Friday, October 11, 2013

Where I Stop and You Begin

I've got boundaries on the brain. For many years, actually - probably since I was in grad let's say for the past 11 years, I've thought on and off about boundaries. Mostly because the concept of acknowledging the space between us is hard for me to grasp. In my family we were one big blob of togetherness. There was little if any separation between parents and children. We had a shortage of space between us. We lived in our own little commune out in the country on a dirt road (on a street with other families unaware that our home housed a commune, mind you). I think my parents designed it that way. Just the four of us sharing a small space, taking on each other's pain and joy, ganging up on each other, and determining our own sense of well-being by absorbing and projecting what was happening around us...

I thought that was how it was supposed to be until one day I was sitting in one of my graduate classes learning about families and the different ways they might function and the instructor said something about a "healthy" family dynamic being one where there was a clear boundary between parents and children. Flexible? Yes. But FIRM nonetheless. Ohhhhh......

We learned about terms like triangulation and about families who were enmeshed. My instructor explained individuation and self-actualization. I sat there thinking, "Shiiiiiiiit." I was a grown woman married and with a child of my own. I lived in a house with just my husband and our child - 50 miles away from my parents. AND, I was totally and completely enmeshed in my family of origin. We had been triangulating for years. I was, much to my surprise, NOT self-actualized. Shit.

So there is where I started my quest to develop and maintain healthy boundaries between myself and other people, places, and things. I've been working on it for 11 years and I feel quite sure I will be working on it until the day I die. There are VOLUMES of books written on boundaries, researchers who study them and professors who lecture about them. There are stones that protect them and sprays that cleanse them. Boundaries are kind-of a big deal.

This week Melody Ross discussed boundaries in her Soul Comfort class. She presented two short videos on the topic. My jaw was hanging open through both videos. I wish every single person on the planet could see these videos and hear her powerful words (read: if you haven't already, please take this class already!). The topic of boundaries is popping up everywhere for me lately and I am seeing this as a sign from the Universe that I need to tune in and pay attention.

It seems to me that when we talk about boundaries, we most often think about them in terms of the lines we draw between ourselves and the things around us. Mostly people, but also places and things. What I hadn't thought much about before is that creating good boundaries between me and what is outside of me is not where my work ends.

I also need to create good boundaries just for me. Sometimes making a boundary is about protecting myself not from others, but from me. Ouch. Drawing a line in the sand might be about deciding that I am done taking crap from myself. Deciding that I will no longer tolerate hurting myself with negative self-talk - being mean to myself, saying things I would never ever dream of saying to someone else. That could be one of the most important decisions I ever make. Maybe deciding that guilt is just not allowed to cross through space and time and into my bubble anymore would be a very healthy boundary to build...

It could be that maybe, just maybe, the key to creating good boundaries in relationships lies in looking IN, not out. Perhaps I need to start with me. Where on God's green earth do I get off telling myself that I will not take on your crap, but it's okay to stew in mine? I think that is crazymaking!

If I'm on to something here, and I think I am, creating boundaries is a lot about being really honest with myself about the ways I am holding myself back. It might also be about the ways I need to start taking responsibility for ME rather than blaming other people for the circumstances in my life (like a lack of boundaries, for example...). Admittedly, I have done a lot of work in this area and for the most part I believe that people (parents, partners, teachers, coaches - people we might blame for things) do the best they can with what they are given. Whatever damage has been done to me is my damage now and I get to choose what to do with it. I gave up blaming others for the crap in my life when my dad died three and a half years ago and I realized it just wouldn't get me anywhere. Mostly because the person I liked to blame for my crap was no longer around. That was hard.

I am way oversimplifying this and I am being kind, I think, in telling this story as if I am the only person I know who faces this challenge. The truth is, we all do this. We all, at one point or another, look outside of ourselves for the source of our turmoil and we tend to want to blame that source for our current state when really we will move beyond the turmoil much more quickly, if we start by looking within. I still do it too sometimes and that is why I think this boundary stuff is a lifelong job. This line of thought always leads me to one of my husband's favorite movie scenes. It's from Bruce Almighty and God asks Bruce, "You want to see a miracle, Son?" Bruce nods and God says, "be the miracle." (quick clip from Bruce Almighty) It is a moving scene and it chokes me up every single time I see it.

