Story Time: Boundaries for Aunt Petunia
A Self Observation of setting boundaries for my own behavior to cope with Toxic Relationships.
Boundaries. I cannot begin to express how liberating it has been to set them with anyone and everyone I need to. But, what about setting boundaries for yourself? In my never ending quest for "the happy", I have discovered that keeping my own ass in check is just as important. Reflecting on situations and our evolution of coping with them is vital. "Keeping it real". So, let's talk about it.
Even pre-soberiety, I was self aware enough to realize that I am reactive. I am stubborn and opinionated. Oh, and I'm a Leo. While this has been a necessary trait in certain aspects of my life, it has also been a nail into the coffin in some situations. There are definitely times in my past I wish I'd had a guardian angel with a baseball bat. She would have needed to smack me in the head to shut me up. And while my new method of managing my own attitude is less violent, the concept is the same. For the most part my life is uneventful. I don't interact with many people these days. And I purposely only surround myself with those who are good for me. I don't mean "Yes Men". I mean people who are truly good for all aspects of me. However, as was the case today, their are certain people we simply cannot avoid. And isn't it convenient that those are usually the people who make our eye twitch and our fists clench the most? Just me? Ok. Seriously though, we all have a "someone" who, directly or indirectly, just isn't disposable or avoidable right now. Such is the subject of this little Story Time.
Without going into much identifying detail, unfortunately I have to occasionally and indirectly be affected by a person whom we cannot really completely avoid for the next year and a half or so. We have managed to limit exposure, much like that nosey aunt who sends passive aggressively tells you not to eat that second cookie, this lovely human being manages to drop themselves into our little bubble. We almost forget they exist, and then here they are again. Generally in a drunken rage and in desperate need of phone privilege revocation. Yes, that's right. This person is also a raging and abusive alcoholic. Lovely. I can safely say that nothing is worse than dealing with an alcoholic know it all. Except for dealing with an alcoholic know it all when you used to struggle with alcohol. The good side of that is definitely that I recognize a lot of the behaviors and know when it's a good time to suggest that my husband completely ignore the person. The bad news is that I recognize the behaviors and want to say something condescending. Or attempt to correct the behavior. That's never a good idea. The most interesting part of that is this very person was a driving force in why I ultimately got sober from my own alcohol addiction. And stay that way. Every interaction was like looking into my own potential future. Trust me, if you knew what I know, it was quite sobering.
Anyway, before we decide I am an unsympathetic prick. In the past four years I have attempted compassion, reasoning, mediating, yelling, fighting and ignoring. And I am writing this to a point. A breakthrough. A milestone in my own growth, thanks to this absolutely unbearable human being. We will call her "Aunt Petunia". You see, we are happy living in our little bubble. Sometimes we have the occasional marital spat. We have a normal, quiet, middle class home life. And, seemingly out of the blue, here comes the belligerent ravings in the easily documented form of texting. Generally it's an attack on the longevity of our marriage, which seems to be an obsessive topic for Petunia. It also ventures into the waters of minding our business, questioning our finances or general passive aggressive berating. In fact, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Petunia has some sock account to follow my social media. I picture them begrudgingly cataloging every image into folders titled "whore bag" and "thinks she's better than everyone".
The first two years, I tried to be kind. Even to sort of befriend Petunia. Needless to say, it didn't work. It's kind of like a flea. One comes in on the dog and you think "it's just a flea". But, before you know it you're setting off bombs to reverse the damage. Lesson learned. These last two years, I've done my best to just turn a blind eye. Ignore when I can. However, the very beginning of an interaction would cause an anxiety ping in me. The kind of heart racing you'd have before jumping naked over a fire pit. That point was where the self awareness came in. The realization that this was not supposed to be this way. I had set all of these boundaries and distance. And yet, still here I was. Taking anything Petunia had to say to heart. Regardless of the fact I've actually only physically met this divine being once. And my husband has physically seen them a handful of times over the last several years. Mostly because it becomes an opportunity for old Petunia to fluff feathers and scream obscenities at him. Anyway, regardless of all of these "boundaries", our favorite Aunt was still renting space in my head. Well, up until about July.
Since the summer, things were quiet and I was so focused on maintaining my own self improvement goals that I'd nearly forgotten ole' Petunia. Had I really evicted this awful tenant from my headspace? Or was this a glitch in the Matrix? Perhaps it was a matter of comfortable distance? Maybe she forgot about us completely? Did she finally reach some level of maturity to at least rival that of five juvenile primates in a play pen full of shaving cream? Of course not. Our bandaid avoidance was simply working. For the time being. And then, the Universe decided it was time to test my growth.
This morning I was met with screen shots from my husband. Dear Petunia was at it again. In fact, she was especially feisty today. It seems she had months worth of insults to hurl. Likely quickly, before the morning liquor resulted in an early nap. It was all of the usual banter and weaponizing of other family members. He was the biggest jerk who ever existed on the face of the earth. I was still a fling that would surely end soon. (She insists on this every year. In fact, I am sure she has a calendar alarm set for our wedding Anniversary.) Petunia was really putting on the charm. Typically I would examine the entire collection of messages. Dissect each word and store it in a bitter vault of contentment for this person. Except, this time it was different. I did not sit and read each word carefully to catalog every hurled insult. In fact, I skimmed over it and offered my advice on how my husband should react. I did have a fleeting moment of annoyance, I think. But that was it. That was really it. For the first time in year, I received the ball and I simply passed it. No fighting or fuming. No days of relentlessly bitching about it under my breath. The realization of this milestone only hit me now. And, of course, I felt the need to put pen to paper on it. Why? Because writing has always been a huge factor in my work. It's a therapy that costs the price of wifi.
So, what's the point? Well, that would be the take home. "The Moral of the Story". What had changed?
The boundaries I had set for Aunt Petunia were good ones. They were important in our own peace of mind. They did keep some comfortable distance and temporary sanity. However, boundaries set on a toxic person don't really resonate well with them. Despite the effort, the random attacks were still happening. However, instead of daily it became pent up implosion on Petunias part. And it was still getting to me. Whether directly or as a defensive reaction to insults toward my husband, Aunt Petunia was still accomplishing what she set out to accomplish. I am still not sure what that is, exactly. Although, I am sure that it will continue for the next 1.5 years until we simply can cut off all contact. To add fuel to the dumpster fire that is this dynamic, during all of those times, I myself was in a bad place. My self esteem was down the shitter. Words DID bother me, even coming from someone who knows nothing about me. Clearly, setting boundaries only on Aunt Petunia wasn't working. The real solution was me. Surviving this would mean I would have to drop my own pride and work on my own demons to combat this situation.
The work I'd done on myself since July greatly improved those parts of me that were broken. Molding and imagining the woman I wanted to be was my first step. Creating boundaries for MY reactions was the most important. You can hash tag "self love", "peace and love" or whatever all day long. For me, the real changes happened when I looked at myself harder than I was looking at Petunia (or anyone else). Working through those parts of me that took things to heart in preparation to defend myself. Because, that's all it is for any of us. When we feel attacked on a non-violent level, we still fight back. Ultimately, that can cause us much more harm and anxiety than learning to own who we know we are. Regardless of what our Petunias have to say. Essentially, I had to truly accept all of the contributions I made to the toxicity of it all. This in turn took away that anxiety of having to defend or fight. At the end of the day she will likely still look like a complete maniac. But, I don't have to.
Today was a milestone for me toward becoming the most unproblematic "self" I am supposed to be. So, thanks Aunt Petunia. I guess everyone does serve a purpose.
#ToxicPeople #Sobriety #Recovery #SelfHelp #OnlyHuman