Jan 10: Boundaries


I have been thinking about the holiday season with its heightened emotions and extra activities and how my approach has changed from year to year as I learn more about my preferences.

I was at a restaurant with others in a small group, some of whom I had never met before. I discussed with the waiter my “alcohol allergy.” I enquired about a meal that was described in the menu as having some kind of alcohol base on the steamed greens. After receiving assurances that the chef could easily provide the meal alcohol free, I ordered it.

The restaurant was busy, and when the meal finally came out I immediately tried the greens and knew straight away they had served me a meal with alcohol.

After a discussion with the waitress, she started talking about alcohol being cooked off while others at the table looked on and even behaved as though I was being difficult to get along with. Of course, when I told the waitress this was unacceptable, she took the plate away and returned within minutes announcing that another identical meal was coincidentally just being prepared and I could have that instead.

Despite my reticence, I tried the greens again. Being super sensitive to the taste of alcohol, I could recognise the taste of it immediately. The plate looked exactly the same and it seemed to me that the veges had been, if you can believe it, “rinsed off”. By this point others at the table were taking quite an interest in my meal instead of their own.

I left the meal on the table uneaten. I did not trust the kitchen and no longer wanted to eat in this restaurant, so I decided to focus on conversation instead. Someone at the table, who didn’t know me, even began making veiled comments about appreciation and the art of being flexible in a busy restaurant.

My point is this. I couldn’t care less! I just absolutely didn’t care! Maybe there would have been a time when making what appears to be a scene matters to me, or going hungry matters to me, or what I think others think of me matters to me, but when it comes to my sobriety (I don’t care) about any of those things. I speak up and behave according to my own truth no matter what, without feeling a need to explain or excuse myself, and if it gets down to it, I will do whatever it takes to take best care of me without a moment’s hesitation. Regardless of the fall out. Anywhere, anytime.

My partner wasn’t with me during that meal, and when she found out she was angry. She told me she would have wanted to storm the kitchen or insist on speaking to management, demanding satisfaction and refunds or whatever. I understand this is because she cares, and the way it unfolded was unacceptable to her.

But my HP and I have an understanding. God removes the obsession and compulsion, and I take care of the leg work, guided by God’s will as I understand it, and by our steps and our traditions. By the program principles, again, as I understand them. For me, this is about setting boundaries, and it also means going quietly about the business of being vigilant. Being responsible and accountable for myself in all matters pertaining to alcohol, without depending upon or involving anyone else where possible. And in this instance, I decided to avoid any more controversy. For me, the level of escalation and drama would have become detrimental to my peace of mind, so I chose to remain calm, seated at the table, and talking to the other guests.

And I am wondering …

In addition to attending meetings and doing the steps, what does vigilance mean to each of us, and how do we practice it in practical ways to protect our boundaries? What lines in the sand have we drawn in advance to keep ourselves safe from the unexpected?

My own vigilance in order to protect my boundaries, in the first instance, along with attending meetings and handing over to my HP, was to make sure that no alcohol entered my body or my psyche, through the taste of it, the smell of it, the touch of it, or even the idea of it. To this end, I started reading all labels including medicines, stayed away from people, places and events, where alcohol was a focus – or where it would be a focus for me (which was everywhere and everyone in those first days), and always asked questions when eating away from home.

Later on, those things became habit. And I still do them today. In fact, perhaps today I do them as much as ever so that complacency cannot get a foot in the door. I need to always respect this disease and my powerlessness over it. And to remember those aspects of this disease that hide so effectively. Denial, justification, self-sabotage, rationalisation, and the list goes on.

And so today it is within my boundaries to expect whoever is drinking to clean up their own bottles and glasses. This is my preference. It’s not that I can’t, it’s just that I don’t pick up bottles and glasses, full or empty. I have no business doing that. I also expect whoever is doing the drinking to buy their own alcohol. Again, it’s not that I can’t, it’s just that I don’t.

It is not my preference to stop in at the pub or bottle shop while I am out doing the grocery shopping. And the food I eat is 100% clean. I avoid eating in pubs with the smell of alcohol soaked into the carpets, not because I am at immediate risk but because I prefer not to. The conversations I have about the drinking days are only ever connected to twelve step work. I do not reminisce and would never compare drunkalogues. And at the end-of-day drink o’clock time I choose to walk the dog, or read a book. etc. or sit quietly by myself. I rarely sit around in drinking get-togethers with a soda in my hand. The habit and ritual is unacceptable to me.

Maybe these boundaries seem extreme to some, but for me there is no such thing as over reacting when it comes to keeping myself sober, straight, safe, and sane. And while I don’t make a loud song and dance about it, I know what is negotiable and not negotiable for me, and I act accordingly. I have communicated much of this to those closest to me and with whom there is mutual trust.

Having boundaries means I don’t test limits. I just take care of me, in the same way, all the time, without exceptions. So it doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas, some other celebration, or a lazy Sunday afternoon with family or friends, my vigilance does not rest, and my preferred boundaries remain in place.

What about you? What boundaries do you have, and how vigilant are you in maintaining them?

Please feel welcome to share on the topic of boundaries or on anything else that may come up for you.