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Alcoholic Boundaries

"Alcoholic Boundaries: learning your limits. "
copyright 2011, all rights reserved

by Toby Rice Drews
author of the "Getting Them Sober" books

In family recovery from having lived with an alcoholic (or still living with someone who has alcoholism), we do learn boundaries, of course.... and we learn that we have the right to stay with, or leave, or go back to that relationship ...... and we learn that we can do it all in our own way, in our own time, at our own pace.

But it even goes further than that...... Step 12 in the programs of recovery, says, "practice these principles in all our affairs".

We have the right to take all that into our primary family relationships, too.

We have the right to not only relate on a non-triangulation basis...... we also have the right to make steps toward healing a relationship......

b. but we also have the right to decide to not be involved in trying to heal a relationship...... we have the right to evaluate our relationship with, say, a niece or aunt or sister, cousin------ and despite the fact that perhaps everyone else in the family finds some way to continue to have dinners together, or whatever--------we have the right to not do so.

This can be of course, difficult..

There are always consequences to all choices.

And some of the consequences to deciding to not be involved with a particular nephew, or one's father, might be------

a.) wrath from the rest of the family

b.) loneliness, when what the relationship gave you, is not replaced with pieces of relationships from others

c. And when we have 'leaky boundaries'.....i.e., we take in too much of what others might think of our choices...... it is harder on us to feel able to make choices.

1. The first step to amending a leaky boundary problem is to self-admit it.

2. Then, slowly, relationship by relationship, self-examine to see how small steps might help us not take in what others might want us to do.

3. It does get easier....... and we find ourselves just doing it.

4. When we really feel sure-footed about it, we discuss it less.....and 'just do it'. This last piece is really part of Al-Anon's genius! In those rooms of recovery, people learn how to slowly self-identify our particular boundary problems, and slowly change how we relate.

d. Now, as we are in process of changing, we all have our own way of doing so...... some of us need to 'get off into our corners' and be very to no one about it...... and just keep thinking it through.

Others of us need to continually verbalize about it, to process it better.....

Others of us need to journal about it privately.......with filling many pages every day------- detailing what we cannot or do not want to, verbalize with others.

But, however our particular brains 'work' to process things best for us......

As Al-Anon says------- when we have really fully internalized that we have the right to choose, or not choose, a certain path, with a particular family member--------- "the home gets quieter".

Then, we no longer feel the need to keep saying that we want or don't want, a certain behavior//path//whatever.

We just know it......... and when WE just really know it.......and they know that we know it......... and then, that's that!

That's when the family starts to FULLY realize that we feel really solid in our choices........

........ the choices that we of course, have the right to change, if we want to.........

e. And it's not always 'hurt' or 'anger' that will cause some people to decide to pull back from a relationship with a family member........ I interviewed a woman who had two much younger sisters who both idolized her and who hardly related to each other........ each of them was so busy vying for attention from this third sister......So, loving them both very much, she pulled back quite a bit from engaging with them------- leaving them both much time and energy and space to relate more and bond more, with each other. She had thought and hoped this might happen, if she were 'out of the way' for awhile.

(It reminds me a little bit, of the "bear movie".......a classic from Disney. There was a hidden camera, watching a bear family. The momma bear had two cubs........and when they got old enough, she had to teach them to fend for themselves. So, one day, she made a terrible noise a predator was coming.......and the cubs scurried up a tree, as she had taught them to do. Then, when they were not able to be seen-------nor see the momma------ momma bear ran off, never to return. A long while later, the cubs came down from the tree, and cried ......but then they got hungry.......and went 'fishing' in a nearby stream, as momma had taught them. They cried more and played with each other.......and survived. If she had not done all this, they would not have survived.)

f. And sometimes, a family member just feels 'jarred' by the intensity//strength of others in the family...... feels intimidated and unable to 'be his own person' with others in the family that he has historically, been cowed by. Choosing to leave the relationships for awhile----or however long-------- might be more viable for this person, instead of 'standing up' for his voice to be heard.

There is no 'one way' to find one's peace....... to find one's satisfying relationships, whether in that family, or not.

Recovery Communications, Inc. • P.O. Box 19910 • Baltimore, MD 21211

Phone: 410-243-8352 • Fax: 410-243-8558 • e-mail:
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