandonment and I realized how threatening to kick him out, must feel like the ultimate abandonment.

Then I turn to my own feelings and realize that I am angry because I feel trapped since we let him come home. I don’t have as much freedom. But it hit me that I do not need to feel like a victim. I have all the power, it’s my home. I can make him leave at any time, no one is forcing me to let him stay. I should not feel powerless.

My son, on the other hand, has nothing, except us and a fear so big that it comes out as rage. I know that if he is trying, I want to help him. And I know he’s trying. He’s stayed sober, he’s been communicative, he’s been helpful and until yesterday he had been working very hard at not losing his temper.

The next morning, I attempt normal conversation over coffee. I ask him how his meeting with the counselor was.

“Mom, I told her how I raged out. I told her how I knew I was destroying everything and still couldn’t stop. I told her I knew I was being irrational, but I couldn’t make myself calm down.”

I was really surprised to hear this. He seldom shows remorse or takes responsibility for his actions.

“She told me the Lexapro I’ve been taking could increase my rage. So, she gave me a mood stabilizer to counteract it.”

I decide to be positive, “I’m so proud of you for being honest with her.”

“Well, I was so mad at you when I got there that I told her all about it, I think I dropped the F-bomb a hundred times.”

“Well, I may have used the F-bomb a few times in my session too.” I say.

Then I decide that I am going to try a new approach, and I say,” I need to tell you something. I’m sorry that I haven’t been acknowledge how hard you’ve been trying. I’ve seen it, but I’ve mostly been telling you how you need to improve. But you’ve been trying hard, and I really do appreciate it.”

He doesn’t say anything, so I go on, “I also need to acknowledge that you told me you were getting angry yesterday and I didn’t listen, I kept pushing you, because I was mad. I hope you will keep communicating with me. I’ll try to listen next time. We still have to talk about everything when dad gets home. But we will figure this out.”

He smiles at me. This is not a fairy tale, he doesn’t suddenly become a cherubic, perfect son.

He is standing in front of me with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, no shirt, sagging pants, and prison tattoos. I am certain we will still have difficulties communicating and life will not be easy. He is far from cherubic, but underneath the ragged exterior, I see in his eyes that he hears me saying “I love you” in a language that reaches him.  I’ve affirmed him, acknowledged his effort and I’m giving him another chance.

Full House . . . again

It’s not easy having my 32-year-old son home. At 59 I was very comfortable in my empty-nest. I enjoyed the quiet, steaming-coffee-mug-mornings; the wide-open days filled with writing, gardening, and freedom; the evening dinners with my husband paired with our favorite wines. But last month we allowed our son to come home to kick his meth habit. We weren’t sure if it was the right thing to do or how it would turn out, but we decided to give it a chance.

Now, here it is 30 days later, and he’s still sober and he has his first counseling appointment tomorrow and his first psychiatric appointment in 2 weeks.  This all creates a jumble of emotions. I am relieved that he’s sober, but we have been fighting since he was in the terrible twos. He’s clashed with authority his entire life. So, we have lots of triggers and bad communication patterns working against us. But I can tell he’s putting a lot of effort into staying sober, cooperating and being civil.

We are making progress. We are learning to take a break when the conversation gets heated. We are learning that tone of voice is REALLY important. I’m realizing that although he’s MY child, he is no longer A child and I can’t talk to him like one. Having an adult child move home is difficult under good circumstances, but after a relapse there are issues. Every time emotions get high or voices are raised, I wonder if this will cause a relapse. But at the same time, I want to feel comfortable and in control of my own home.  I don’t want to feel like I’m walking on eggshells. It’s a daily tight-rope walk.

I’ve realized that I have some control issues, so I’m working on me while I’m asking him to work on himself. We’ve both done a lot of explaining our words and actions and apologizing to each other. Our communication skills are improving. I’ve also cut myself a lot of slack and let myself spend time just hanging out with him and watching movies or playing board games. I’ve decided my need to accomplish things and have a spotless house and feeling productive can take a back burner for a month or two.

I’m motivated to balance my needs with his. I do not want to be codependent, but I also don’t want to be heartless. What if a few months of support could help him change his life? We are both exercising extreme restraint and measuring our words and actions very carefully. I am realizing that I (and my husband) tend to be driven, hard-working perfectionists. My son, on the other hand, is laid back, the family clown and works at a more relaxed pace. I am determined not to judge him. I’m realizing that slowing down sometimes and viewing the world the way he does isn’t lazy. He’s fun and wanders a bit through life as opposed to being laser focused. Some would say he’s more inclined to stop and smell the roses.

