Why do loved ones struggle to set and maintain firm boundaries?
Setting Boundaries for Loved Ones: Another relapse. Another midnight call. Another sleepless night. Another round of fear, frustration, and fatigue.
Fear. What will happen to my adult son? Will he lose his freedom, his apartment, his possessions, and his beloved dog? Will he become homeless? Will he stand at a street corner with a cardboard sign begging for food? That image haunts me. Can I let it happen? Is my faith strong enough to counteract my fear?
Fran Simone is Professor Emeritus from Marshall University, South Charleston Campus, West Virginia where she directed the West Virginia Writing Project, a statewide affiliate of the National Writing Project (University of California at Berkeley). Her memoir, Dark Wine Waters: a Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows was published by Central Recovery Press (2014). Fran speaks frequently on addiction from a loved one’s perspective and conducts workshops on writing.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
Frustration. Why doesn’t my son get it after all these years? Why hasn’t he taken advantage of the many opportunities that his father, sister, and I have provided for him to get clean and stay well? And why can’t I stop rescuing him? Will I be able to set and keep boundaries this time? Is this the final straw? Have I hit rock bottom?
It isn’t that I don’t know better. I’ve been involved in loved ones’ recovery groups and individual therapy. I’ve admitted that I’m powerless. (Admitting is one thing; following through is another.) I’ve embraced the 3 Cs: I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it. I’ve worked the steps. I have a sponsor who reminds me, “When you know better you do better.” I know better. Lord knows I’ve set enough boundaries over the years. But I keep moving them. There’s definitely a disconnect between my head and my heart.
Fatigue. My son’s recovery/relapse scenario has been going on for the past twenty years. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of the melodrama. Of one step forward and much more back. I feel like Sisyphus who was eternally damned by the Greek gods to roll a massive boulder to the top of a steep hill. When he reached near the top, the rock rolled back down again and he was forced to labor all over again. Like Sisyphus, I’m exhausted.
Did I play a part in this insanity? You bet. Have I waited too long? Absolutely. Am I the only one? Not likely. I’ve spoken to many family members who continue to enable even when they know better. “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry…Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death”(www.asam.org). It’s been described as cunning, baffling, and powerful. A perfect storm for crazy-making. A speeding car without brakes. In a compelling video on Learn2Cope.com (Recovery from Addiction: An Intro for Parents of Addicted Persons), a recovering addict shares his story and its effect on his family. He describes how once an addict stops he cannot stay stopped and when he makes promises he means to follow through. But he doesn’t. Then there are those blessed periods of quiet between storms when the addict appears to be doing okay. The family rallies with help (in my case often financial) and encouragement (“I’m so proud of you.”). This doesn’t last and things fall apart again. Fearing the worst (homelessness, prison, or overdose) family members may step in to pick up the pieces. This cycle has repeated itself over and over again with me and my son.
This scenario stops when the addict decides to embrace recovery and is willing to undertake its demanding challenges. That’s the hard part. Or if the addict continues to use, then it stops when loved ones step back, establish firm boundaries and stick to them. That’s the hard part.