Lesson Eighteen: Boundaries

My therapist, Christina, got pregnant with her second child. She would be taking maternity leave. Fate and the small town of New Orleans had created a situation where Christina was working in the same office as Kimberley, the woman I’d seen right after Hurricane Katrina. I was able to transfer to Kimberley when Christina took leave. I went to therapy with Kimberley until I moved out of New Orleans.

After the baby, I was quieter. I felt like the volume had turned down inside of myself. I lost a lot of time. I ended up being put inpatient again. Kimberley came and saw me, and so did Megan. I didn’t want to kill myself; I needed to kill myself. I was overcome with the feelings of being seventeen. I mixed up realities. I had nightmares. I forgot to take meds because I couldn’t always remember what day it was, or if I’d gone to school or work. I lied to everyone about what was happening.

I wanted more privacy. I needed some space for myself. I seemed to be expanding, becoming more. I was suspect of my pending implosion.

I didn’t want to hurt people with my crazy. Being around me was difficult, and I didn’t want to burden anyone. I was a burden to myself and to the therapist I paid. My self-esteem didn’t allow me to see past these ideas.

Kimberley helped me set boundaries. It seems like such a simple concept. I went throughout the week to session and Kimberley would tell me to just say no. I laughed. Sometimes, saying no got you raped, I pointed out.

I was seeing friends that kept me down. I had a boyfriend somewhere. My family weighed on me more than it helped. I’d layer myself with guilt and shame, knowing that they thought I was lying about their dead son/brother. Why would I make up something like that? I ranged from feeling anger at their ignorance and need for denial, and self-doubt that maybe they’re all correct and I was lying. Kimberley would assure me that if nothing else, the symptoms show me having PTSD. PTSD isn’t naturally occurring. I don’t even know if my family was doing anything wrong, or if it was just in my head.

I got a new med doctor. My prescription cocktail was remixed.

One of my friends was going through some of her own shit. College is good for that. She maintained that we were “the same kind of crazy” in 2004. Over the years, she’d been getting away from self-injury and started to meet strangers online. She’d leave the state and tell her mother and boyfriend that she was with me. I didn’t know this was happening until her mother called me after she’d failed to return home on time.

My reasoning had always been that I’d put everyone through enough madness in 2004-2005 to be in debt. I owed everyone around me for putting up with me.

This reasoning was starting to fall apart with time. I didn’t owe Preston sex when he took it without my consent. I didn’t owe a friend lies to her mom, so she could be unsafe and dangerous. I didn’t want to be on call for Stephanie at all hours while she dated a woman who treated her like shit and wouldn’t take my advice about leaving. I didn’t want to be what I thought I was: a good friend. I wanted to be selfish and not put up with anyone who wasn’t good to me.

That, of course, was insane. Unrealistic and insane. If I rooted out everyone who wasn’t great to me, I’d be alone.

I told my friend that she couldn’t lie to her mom about me. She called me out on lying to my whole family on the regular. She was right. I lied frequently. I lied to protect myself and create walls that I thought were clever. Still, I told her. Still. “You can’t lie to your mom about being with me when you’re in Texas with someone we don’t even know.” She told me that she knew him. She called me crazy. She said a lot of things. And then she stopped saying anything to me. I had set my first boundary, and it cost me a friend.

Friends are a renewable resource. I didn’t know it when I lost that friend, but I learned it over the following years.

After the guilt wore off, I started to feel good about having shed that relationship. I used the new spaces in my social life to meet other people. I got closer to friends I already had. Kimberley and I worked out the benefits to having set a firm boundary and how I could do it with others. “In theory,” I said.

Soaking in the bathtub, candles lit, The Hunger Games being read to me by Carolyn McCormick, I thought about the ways I might re-assemble my relationships. My mind wandered over the piles and piles of lies I’d told. I wondered where the ones I’d forgotten ended up, and how many more piles that would have been. It seemed, in the haze of heat, that if I was going to tell people what they could and couldn’t do with me or to me, I was going to have to level with them. I’d have to come clean and stay clean.

I didn’t know if I’d be good at the truth. I doubted myself more than I doubted anything. The thing I knew most about myself, the being-broken-and-fixing-it parts, that could all be a lie. I was a kid. What did I know? And if it had really happened, why did I tell someone at the time?

Still.

It was worth a shot. Worth trying to see if it was better than the lies. I didn’t like the lies. I wasn’t as good at it as I was in high school when I was lying to myself, too.

If it didn’t work, I could go back. It was time to at least try something new.

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