Episode 102: Uncovering The Truth About Enforcing Boundaries & Addiction
I want to share two very personal stories about enforcing boundaries. And if you’ve been a part of our community for some time, you know boundaries are a necessary skill for every single woman on this planet, whether she’s in love with someone who’s suffering from addiction or not.
Once I was in love and married to a wonderfully good man suffering from addiction. I left with my three young children and got a divorce. I remarried a phenomenal man, and I still find myself needing to practice boundaries.
I’m a bit of an introvert; I would prefer to stay at home with my family and cook a great meal. If I went out with friends and had to choose between a cocktail party or a dinner where there are just a few of my closest friends sitting in a booth, I would select the more intimate setting. And it is even better if we are talking about a personal issue and we’re working through it together. That’s my comfort zone. That’s what I feel like I was born to do. The awkward conversations most people try to avoid about feelings—that’s where I feel most comfortable.
So, the other day, my girlfriend called me and said, “Michelle, there’s an event coming up. A group of moms from school is going out, and you’re coming with. You haven’t been out of the house in a couple of weeks. I am making you go.” And it’s true; I hadn’t been out of the house. I’ve been writing a book and the Love Over Addiction 2 program. The new program is about how to know when it’s time to stay or go. I’ve been working pretty hard. So I said, “Okay, okay, you’re right, I probably need to stretch myself and get out of the house.”
Later that evening, we’re at this lounge—completely not my scene. Even just the word “lounge” makes me cringe a little. And there are hundreds of people. Our small group of women is sitting in the corner, and out of nowhere, a random man sits down next to my friend who dragged me to this event.
My friend is incredibly attractive, and she gets attention from men wherever we are. She’s a single mom to an adorable little girl, and she’s got that fun, outgoing personality. You know the kind of person who makes people come alive when you’re in their presence? That’s her.
So I’m sitting across from her, and this guy sits down next to her. I’m worried about her because I think this guy has had too much to drink. Automatically, an internal flag goes up. And you know exactly what I’m talking about because when you love somebody who struggles with addiction, it’s like we have these built-in radars.
I’m looking at her and wondering if she comfortable is with this. Is this making her feel good? Could this guy be potential for her? Does she like the attention? Because if not, I’m waiting for her to tell him he needs to excuse himself.
After a few minutes, it becomes really awkward, because he’s saying some inappropriate things. And I’m looking around at the other women in the circle with us to make sure I’m not the only one who thinks this isn’t fun, flirtatious, or making my friend feel good at all.
I ask my friend right in front of him, “Are you okay? Are you comfortable with this?” And he automatically clues into the fact that I’m the girl he’s going to have to answer to. She doesn’t answer me. My friend puts her head down in a shameful way and starts trying to make the conversation work. She starts overcompensating for his inappropriate behavior.
So I look at him, and I say, “I’m sorry, but I think you need to leave.” He gives me the meanest look and says, “Oh, so you’re the BS detector of the group, huh?” And I keep looking directly at him, and I say, “Yup, that’s me, and I think you’re making my friend feel very uncomfortable. You need to leave.” He keeps challenging me, but I just remain calm and steady.
I hold my ground.
I look him in the eye, and I think if he doesn’t get up to move soon, I’m going to get security.
At that point, it didn’t matter what his mouth was saying, because his actions told me he was leaving. So I just let him say whatever stupid things he wanted to say. I wasn’t even paying attention. My adrenaline was rushing. After he walked away, I turned to my friend and said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I felt like you needed rescuing,” and she said, “Oh my gosh, that was horrible. What an awful situation. I’m so glad you did that.”
I wished that my very beautiful, very strong friend would have had the courage to stand up for herself rather than feel shameful and try to work through it. It reminded me of all the times I have endured a situation that I clearly needed to exit, but because I was worried about what other people thought, or I was worried about upsetting somebody—even if it was this guy who was a complete stranger and drunk—I tried to compensate and make the best of it.
And I’m not judging my friend. I’m saying I have been there. For probably nine years in my marriage, I was exactly like my friend, trying to smooth things over, trying to make everybody happy, instead of cutting to the chase, recognizing right away the situation is not okay and giving myself a voice to stick up for myself.
It didn’t end up in an argument or a dramatic scene because it didn’t need to.
As long as we give ourselves voices to remain dignified and we stand our ground, people will get it.
