I spent time with a friend today, who told me all about her mother that has no boundaries. The mother told her (the mother’s) neighbor that my friend has shingles. She took her mother to task for that. Why on earth does the neighbor need to know? Her mother has done weirder things than this, even with me present.
It reminds me of my family and work situations. I blogged about dodging a bullet with a co-worker who wanted me to tell others what to do (“You’re not telling them. You’re guiding them,” she said), to which I had a visceral “Are you freaking kidding me?” type of response.
Here’s the context. About a decade and a half ago, I joined the Greek Orthodox church. (Wow, is that a long story in and of itself.) There was this woman I instantly got along with (a bad, bad sign given my family’s total lack of appropriate boundaries). People kept warning me about her, saying she was controlling and/or just plain nuts. I maintained my relationship with her because she always treated me well, although her presents were very odd and assorted behaviors seemed off-kilter. She was one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. She actually knows church history and I could have an intelligent conversation with her about topics that interest me, a rarity.
But she was basically stalking the priest. Sending him long, emotional emails and looking to always speak with him. It was Holy Week. The priest informed me that if she tried to speak with him the following week, “she won’t get the best of me.”
She and I are talking on the phone and she says she will speak to the priest the next week. I say, “Not a good idea.” She says, “It’s important.”
I say, “Fine. But you’ve been warned. I will not protect you. And I don’t want to hear about it when it blows up in your face and it so will.”
That was basically the end of our relationship after five or six years of being extraordinarily close. She was essentially kicked out of the church. And I learned a massive amount regarding narcissistic personality disorder and what the signs are.
This is why I am so exultant that I avoided the relationship with the co-worker. I never, ever want to go through that again.
I must be attracting these people into my life, along with people that, like me, come from families that don’t seem to have any boundaries. Some families must have boundaries. It is kind of like when I tell people, “I am sure that people exist that do not abuse alcohol and that can drink socially. I’m just not related to any of them.” I think I am attracting some more normal-ish people into my life, but I am starting to suspect that functional people might be the minority.
The reason I feel so lucky is because I am particularly vulnerable right now, with Barry’s death less than a year ago. I could really use some more friends right about now. And, worse still, I have spent most of my adulthood looking for mentors. The lady at the Orthodox church took me under her wing as a newbie. I have always wanted role models worth looking up to. In my life, it has always seemed like the people most intent on telling me what to do with my life have had theirs spinning out of control. And, to make matters even more severe, part of me really wants to impart wisdom into the next generation. The idea of “You’re not telling them what to do. You’re guiding them,” is unbelievably seductive to me at this stage of my life.
But I can just imagine the awkward conversation with one of the managers when other employees start complaining about me telling them what to do. How would it sound to a real manager if a peon said, “I’m not telling them what to do. I’m guiding them,”? I am so glad I never have to have that conversation.
But the vulnerability is still there. I still seek mentors. And I do want to pass on my hard-earned wisdom to upcoming generations. I am trying not to allow my unmet emotional needs to kick my ass once again. It’s just hard to know what’s appropriate, given my history, familial and otherwise.
In the recovery movement, there is a story. It goes something like this:
- I walk down a road. I fall into a hole. It is not my fault. It takes forever to get out.
- I walk down the same road. I fall into the same hole. It is not my fault. I get out a lot quicker.
- I walk down the same road. I walk around the hole.
- I walk down a different road.
I did step 3 a couple days ago at work. A co-worker I will call “J” told me not to put items on the furniture. Okay. Whatever. Then she told me to tell my other co-workers the same thing. I said, “No. Absolutely not. I do not tell my co-workers what to do.”
She said, “You’re not telling them. You’re guiding them.”
I said, “There is no difference.”
She said, “Yes, there is. But if you don’t want to follow the policy…”
I said, “What policy? There’s a policy? I have never heard of this policy.”
I stew for about a half hour and then go to the available manager and ask about this policy that no manager has ever informed me of. The manager tells me there is no such policy and that if there were, it would be written down.
I go back out to the floor and tell J, “There is no policy. Be careful.”
J says, “Just because this manager doesn’t know doesn’t make her right.” She is questioning the policy and procedural knowledge of an actual manager. This is so not my fight. I reply, “I don’t care.”
I spent the rest of the day almost giddy with relief. Why? Because J had been making overtures at becoming a real friend of mine. She even called us “sisters” because we had both lost husbands named Barry. I was on the verge of investing serious time and energy into developing a friendship with her. She had been very kind to me, but I felt like she was a little bossy.
I realized that she wasn’t simply “bossy.” The woman has zero boundaries. She feels free to tell me what to do, which I can listen to or choose to ignore. But when she started telling me what to tell my co-workers to do, then she was acting as my manager and putting me in a managerial position with my co-workers (“co-worker” means “equal peon” in my lexicon). The fact that she does not comprehend that there is no distinction between “guiding” people and simply telling them what to do is just plain scary.
