When I first began work in recovery from a lifetime of co-dependent behavior, someone advised me that when I felt the urge to jump into drama or rescue someone to do NOTHING instead.
I have not always been successful, but I have noticed an internal shift toward a “wait and see” approach slowly replacing my “if I don’t do something for this person right now, all will be lost” mindset. For me, the biggest challenge is discerning if my being involved would truly be helpful to the situation and to me, because I matter also.
How does one fail to develop healthy boundaries? There are, I am sure, a multitude of ways, but I can only speak my own truth and bear witness to my own life. My perceptions may be fuzzy, but the way I experienced my childhood was MY reality and what my later decisions were based on.
I am going to tell a bit of my back story here to provide context. I was raised as the youngest in an alcoholic and dysfunctional family. We each had our roles to play, and mine initially was just to stay out of the way. I was great at occupying myself while the adults swirled around me not paying much attention. I had two sisters, and later a step sister, and they too had their roles.
It became harder to be invisible when my mother remarried another alcoholic after leaving my alcoholic father. Ironically, the story goes that she met my stepfather at AA where she and my biological father were attending meetings. I am not completely sure of the veracity of the story, but there it is for now. My stepfather seemed giant to me, and scary, using his physical presence to intimidate in very powerful ways to my four year old frame. I worked harder at being unseen, except when he was focusing his anger on one of my sisters, then I tried to be brave and stand up to him, with frightening results.
Being in stealth mode became my MO. It was my saving grace and my downfall. It led to me spending lots of unsupervised time, which sounds ideal, and was in some ways. It also left me unprotected against the teenage boy in our neighborhood who used my solo status to take advantage of me and try to educate me (repeatedly) in anatomy at the age of 5.
I am not one to try to disclose my story in detailed ways, I am writing this to show how the stage was set for me to have no protection of myself (ie healthy boundaries) from then on. Decades of unhealthy and extreme black and white thinking followed my childhood. This is why I see my steps toward emotional sobriety as my most important life’s work to date, and the most important legacy I can leave my three children. Perhaps now the cycle can be broken.
Rockelle Lerner, known to many in psychological and recovery circles, says that the very structure of our planet depends on the individual response to the call of inner healing. We have to believe that we have a sacred “container” as she calls it, to honor and protect. Then we can begin to see others as valuable as well as the earth.
The work is hard, sometimes excruciating. But when I notice an inner quiet in myself that has never been there before, I know that every bit of work is worth it.