In a lot of ways I think creating boundaries makes way for miracles. It opens up space for a whole new way of living life. A freer and more spacious way of moving about the planet. Knowing when to say when is important. We even teach our kids to say when. "Say when!" we say and they tell us when to stop filling their cup. If we don't stop, the cup will spill over and not in a good my cup runneth over kind of way. I think that if I can start making some clear boundaries - a line between my heart and soul and my crazy monkey mind, I might just make way for myself to be the miracle.

You be the miracle too. Leave all that crazy talk behind. Let's do this together. When we're finished we'll work on staying out of each other's bubbles. That would be the next best thing to do.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Saying YES!

helping hands - my mom's and mine

I spent the last two days on my living room sofa coughing, blowing my nose, and watching HGTV. I had no voice. Even though I was in bronchitis hell, I am grateful for the opportunity I had to rest and take care of myself (thank you school bus and all day kindergarten!).

The neatest thing happened yesterday morning. I was feeling really sorry for myself and wanted my mommy. I texted her and asked her if she could bring me some chicken noodle soup from Costco - if she was going to be in town. Before I even set my phone down a very dear friend of mine texted me and asked me if SHE could bring me some of the chicken noodle soup she had made the night before! I couldn't believe it. We had made plans and I had to cancel them so she knew I wasn't feeling well. Isn't that the sweetest thing?

As I devoured the delicious soup my friend made and delivered later that day I remembered a time in my life where I would have said "No thank you" to my friend's kind offer. I never wanted to be a bother or make anyone go out of their way for me. I didn't mind helping people out when I could, but I preferred to take care of me all by myself. It just seemed less complicated, and again... I hated to inconvenience anyone. I even hated to ask salespeople for help. Um. Hello....?!!

After my first child was born, I slowly opened up to the idea of accepting help. First from my mom and sister, and then from my mother-in-law.  Eventually my dad and father-in-law joined the party. Once I saw how amazing it was to open myself up like that, it became easier to ask and then to receive. It never occurred to me that they might actually enjoy or want to help me. I still hated being a bother, and at the same time I so greatly appreciated the times when they were there for me and the ways they helped my family and me. I remember my sister bringing me a plate of sliced apples and dollop of peanut butter for a snack a few days after we brought little baby James home from the hospital. I was a wreck of a new mom. I can still see the plate in my mind. She made it look so pretty. I almost wept I was so grateful.

Over the years, and especially after the birth of my third child, I have continued to learn to accept offers from others to help and to ask for help when I need it. Sometimes it feels like memorizing lines for a new play in that it requires practice to say "yes" and "please" without feeling anything but grateful. I am appreciating opportunities to work that muscle - to accept kind offers and to receive the help that follows.

I am taking that online Brave Girls Club class I mentioned a couple few ago called Soul Comfort. It's so fun and still open for registration if you're interested. The journal prompt I chose last night was Today I know that it feels good when I... and I wrote "say yes to a very kind offer."

super goofy journal page from last night

Even at bedtime I was so grateful for my friend's kind offer. I felt nourished and even healed as my voice started to return. I was so happy I said YES! Opening up to that opportunity to be taken care of by my friend allowed me to show up for my kids last night in a more effective way. I felt better which made for a better night for all of us.

I understand that there are lot of people out there who don't want any help. It seems as if "sucking it up" is a bit of a badge of honor around town. There is a lot of value in learning when and how to muscle through life's challenges. That's for sure. And at the same time, there is a lot of value in learning how to say yes and how to accept help from others. Sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is ask for help. Sometimes sucking it up gets you nowhere.

We live in this crazy world where we are so obsessed with doing things the RIGHT way. Sometimes there isn't a right way or a wrong way. Sometimes you just have to do things. It's not easy to let go of the stories we've written about how we will be perceived if we are a bother - if we feel like a bother. It's not easy to make a shift in the way you operate in the world. It's not easy to try something new, perhaps fearing that you will be judged. Nope, not easy at all.

However, I will tell you one thing I know for sure: it feels GOOD to say yes to a kind offer, and to simply accept what comes from that offer. It feels really good. I highly recommend giving it a try!