This is not to say that I’m accepting bad behavior. He’s not stealing from us, destroying our house, lying to us or abusing our kindness. He’s just not as neat, focused or driven as we are, and he’s recovering from a year of drug use. His brain and his body aren’t 100% yet. So, I’m trying not to let my frustration at what we’ve been through this last year make me impatient or unsympathetic.

One thing I that I’ve had to accept is that the work I did to detach when he was in active addiction has created a hardness in me that’s hard to let go of now that he is home. The attitude that saved my sanity while he was using is not that helpful now. There needs to be a cooperative attitude while we all strive together to make this work. I’m trying to figure out how to be compassionate and understanding without losing my hard-won liberation from feeling responsible for him. I want to be loving but not enmeshed.

I’ve discovered that asking myself what I would do if this was not my son helps. If I had decided, as a loving human to help another human, how would I treat that person? How much help would I feel obligated to give? How much would I allow them to alter my daily routines and for how long?  We have made it clear that his time in our home is to be spent working towards independence. He can’t plan to live at home forever. He’s very aware of this and says sometimes it stresses him because he feels the clock ticking.

So, we are all a little stressed, but also occupied with improving ourselves and our attitudes and our emotional health. I hope in six months or a year we can say we’ve made progress and it was all worth it. But I have decided that for the moment I will weigh each decision I make against his future and my need to take care of myself in the present. I won’t make every decision correctly, but I have a plan and hope for our future.

Tough Love Meets Mushy Mom

At heart, I’m a soft, mushy mom. I like buying gifts, spoiling my grown children and being part of their lives. But out of necessity, I have been practicing tough love with my 32-year-old son for years. He’s a meth addict who started using in his teens and turned our lives upside down for ten years. He eventually spent time in jail and then came out clean and sober and stayed clean for seven years. Unfortunately, he relapsed 10 months ago. Since the relapse, he has lost his job, his home, his possessions, and his marriage. My husband and I have worked hard to detach. We were enmeshed in the drama for years before his stretch of sobriety and we did not want to do it again. So, in an effort to live our lives and not be enmeshed in the drama of his relapse, my husband and I went on a trip to Paris in spite of the fact that our son was homeless, in the winter, in Kansas City. He was refusing rehab and drama was at an all-time high. We were tired of it all and wanted to get away. The trip was wonderful, everything we wanted it to be, even though my son called and begged and complained about his situation frequently. But we could say, we are half a world away, we can’t help you. The trip renewed us and made us happy!  We loved it so much we considered moving to Paris permanently. But a grandbaby coming this summer from our other son made us decide it wasn’t an option. It couldn’t last forever.

So, after ten lovely days, we had to come home. The long 20-hour international trip was punctuated by texts and calls from our son. “I’m hungry, my tire is flat, I’m cold…” he had been stranded in a parking lot for 4 days. He wanted us to rescue him as soon as our plane landed. We refused. We were exhausted, and we knew from experience that it would not be quick or easy. He was angry with us, we were feeling the full brunt of being home and back in the drama of being parents to an addict. Welcome home…

Somehow, the next day before we got up and moving, he got his tire fixed. We had planned to try and help him that day, but patience is not a strong suit for an addict. In the afternoon he showed up at our house. We told him he could shower, and we’d feed him a meal (we had done this several times over the last few months). He looked horrible: emaciated, dirty, hair a mess and he sounded psychotic and crazy. It was heartbreaking. He showered and left in the evening only to show up the next morning sleeping in his car in our driveway. The weather had turned excruciatingly cold and we were very worried about him freezing in his car over the next few days. So, we told him to come in and talk to us about what he was going to do while it was so cold. But as we tried to have a discussion with him, he kept nodding off. He couldn’t stay awake. In exasperation and without really thinking about it, I snapped, “Go downstairs and sleep, you should not be driving like this.” He fell on the bed fully clothed and he slept for 20 hours. When he woke up, he seemed barely coherent and hardly awake. I pumped him full of food and Gatorade and told him to go back to sleep. This went on for 5 days. He literally slept 20 hours a day only waking up to go to the bathroom and eat and drink.