To understand my relief, you need some context. I spent many years in a close friendship with a narcissist. It took years for me to realize how profoundly disturbed that friend was. Getting out of that relationship was very painful.
I got out of this relationship before I invested any time or energy into it.
Is there any real way for me to walk down a different road? I don’t know.
I still have to work with her. I know it is highly unlikely I will ever be forgiven for fact-checking her.
But I don’t care. These are her issues and there is no reason whatsoever to make them mine. This is going to be awkward, but not nearly as bad as it could have been. I know what’s mine and what is not and that is the foundation of my life.
This has been a powerful weekend.
I spent the weekend with my friend Harpreet. I usually call her Rose. She lives in NC, but is originally from India.
We ate out at DeLuca’s. We colored my hair purple. We visited Barry’s grave. And we saw “Instant Family.”
I bawled repeatedly during the movie. I just don’t do that. I feel like there must have been something in the movie that I need to act on, career-wise. I don’t have those kinds of reactions generally. I responded to the feelings of urgency, those windows of opportunity that open briefly and then shut forever in a person’s life. You either do something in a moment of need–or you don’t. Either way, your reaction is remembered forever. Never, ever forgotten.
And, yet, at the same time, I am very messed up emotionally. I realize just how easily overwhelmed I am. I am trying to be kind to myself. Grief is kicking my butt and everything reminds me of Barry.
My ability to intellectually sort through my emotional responses is limited right now. I hope to function more clearly at a later date.
Things are crazy busy right now.
I worked Friday through Monday, got today off, work tomorrow and Thursday, pick up my friend from Detroit Metro on Friday, spend the weekend with her, take her back Sunday, and presumably work Monday.
Today I made peanut butter balls with my ex-Protestant minister and his wife. It is a holiday tradition. This is the first time making them since Barry passed. People call them “buckeyes”, but I have never seen an actual buckeye. I should google it. In my mind, a “Buckeye” is someone going to Ohio State in official enemy territory. But then again, I grew up with my dad driving truck and was taught that a “reefer” was a refrigerated truck, something you haul ice cream in. So much for my understanding.
But maybe this is good. Staying busy so I don’t sit around feeling Barry’s loss.
I have to tell the story of last year’s peanut butter balls. There were about ten left last year and I told Barry he could have them all. But his mind was starting to go. On the weekends, he always drank these mocha cappuccino things from Bolthouse. I would drink mine in four days. He would drink his in two, Saturday and Sunday, when he ate dessert. One weekend, end of December or early January, he drank Starbucks Frappuccinos instead. I did not care. We had plenty. Come Monday, he hadn’t eaten his peanut butter balls or touched his Bolthouse. Monday morning, I inquired about why. He took that as me telling him to eat them immediately and to drink his Bolthouse this minute at 8:30 Monday morning. Not what I meant at all. So he dumps all the balls in a bowl and cracks open his beverage.
You have to understand that these balls are very rich. Eating three or four is about as much as the average person can tolerate at a time. I say, “Are you sure you want to eat them all at once?”
He responds, “Well, they’re mine, aren’t they?”
I say, “No problem. Enjoy.”
He starts scarfing them down and relishing every bite. It was funny but also made me happy that he so clearly enjoyed them so much. It would be the last dessert that he ever really enjoyed. After he saw his grandsons (the next day maybe), everything just became “too hard.” And that included eating. I didn’t realize then that his digestive system was changing. He was gone in less than two weeks.
So making them today was interesting and touching. I’ll just never forget, “Well, they’re mine, aren’t they?” I’ll laugh about that forever.
It’s so funny. I really thought that when Barry passed, I would hit the ground running. I had waited for it for so long. He demise had been so slow and painful for both of us.
I tried to go back to work too soon and every rejection felt like God having it in for me. It was awful.
I found work. First wit a nice guy with not the best judgment. I still like him and can use him as a reference. (He went off to Maryland for military training.) But he got me involved with a business that didn’t want to actually pay their employees for their work. They wanted w2 loyalty for independent contractor wages. Not on the up-and-up.
Then I found Goodwill. I am doing work that a high school dropout could do, but I am working 32 hours a week and am respected for my efforts, a giant leap forward from the last employer.
A fellow employee started telling me that if I want to go back to office work, that I need to have a makeover. All the old issues came up: the shame, not feeling good enough, nobody likes me the way I am, etc. She means well. She is in her mid-60s and her husband (also named Barry!) died two years ago. I went into immediate emotional tailspin.
I talked to my shrink about it and she said not to even think about goals of any kind until February. This is still the year of firsts. And January 12th is the anniversary of his death.
Everything still reminds me of Barry and I can’t imagine it not.
How will I ever know if and when I am ready?