Emotional Boundaries

I grew up overly sensitive to criticism. Since criticism felt life-threatening to me, I established rigid boundaries to keep people at a distance. When criticism came, no matter how slight, I’d over react. I’d retaliate by pulling out a bazooka when a less sensitive person would pull out a squirt gun. I wanted to make damn sure it didn’t happen again. My first marriage ended right after the honeymoon period. She violated my boundaries so often that toward the end, she couldn’t say anything that didn’t offend me. When anger didn’t work, I retreated into my cave in silent resentment, blaming her for making me angry! 

I spent the last few years of my drinking in almost complete isolation. I had chased everyone out of my life except the lower companions I met everyday at my neighborhood bar for “happy” hour. A few months before I attended my first meeting I remember sitting in my “command chair” with my big bottle of wine, bag of pot and remote control surveying my surroundings. There were a couple of left over fast food bags and a Domino Pizza box on the carpet near my chair. Instead of getting up to empty my overflowing ashtray, I just dumped it into the box. As I looked around my dirty apartment, I remember thinking, “What a great way to live! There’s no one around to bother me about my drinking or to prod me into looking for a job.” Looking back, this is perhaps the saddest moment of my life.

Recently I broke off a forty-year friendship with a man who was best man at my first wedding. Instead of giving me love and support during a very difficult time, he offered up angry criticism. I heard my alcoholic father talking. I realized this man was toxic for me. I called it off without anger or drama. In AA I learned my job is to love everyone, but I don’t have to like everyone. I still love this man, but I no longer choose to participate in his life. The old me would have hung on, continuing to look for an emotional scrap of bread, but thanks to the beautiful love and support I receive from my AA friends, it was easy to let go.

My journey in Alcoholics Anonymous has been about reconnecting with life one relationship at a time. My boundaries have become more flexible through the years. I began to loosen up when I walked into my first meeting and reluctantly allowed you guys to begin loving me back to life. I still don’t do well with criticism, but I realize that God puts people in my life to help me grow. Those who violate my boundaries, who don’t behave the way I want them to, are my greatest teachers. Instead of blasting them to kingdom come, I should throw my arms around them in gratitude. I’m not there yet, but I’m heading in the right direction.