This is where mushy mom comes in. It felt good to know he was safe. It felt good to know he was warm and eating. It was good to know he wasn’t using drugs.  It felt good to watch his face plump up and color return. If felt good to have him talk about how much he missed my cooking, it felt good the first time I saw his old smile. My mushy mom side was happy. While he slept my husband and I saw family and friends, told them about our trip and gave everyone souvenirs, all the while without worrying that my son was freezing to death in a parking lot somewhere. It was such a relief.

So, my husband and I talked. We acknowledged that he’d been polite and respectful when he was awake. He wasn’t using – he hadn’t left the house. I think tough love set the stage for his attitude. He knows we will put him out if uses. If he is violent or uncooperative, he knows we will call the police. We’ve done these things before. I also think the last ten months have burned the rage and anger out of him. I think he’s sad and defeated and scared.

I think our vacation set the stage for us too. We were refreshed and relaxed. We had been removed from it all for long enough to recharge. We had the energy to consider taking on the daunting challenge of helping him get sober. We no longer felt overwhelmed, defeated and angry. We had taken the time we needed for ourselves, and we had something to give again.

So, we decided to give him two weeks to detox and then discuss the next step. He’s beginning to sleep less. I know it’s going to get harder as he’s awake and disrupting my quiet routines. I’m weighing how to offer him a chance to start over with my need to maintain boundaries. I’m working to figure out how to make his recovery his own, when I know, from experience, that he won’t do it the way I think he should. But he has been successful before.

We are certain that his drug use stems from self-medicating mental health problems. I know one requirement for staying here will be agreeing to psychiatric help. He will also have to find a job and begin financial counseling to figure out how to repay his debts and manage money. He must be respectful and keep our house clean and orderly. He’s not a child, I won’t clean up after him. He can’t spend nights out or bring strangers home. These will be non-negotiable. But I will also have to acknowledge that he’s an adult and not the teenager who once lived here. I will have to allow him autonomy and the opportunity to make mistakes.

It will be tough. His work ethic is very different from mine. This will be a sticking point. He will think he’s working hard at something and I will think he’s not working hard enough. He doesn’t like to be alone and I’m sure he’ll end up in a dating situation long before I think he should. But, I know I can’t run his life, but I also know he can’t run mine. I’m not sure exactly sure how we will work it all out. But I know right now, he’s trying and he’s sober. So, we will take it one day at a time. My husband and I will decide together how to proceed. I’ll enjoy each sober day. I’ve seen him smile, we’ve binge-watched movies together, we’ve walked the dogs, I’ve heard him whistle while he works and sing to his dog. He asked if we could make chocolate chip cookies together tomorrow…. I’ll take it.

So, I fell into this by accident when my mushy-soft-mom-side collided with my tough-love-side, but I want to be able to say I gave it a chance. Surprisingly, I’ve felt much more joy than stress while having him home, which is unexpected. He seems to want this to work as much we do, which is good because I will not work harder at his sobriety than he does.

So, here’s to second chances and staying strong while acknowledging my mushy soft side.

RELAPSE

My oldest son fought every rule, despised authority and wanted “to be the boss of me” since he could talk. In his teens, he discovered drugs and then life reached a new level of difficulty. For ten years we fought the devil and lost. He did multiple rehabs, jail time, sober living houses, and multiple trips home to live with us and get sober. He kicked drugs only to discover alcohol and then ended up using meth when alcohol lowered his inhibitions. Eventually, he was sent to prison for a year and a half for a felony.

Then seven years ago, I met a son I never knew. My rebellious, meth addicted, angry son, came out of prison sober, humbled, and thankful. Gone was the argumentative, condescending son I had known for 25 years.  On his own, he had gotten sober in prison and in the process his attitude had changed.  We hesitantly let him back into our lives when he got out of prison and every step of the way he proved himself to be a changed man.

Over the next seven years of sobriety, he got a dog, a car and a girlfriend. He came to work for me in the family printing business and started college and earned excellent grades. He was not interested in taking over the family business, he wanted a degree, and we were content with whatever he chose. We lived in unexpected happiness. My husband and I thought we had lost him forever and now, here he was, pursuing a life we could all be proud of and most surprisingly being someone that we really enjoyed spending time with.  He even repaired his relationship with his younger brother. Our family felt complete again. Both our boys got married three months apart and now we had daughters-in-law too. Both couples bought houses and life was good, I never expected to be this happy. All was well…or so I thought.