People will respect it. That man knew he could not derail me. He knew his flirtatiousness was not working.
If you are like my friend, and you are in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, whether it’s with the one you love who is acting inappropriately because they are drunk or high, or whether you’re just a woman in an uncomfortable situation, I want you to know that you are not alone. I have been there many, many times, and it feels terrible when you don’t know exactly what to do.
So practice. Start small, and I promise, if you start standing up for yourself with the small boundaries, you’ll begin to have courage and strength in bigger situations where people are challenging your boundaries.
You will be the leader in the situation to say, “Not on my watch. That’s not going to happen.”
“I have respect for myself, and I am not getting in a car with you after you’ve been drinking.”
“I’m going on vacation with or without you.”
“I will dive into learning about our finances because I want to be an equal partner.”
You will ask for a promotion, accept an invitation, and turn down a request for your time or money.
I promise you can absolutely get there. I believe in you, and I know that you can do it. And for those of you that have joined the Love Over Boundaries program, and you’re practicing your boundaries, I want to say congratulations. I am so proud of you. This life skill will serve you every day for the rest of your life.
The other story I want to tell you still has to do with boundaries, but I practiced this boundary with a really good guy. This is the way I practice boundaries with someone who is extremely sweet and kind.
One of my favorite grocery stores to shop at is Publix because they employ cashiers and baggers who have disabilities. There is a man with a form of autism who works there and the reason I know this is because I have a child with autism. Every time I go to Publix, I check out in his lane because he makes me smile.
This particular gentleman loves to talk about movies, and he can recite the lines of many movies verbatim. His favorite is Back to the Future. He can tell, based on the way I ask questions and smile, that I’m interested in what he has to say.
This morning he bags my groceries, and we walk to the car. And most of the time, I end up standing in the parking lot listening to him for about 10 minutes or so. I normally love to do this because I want to give him my attention.
I want him to feel loved.
But today, I didn’t have time. I genuinely had to come back to my house to start working early.
I didn’t want to be rude, but I had set the boundary that this needed to be a short conversation today. So when he was bagging my groceries, I said, “You know, I got it today. I’ll walk it out to the car.” And he goes, “No, no, no, I’ve got it. I can do it,” and he walks off with my cart.
So I follow him. I’m thinking, “Okay, that boundary didn’t work. Let me try another one.” We walk to the car, and he’s talking as I’m unloading the groceries and putting them into the trunk. Then I walk to the car door, I sit down, and he’s still talking. I start the engine, he’s still talking, and then I say, “I love your stories so much, and I can’t wait to hear about them next time, but I have to get home to start working.” And he stops. He says, “Oh, okay. Have a good day,” and genuinely means it, and then walks away.
I drove away thinking, “Now there’s a respectful, kind-hearted man who completely recognized a boundary and walked away.” He didn’t guilt me, he didn’t tell me off, and this is a perfect contrast when boundaries work with healthy people.This sweet grown man, who has a form of autism, recognized and respected a boundary while the completely “normal” guy who was drunk at the restaurant challenged it.
The point is this:
Boundaries are good to practice with everybody, healthy or not, and they work in many situations.
I got home on time to do my work, and I am so excited to run into him again, because hopefully next time, I’ll have more time for him.
But I didn’t become resentful; I didn’t have to rearrange my entire day based on an additional 20-minute conversation that I just couldn’t afford to have at that moment. So I didn’t become stressed out. I honored my schedule, and I honored myself, and I gave myself a voice.
You, my sweet, sweet sister, are just as strong as I am, and I know you can practice this too. I believe in you, and I know you can get to the point where this becomes natural.
Today, I want you to ask yourself what your boundaries are this week.
Are you making time for yourself, your interests, and your hobbies?
Are you making your values a priority by setting healthy boundaries around them?
What can you improve with your boundaries?
Take self-inventory and ask yourself, “What boundaries do I need to start practicing? What small steps can I make towards my recovery?”
All you need to know about what makes a good boundary and what doesn’t is in the Love Over Boundaries program. We go into great detail, and I would love to get to know you better inside the program.
We are a sisterhood, we are a community, and we are healing together.
Are you ready to take your healing to the next level?
Love Over Addiction is here for you.
Join thousands of women, just like you today.
Love Over Addiction is a private self-study recovery program just for women who love someone who drinks too much or suffers from substance use disorder.
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