-scale=1.0,maximum-scale=1.0" : "width=1100"' name='viewport'/> Plum Street Chili: Setting a Boundary

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Setting a Boundary

Why am I so mean? Why are you so fricking nice? I can be quite rude and I don't mind. I have no shame. Thank you, God.

However, the Universe or God (take your pick) often arranges to flout me (teach me) in odd ways.

I have a Shrink. Doesn't everyone? In the 20 years we have been working together, she has given me a direct order twice. Those directions were: "Don't fuck him." and "Stay away from your family." She trusts me and she never pushes my defiance/anger button.

I come from an alcoholic Catholic family with sexual and mental health issues. I am one of the bipolar members who spent ten years drinking and drugging. I have no idea how normal folks behave. We, Shrink and I, spend a lot of time establishing boundaries and rehearsing boundary setting. We talk things over.

My Mother used to do sexual checking. Once she made me remove my underpants so she could check if I had sex, after she dragged me down the street and into the house by my hair. I was twelve and a virgin. Consequently, I do not respond to the feelings of humiliation or embarrassment well at all. Not at all.

I have been attending AA meetings since 1980. I do not go often anymore since my sponsor died, but I still drop in occasionally to get a therapeutic dose of humility. Humility is not the same as humiliation. Folks are friendly and often come to say Hello if they do not know you.

So this woman asks me "How much time do you have?" People are proud of their time sober. I reply with an AA bromide "I have today. How are you?" The woman launches into a tale of her 30 years of spotless sobriety, never a slip, etc. etc. Then she starts telling me basic shit you teach to Newbies. And I had been coming to the rooms since 1980. And no one sane would lecture a Newbie like that anyway. We are trying to assist Newbies not scare or shame them.

I do not know why, but she pushed my humiliation button. I want credit for those fricking years, even if I was slipping and getting drunk once in awhile. I was still learning. I still had a desire to get sober which is the ONLY REQUIREMENT for membership in AA. I know something about how to get and stay sober. I just stood there and listened, furious, humiliated and smiling. Smiling. I know, now that I have studied interpersonal violence, that she triggered me.

I looked at her closely while smiling. We have a few crazy people in AA who never had a drinking problem in their lives. They come for the fellowship and the coffee. They talk the talk but have never walked the walk. And this lady is one of them. I had no creative response. I just left. And I fumed. For days. By the time I got to talk to Shrink, I was still upset.

When you first start setting boundaries, there is no way to be elegant about it. If you tried to set a boundary in my family, you got beat up. Or you had to beat somebody else up. So you do the best you can.

For a long time, I ran away. That was an awesome defense I learned from the Surrender Group. It worked for most situations but not all. I needed a simple-to-get-out-of-my-mouth, reasonably polite and nonviolent way to say NO! To make it all stop. Something I could get out even when triggered. Something that would not include endless explaining.

And Lady Shrink gave me the simplest and the sweetest boundary setter of all. Mary, she said "Say NO THANK YOU." And the light dawned. This is an all purpose defense.

Saying NO THANK YOU and smiling (and leaving if necessary) works. The abuser has no comeback. What can they say? They just stand there looking poleaxed. No Thank You is so easy to say: polite, nonviolent and thorough. And I can usually get it out of my mouth even when I am furious, scared, humiliated, etc. And it works well with overly intellectualized trolls who just want to argue and take offense at trifles.

No thank you. I'm a Barbie girl, in my Barbie world. No thank you. You will drive them boundary banditos up a tree. So you get good defense and offense in the same simple phrase. Peace.


  1. Hi, just terrywhilton here. Nice post. I'm an on again off again AAA guy myself. Off again right now. In the Caribbean at the moment-today- putting a sailboat together for a Pacific Crossing. Think I'll do a Magellen Passage this time. I've never said hello to Antartica,I intend to.Rich, old men are absolutely crazy you know. The World can't figure out how to kill us. So we do it ourselves.

  2. Hello Terry. Rich old white men with a sailboat tan are my favorite kind of old white man. No, you take care off yourself. You tend to brighten my day whenever you appear.

  3. What a typo. Should be "No, you take care of yourself,"