In March of last year, exactly one week after I sold my business and retired, my son relapsed in spectacular fashion. He got high and stayed high for days, he became angry, combative and immediately returned to the personality I remembered from the years before. I was completely devastated. My new-found freedom from work just gave me long hours to worry incessantly and I did. I went around and around in my head about how to help him. I wondered what went wrong and I worked to find the right words to bring him back. I sent and answered endless text messages and answered the phone at all hours. But he continued to use as weeks turned into months and my retirement happiness evaporated. So, after the shock wore off, I began working to cope. I found a counselor and an NA meeting, and I pulled out my old, worn copy of Codependent No More. Then I discovered The Addicts Mom Facebook Group. What a difference that made! The first time posting, I cried. It didn’t feel like I was going crazy anymore. So many other people were experiencing the same thing. It really helped as I worked to survive and waited for him to find his way back to sobriety. I felt so alone the first time he used drugs, this time I had a huge community to turn to and I turned to them often as the months stretched on.

It’s now been ten months and my son has not “found his way back”. His wife divorced him, he lost his job, wrecked his car and lost his house. He is currently couch-surfing and using an old truck given to him by a friend. He has lost almost everything.  The first two or three months we tried hard to help him get back on track, but nothing worked. He was once again defiant and determined to be his own boss. So, once we remembered we can’t control him or cure him (thanks NA) we set strong boundaries. He cannot move home. He can’t use our cars. We won’t buy new phones or pay his bills. If he’s rude we quit answering his phone calls and texts. We call the police when he threatens self-harm. We probably enable sometimes, but we do what we can live with. We also consistently point him to local organizations that can help him (although he currently refused to even consider them).

As this drags on I’m going through grief over the loss of my sober son and the future I dared to imagine for him, and I miss him terribly. I have spent months in survival mode. I want to help him, but I don’t think the worry and obsessing are working. So, I have decided to save the one person I can save – ME. I am determined not to be destroyed by his relapse. I have taken all the energy I spent worrying and directed it to help me break my addiction to him. I continue to see my counselor faithfully and a psychologist who helped me get on the appropriate dosage of antidepressants. I read everything I can on detachment and mental health. Most importantly, I have found that focusing on MY LIFE is my best distraction from his life. I am working to make my life healthy, happy and full. I’ve been trying to be healthier – mentally and physically. Yoga, walking, and paddleboarding are my go-to exercises and discovering new recipes, with fresh, healthy ingredients, is fun. I have started planning trips with my husband, which we have found to be a great distraction – the planning as much as the actual trip. I’m currently learning French in preparation for a trip to Paris (my husband has lots and lots of points from business travel. We decided it was time to use them before he loses them). I’ve started some remodeling projects and am working to make my house a retreat from the world. I’ve committed to having lunch with friends regularly and trying to be more available to my other family members. I am seeking out positive people and developing new friendships. I am taking classes, and writing, and volunteering with TAM (The Addict’s Mom). So, instead of needing my son to be sober for me to be happy, I have decided to be happy, busy and productive now. Sometimes it’s hard to push through the sadness, but I realize my sadness doesn’t help anyone, so I am doing my best to live my life to the fullest. I love my son, but I can’t live his life for him, I can only live my own and I’m working to make it something I love. There are a lot of people who depend on me to be a positive part of their lives and it’s unfair to let all of them down. It’s also wrong to let myself down. I will always love and have compassion for my son, but I will let him live his life, and I will live mine.

WORRY

There is no reprieve from worry when my son is actively using. Last week he was psychotic. He called and texted nonstop asking for money and rides and food and cigs. When my husband and I said “no” he made threats against us and threatened self-harm. When we offered rehab or detox, he said he’d rather die and explained in graphic terms how he would kill himself. Then, as though realizing what he had said, he would send angry texts telling us not to call the police that he wasn’t going to hurt himself. It was a long chaotic week, until Thursday when he went silent. That was the day he received a check from the sale of his house. With no job and a divorce after his relapse nine months ago, he had no choice but to allow his wife to sell it. So now the constant harassment has stopped, but the worry hasn’t. With over a thousand dollars in his pocket, I wonder exactly what damage he will do to himself and what new crisis he will have created by the time the money runs out. There is no trajectory except a downward spiral when he is actively using meth.

