I spent most of my teenage years and early twenties trying to teach my mother about the importance of boundaries.
Mainly in the “jeeez, get out of my face/room/life/business!” way. But also, once in a while, when she’d come to me with her heart in her hands after getting her feelings trampled on, I’d oh so wisely counsel the woman who raised me to think – again – about maybe setting up some boundaries between all of her inner most thoughts and the rest of the damn world.
Thinking about that now, I realize that
a) women who counsel their mothers are kind of arrogant pricks,
b) there is probably no one in the world less qualified to talk to someone about boundaries than me.
Most especially b.
I’ve never been very good at setting boundaries. I’m even worse at enforcing them. Truth be told, despite what I told my mother, I’ve always kind of assumed that “boundaries” were for pessimists and conservatives and people with delicate sensibilities.
Boundaries were the things that kept other people from talking about things like depression and fear and farts. Boundaries were the reason that most people’s lives appeared to be perfect, even though everyone had shit going on behind The Curtain. Boundaries, I assured myself, were for people who simply couldn’t handle the truth or needed to loosen the hell up a bit.
I, on the other hand, being open and honest and totally amused by farts, had no need for anything as rigid and puritanical as boundaries. I, thank you very much, knew exactly who I was, and I was completely confident in letting you know exactly who I was, too. Faults, fears, fat rolls and all – take me or leave me, baby, but here I am! Boundaries be damned!
I ran through life with my heart on my sleeve and my guts on display, throwing the door open wide for anyone who wanted a seat in the audience. Come one, come all! Free show, no cover!
And then someone would throw a metaphorical tomato in my face. Hard.
So hard, in fact, that there was sure to be a bruise. And probably tears. And maybe, on occasion, even a little metaphorical blood – because I swear to God some of those damn tomatoes were packed with razor blades or something.
And just like that, the all access show would be over.
Did I set up boundaries then? Not exactly. I usually went way beyond boundaries when I’d been hurt. I’d withdraw into a rock solid cave, far, far away from prying eyes and would-be vegetable hurlers. I would hide out and tend to my wounds and only let the most trusted caretakers close, vowing to never again expose myself to anyone or anything that could hurt me.
And then the bruises would start to fade, because that’s what bruises do. I’d get a little bit stronger, because my most trusted caretakers were so very, very good at patching me up and undoing damage. Time would pass, and I would heal. And before you knew it…
I was right back out on center stage with my guts hanging out for all the world to see.
Come one, come all! Free show, no cover! Bigger and better and stronger than before! Backstage passes to anyone with a heartbeat!
And then someone throws another freaking tomato in my face. Hard.
And back to the cave I go.
I have repeated this pattern of behavior about a gazillion times in my life. I’ve done it with boyfriends and girlfriends and Internet strangers. I get my heart stomped on, promise that I will never again let my heart be unguarded, and then I leave my heart sitting in the street for a Mack Truck to run over. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.
And then, one day, a tomato aimed at me hit someone that I loved. Hard.
And I could no longer pretend that this wackadoo ping ponging between the stage and the cave was sane or safe. For anyone.
And that’s when I started to learn about boundaries.
I turned to my friend Faiqa for guidance, because she manages to liven openly and authentically without leaving her internal organs vulnerable to casual onlookers. She’s warm and inviting and generous, but protective of herself and her loved ones.
I questioned and studied others, too. People who lived in caves, people who were experts at dodging tomatoes, and people who seemed to dance on the stage in tomato-proof skin. I watched and listened and took mental notes. I combed through all the input and considered what I could use and what I, being me and not them, couldn’t.
And then, for the first time in my life, I began purposefully building boundaries.
My life is no longer a free for all show, nor am I hiding out in a bunker. My inner most thoughts and self worth are no longer up for grabs to every curious passerby. I’ve set limits on who can and cannot affect my inner peace. And backstage passes are strictly reserved for those who have paid admission and been cleared by security.
In other words…
…I’m owning my right to choose what I share and what I don’t, and with whom I share it. Whether it’s on a blog or in my living room, access to my life is my gift to give as I see fit. I know for most people this is an obvious truth, but it’s something that took me a while to “get”. I genuinely felt that holding back parts of myself was equivalent to denying someone something they deserved. I have no idea where I got that idea from, but I think it’s easiest to blame my mother. (see also: wide hips – thanks for that!)
…I’m being much more selective about who I let into my inner circle. You know, like most normal fucking people do. In the past, I’ve pretty much opened my heart and my home and the deepest recesses of my entire life to damn near anyone who wanted in. But lately, I’m trying to pay closer attention to whether or not the people I let in are likely to slit my throat and take my jewelry while I sleep. I’ve locked the doors, so to speak, and I am at least trying to take the time to ask for some damn ID before I hand out spare keys. Again – I realize this is what normal people do all the time, but, well, all I know is that MY MOTHER WANTED TO LIVE IN A TIPI, PEOPLE! Tipis don’t even have doors, let alone locks! (see also: why I never remember to wash windows.)
…I’m learning to appreciate that inner circle for what it is – incredibly freaking special and awesome and worthy of my appreciation. My most trusted caretakers have not received near enough respect from me. In giving so much of myself to anyone and everyone, I had very little that was reserved only for them. They built me up when life tore me down, and their reward was a little bit of time here and there with the scraps of me. Being more selective is allowing me to give more to the people who mean the most to me.
So, yeah. Boundaries. Come to find out, they are less about depriving or keeping people out than they are about protecting what is precious and keeping peace and joy and love and all those good and happy vibes in. Why did no one ever tell me this!?! Mom.
(see also: why musicians end up strung out on cocaine or heroin or hookers. Mainly because their moms probably threatened to make them live in a tipi when they were kids.)