Out of Bounds


I am a natural-born helper, which lends itself quite well to my career in the social work field.  I also am a people pleaser, a role I learned over the years to garner the attention and affection I sought from others, which has not served me well in certain situations and relationships.  In the wee hours of the morning, I was faced with a situation that gave me the opportunity to do something positive, yet difficult, for myself and another person by choosing the healthiest role and boundaries possible.

When my phone rang in the middle of the night, I knew that there was something amiss, especially when my telephone’s caller identification displayed a familiar number.  I was exhausted and ill with a cold, and all I wanted was a good night’s sleep.  Had my daughters not been sound asleep, I would have ignored the ringing telephone, but I did not want them to wake up, so, I answered the call.  On the other end of the line was the pained voice of someone who has been in and out of my life for 30 years, and in an instant, I realized that they were intoxicated, signaling yet another relapse.  In another instant, my heart sank, as I knew what was about to ensue, slurred declarations of love, blaming of self, circumstances, and others for their pain, vague suicidal threats, and empty promises.  I got exactly what I expected.

I listened and repeatedly advised this person to contact their Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sponsor and/or mental health therapist, seek further treatment for their addiction and mental illness, and seek safety for the night.  When this person insisted that I was the only person whom they loved and trusted and who could help them, instead of feeling needed and wanted like I used to years ago when I heard these same pleas, I felt emotionally suffocated and scared.  This had nothing to do with love, trust, or help; it had to do with addiction and mental illness.  While I am a licensed clinical social worker and a certified alcohol & drug counselor, I cannot fix or save this person, as I am anything but impartial and objective when it comes to both the problem and the solution.

When this person asked if they could come over to my home, I said “no”, repeated my suggestions, and heard the dial tone when they hung up on me.  About 45 minutes later, I heard the phone ring yet again, along with the same slurred speech saying the same words from the previous conversation, and my response and advice remained the same.  Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself and for another person is to know your limits and to maintain clear boundaries for your own physical and emotional safety, both which have been compromised and violated during past interactions with this person.  I set these boundaries, not because I did not care.  No, I set them because I do care about their sobriety and mental well-being, but I also care about myself and my daughters and was not willing to risk any of us being harmed while trying to help someone who was out of control and unwilling to take the steps they know so well to address their issues.  After a fitful night of interrupted sleep, I awoke tired and under the weather, yet I knew that I had made the best decision for both of us.  With that knowledge, I continued on my way to make the most of this gorgeous day.

Just one thing each day . . .

Categories: Just One Thing Each Day

Tags: , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Man its so difficult to set those kind of boundaries! Hats off to you! I am not quite there yet, close, but not quite there.

    • Somehow, I knew that you’d understand the difficulty in this decision, and I know that there will be repercussions for my decision. That said, I still don’t regret what I did, and I will continue to do it until this person seeks the appropriate help and learns to honor my boundary. Tough night indeed. Thanks for empathizing!

      • I am so happy you have no regrets, that is my bit of a hold up. I can’t quite get past the guilt of not being there, she doesn’t call very often, but it’s always a crisis of sorts, and is estranged from her family, so I usually give in, even if its only in small way. Overall its just sad! Hopefully they will find the help they need and be able to truly enjoy life!

      • The situation makes me sad, and my heart goes out to this person. I do not regret my decision, though, because had I made a different decision, it would have harmed both of us and possibly my daughters. This person has access to a number of resources in our community, and it is up to them to take advantage of them, as they have done in the past. I hope that both of the people we both hold close to us find peace, joy, and love soon. Hang in there!

  2. I have come to love your blog posts … just thought I would tell you. I have a completely different situation but boundaries have always been an issue for me and giving in when I knew that I shouldn’t. Somehow I end up making excuses for my decisions. I’ve gotten better though and am letting them make their own mistakes now and face the consequences.

    • Toni, many thanks for both reading my blog and passing along such kind words, as both mean a lot to me. Setting and maintaining boundaries is not easy for me to do, so, when I am able to do it, it’s a big deal for me. It always helps to know that I am not alone.

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