When he is fighting me and harassing me, I worry but I’m strong. I fight for sanity and calm during the chaos, I’m in defensive mode. But this silence makes me worry too. There is nothing to do, nothing to fight against, so my thoughts run rampant. I wonder if there is a way to save him from the complete disaster his life has become. I wonder what he will want from us when the money runs out. I wonder if he will survive this week.

I believe I should help the suffering and give to those who have less than I do. But I must remind myself that this is a situation where my giving and my help won’t save him and will ultimately destroy my son and me. The line I walk, as an addict’s mom, is tenuous and difficult to navigate. I know that sobriety is best accomplished when supported by family and loved ones, but I also know help might allow him to continue his addiction. The money I might be tempted to give could buy the drugs that kill him. So, I worry about how to let him know I’m here when he is ready to really fight for his life, but at the same time not provide help that will enable him to continue his addiction. I also want to protect myself from the emotional abuse I receive when he’s not working on his sobriety. Being available, but not being sucked into the drama is hard.

So, I worry about walking that fine line, to be involved enough to help save his life if he will let me and but not enough to let it destroy me if he chooses not to get sober. To combat the worry, I read Naranon literature and books on detachment. I write and I exercise and plan activities I will enjoy. I fight the sadness and the worry with activity. Some days I win and some days the sadness and worry consume me. On those days I forgive myself and try again the next day. I try, every day, to live my life fully even while my son destroys his.

WHO AM I?

I want to be a strong, determined and active woman. Too often I am sad, tired, and consumed with worry about my addict son. Strong determined me plans trips and gets her nails done and paints and writes. Sad, worried me sleeps and drags herself through her days. Somedays I can’t seem to beat the melancholy. I try to fight it, but I don’t win. My mind is slow and distracted and my body is tired and listless.  Occasionally, I surrender, I don’t even fight it, I let myself wallow in sadness and self-pity. Fortunately, this seems to get it out of my system, for a while. and makes me realize I don’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling this way, so I fight harder the next day. My son’s addiction gives me lots of opportunities to be worried and sad, but I don’t want to let his addiction destroy us both. I wish he could be healthy and sober, but he must want it and currently, he doesn’t – at least not enough to fight for it. So, I wake up every day and fight the sadness and worry and try to live the life I would live if he had not relapsed. I would be pursuing writing and painting and exercising and visiting friends. I would be living a full, active life. So, I make myself stay busy. I don’t always feel like it, but I’ve found that, more often than not, if I plan activities and follow through, a certain amount of happiness follows. I have decided to work on my life as hard as I wish my son would work on his. So, I’m trying to become that strong, determined, active woman. I try to make sure she wins more often that not when she’s confronting the sad, tired, worried lady who fights her every day.

BOUNDARIES

What does it mean to set boundaries? Why do you need them?

Boundaries are meant to protect you. The old saying “good fences make good neighbors.” Could be adapted to say, “good boundaries make good relationships.” When we know what belongs to us and what belongs to someone else it makes things less chaotic and stressful. If your neighbor didn’t know where his yard ends and starts cutting down your flowers or letting his dangerous dog run in your yard you would be upset. Or what if you decided you didn’t like your neighbor’s landscaping? Would you go into their yard and start changing it? Or even crazier, what if your neighbor came over and asked you take over responsibility for his yard, to water and mow it because it was just too much for him to handle and he couldn’t afford a lawnmower? That sounds crazy because we expect people to be responsible for their own property and respect other people’s property.

Boundaries are like fences for our life. If you have an addict in your life, you have probably experienced wanting to fix them. Maybe being obsessed and distracted to the point that you neglect your own life. Maybe you give them all your time and energy and even money trying to save them. You don’t know where your life ends and theirs begins. You’re intertwined to the point that your happiness is wrapped up in their health and happiness. This feels right to you because you love them. But it will take a toll on you.  It’s not healthy. Your fences are broken.

Boundaries are fences for your life. Are you taking care of things you are not responsible for? Or allowing things into your life that you don’t want there? Are you trying to fix someone else’s life? Setting boundaries means you decide what is your responsibility in life and what is not. What is inside your fence and what is not.  You take responsibility for your life and your happiness and let other people be responsible for their own life and happiness. The only thing in life you have control over is you. So, boundaries are to help you take control of you and your life. They are not a way to control other people.   They are a way to control yourself and remember what you are responsible for. They divide responsibility into mine and theirs, just like fenced divide properties.

For example, you can decide that you are responsible for paying your rent, but not someone else’s. Your boundary is “I will not pay rent for any home but my own”. You create that boundary. When someone tries to cross that boundary, you remind yourself of the boundary. You can’t make someone stop asking or wanting you to pay their rent, but you have complete control over whether you pay it or not. It may not be easy, but in the long run, your life will improve as you enforce your boundaries and people learn where they are.

Maybe your boundary is I don’t like people being rude and disrespectful to me. You can’t stop people from being rude and disrespectful, but you can decide if you will continue to listen or spend time with them. You can decide that you will remove yourself from rude conversations. That is your boundary. You can say, “I won’t stay on the phone when you talk to me that way.” Or “You can’t be in my house if you talk to me that way.” You have control over your reactions and you enforce your boundaries to protect yourself.  You can’t control the other person, but you can control your reactions and actions.

Fences keep things out of our yard, that we don’t want in our yard and they keep us from taking care a yard that is not our own. That is what boundaries do too. It reminds us to take care of ourselves and let other people take care of themselves. Fences seldom move and it’s a big deal to move one. Boundaries are like that too. They work best if they are consistent. It helps reduce chaos and conflict if boundaries are reliable.

When we see someone in crisis, we may want to change our boundaries. If your neighbor broke his leg you might decide to help with his yard. But this a choice you have made to be kind. It is not your responsibility and your boundary hasn’t changed, you just made a choice to cross the fence. You’re not moving the fence and taking over his yard. A crisis, by definition, is a critical point. A crisis is not a continuous state. It’s brief and passes. Helping in a crisis is noble, but if someone claims to be in crisis every day, it’s not really a crisis, it’s a lifestyle.

When we choose to help, it needs to be a choice made freely. You should not be pressured to cross your boundaries. If you are being pressured to help someone, it is not “help”, it is extortion. If you are being forced or pressured to put up with behavior you find unacceptable in your house, you are not helping you are being bullied.  Don’t let love blind you to your need to honor your boundaries and protect yourself.  Keep your boundaries intact and remember boundaries are personal, no one gets to tell you they are wrong.  They are meant to control you and your life and you get to decide how that looks.

Setting boundaries to reduce the chaos and stress in your life is an important part of self-care.  If you are exhausted and stressed by the people in your life you may need to set some boundaries to protect yourself.  Good boundaries conserve your time, money, energy and mood, which make you a happier kinder person. Good boundaries may strain a relationship at first, but in the long run, they will improve it.

TALKING IT OUT

Bobbi, my therapist, is looking at me, with concern creasing her face. I’ve come to my appointment more depressed than ever. I sought her out when my 30-year-old son relapsed, after five years free from Methamphetamine use. When I called her 4 months ago, I was grasping for a hold on my sanity. I was descending quickly into the chaotic vortex life becomes when you love an addict.

Recently, my sadness fills me. I imagine it floating in my blood and as a mist hanging in the synapsis of my brain. I feel heavy from the weigh of it and everything requires more effort than I can manage. I haven’t been able to talk myself out of this sadness and it scares me. As I sit, hunched into my sorrow she asks, “Do you ever blame yourself?”  I look at her startled. And think, what!? Are kidding me? I wanted a pep talk, an easy solution; but instead, I get, “Do you blame yourself?” Now I’m more depressed. Does she know how many times I’ve asked myself this question and how unsure I am of the answer?

I begin to talk, even though I don’t want to, because, that is what I’m here for. I explain how hard I tried to be a good parent, not just a good parent, but the perfect parent. I realize that’s probably a red flag, but she just listens, as I explain my journey.  I tell her how my whole life was spent wanting to be a mom. I told her how ecstatic I was when my husband and I started trying to get pregnant in our second year of marriage.

Then how heartbroken I was when we went months without getting pregnant, then years. Finally, after too many doctors’ visits, tests and miscarriages – we decided to adopt.  We were overjoyed when we brought home our beautiful baby boy at four weeks old. We wanted to give him everything: love, security, happiness…. Our child would have it all. I read books on parenting and worked to follow all the expert’s advice. We offered stable routines, unconditional love, consistency, mental stimulation, creative play…

As he entered middle school, I homeschooled because he was struggling in school. We also encourage his nonacademic interests. We coached little league and drove him to piano lessons, swim lessons and tennis lessons. We were also vigilant about video games, movies, and TV.  We didn’t want him to spend too much time on things that would have a negative impact.  There was always a parenting book on my nightstand and I tried to do it all just right.

We had one big concern. Our adopted baby boy came from three generations of alcoholics, but we felt certain we could counteract heredity. We didn’t drink or smoke, so he would have no one to learn addiction from and there would be no alcohol in the house. We thought we could give him such a stable, loving environment that it wouldn’t matter that he came from a long line of addicts.  But it turns out life can be a cruel teacher and we were devastated by his addiction to a variety of drugs in his teens. I paused as I came to this point in my story. I finally said, “I gave my whole life to raising him. So, I don’t think I blame myself.”

But then I paused. as my mind came full circle. There was another thing I often ruminated about, “Unless,” I said, “I tried too hard, or was too involved. Is that what went wrong? Maybe… I am to blame! Maybe, I was too protective. I wanted to make his world perfect. Did I try to hard? That happens in sports. A player wants a home run or a touch down so badly, that they choke. Maybe, I blew it. Maybe, I choked.”

Bobbi wants to know how that makes me feel. With more than I little irritation, I tell her that I’m angry and that I’m no longer a confident parent. I constantly second guess my choices. Since there are no guarantees I know that there is no right way to handle an addict. What works one week, blows up in my face the next week. Even experts give conflicting advice and the advice varies based on your child’s age, drug of choice, personality, history, spiritual beliefs, and mental stability. And I am angry because I worry constantly about enabling or abandoning. I live in a constant state of turmoil and anxiety trying to figure out the right thing to do.

Why does it make you so anxious she asks? I think about it and I realize that all those books I read about child rearing are part of my problem.  All that reading made me believe that my child’s future was within my control. The books and experts said I could determine the outcome. This made me feel confident, if I did what they suggested in their book, then my child would be well-adjusted. But this was a double-edged sword, if this was true, then it also made me responsible for my child’s success or failure. By this logic, my child’s adult life wasn’t up to him but was dependent on me. And if I did what the experts said I expected it to pay off with a successful, happy well-adjusted adult. BUT, It was a lie! I know now that there is no guarantee. But I still feel guilty, I was given a handbook and still couldn’t produce a well-adjusted adult. And I’m still trying.

With mounting frustration, I say to Bobbi, “I wish someone had said, ‘do your best, BUT there are no guarantees! A child’s free will does not disappear because you love them and devote your life to them or read a hundred books about how to raise them. Your child still gets to choose whether to use drugs, follow rules, break laws or break your heart. I wish someone had told me not to wrap my whole life up in his success! I wish someone had said no matter how hard you try, you cannot control other people, not even your own child!’”

Bobbi smiles, which at first irritates me. Doesn’t she realize how mad I am? Then I realize, this is her mantra, “you cannot control other people.”  She has said to me many times, but today I worked my way to this important truth all by myself. Secretly, I feel kind of proud, because I realize that I need to be able to return to this truth on my own. It is my first step to finding peace. I say it again, with confidence “I cannot control my son.”  As I say it, I realize that my misery has come from trying to do the impossible.

Our times is coming to an end and Bobbi repeats her question, “Do you blame yourself?”

I answer with more peace than I’ve felt in days, “No, I was the best parent I knew how to be, and even if I had been perfect there is no guarantee. I’m sure I made mistakes, but they were not made from lack of effort or lack of love.”

“Anything else?” she says.

I surprised myself with how easy my answer came, “I don’t I need to fix him. It’s not my job.”

“And what is your job?” she asks.

“To take the all the effort I put into being the perfect mom and put it into learning to be a healthy, happy person whose happiness and peace are not tied to what my child does.” I say.

Bobbi smiles at me and I smile back. Okay, so I guess this is what I came for after all, not easy answers or pep talks, but therapy, with a compassionate listener, that leads me back to the truth.

Today, I choose to remember that I cannot control another person and I will not blame myself for my child’s addiction. I will work on me so that I can learn to find peace and happiness in the storm because it’s the only thing I can truly control.