I personally have a long history where professional, personal, ministry, extended family and home have all been blended together like a bowl of spaghetti. In 1992 after a time of illness that stopped me in my tracks and nearly killed me, I was introduced to the concept of boundaries in a book by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend called Changes that Heal. It was the first place where I found permission to value, care for and protect my own self. It was very literally a life-changing experience. It also caused no small amount of disturbance in the forces that I’d allowed to control my life up to that point. The personal sense of power I gained from that time was unlike any I had ever known. I began to heal and lead a much healthier life. I had no idea that there was so much more work to be done and equally no idea how extremely vulnerable I still was to unhealthy relationships and situations. Then came my daughter’s own battle with these things. As a result of seeking help for her, my own issues were brought front and center once again.
I liken the experience of family therapy to being locked in a room with an enormous spotlight on and aimed directly at you, your spouse and children. It was simultaneously awful and restoring but even that proved to be insufficient for the needs in our own family. Our daughter’s needs were so great (due in large part to my stressful pregnancy with her and the medical trauma she sustained during and following her birth) that she was admitted to inpatient treatment in a major hospital. That level of scrutiny took all of us to a much more intense place of isolation and introspection. Over time we came to understand that we were not going to be enough to heal our child and experienced the additional trauma of leaving her in that facility where doors locked behind us whenever we entered or exited. A place where all of our belongings were searched and some separated out because of their potential to harm. Thankfully the staff was very professional and gave us much appropriate and compassionate empathy as we went through these motions in robotic fashion. We also enjoyed a parent to parent support group that was very soothing for us as we saw that we weren’t the only one’s going through this.
Unfortunately, though healing seemed very real and possible for our girl when she in in-patient treatment, once she tried to come home and function there and in our community, she could not do it successfully. After several tries at coming home, we had to make the gut-wrenching decision to send her to a facility 1000 miles away from us. Words really cannot describe how surreal and painful that was, especially when you are in a situation where your own lives have been given over to the restoration of others through ministry as an Evangelical Christian. A life and ministry entered into because your own spiritual experiences led you to believe that you had the secret to life and its pain.
Our daughter’s time in residential treatment was extremely difficult for us but it was equally amazing and beautiful. Our personal history was revisited with many dysfuncational patterns addressed and emotional rocks turned over so those lovely little bugs underneath could be cleaned out and dealt with. At the end of 5 months and thousands of dollars later, we were at a place where we were very ready to get back home and move on with our lives. Unfortunately, as she tried to come home, it was clear that she just wasn’t quite ready. We went on with our lives coming and going to and from the treatment center over the next several months. As time went on, it became increasingly clear that we were going to need to relocate if she was ever going to find a way to live a successful life. By the end of that year, we had resigned from our current vocations and found employment elsewhere.
Our ministry heart had led us to a wonderful place vocationally and we were very ready to re-establish our lives in this new place. Unfortunately, the crack in my own emotional/psychological foundation of understanding the need for setting limits and maintaining boundaries would eventually create a situation where we would again find ourselves in the midst of some significant pain and much confusion as a result of enmeshment and boundary confusion with our employers. As time went on and the realities involved in our situation began to present themselves, we both became aware that we were going to need to set some limits and draw some more defined personal boundaries in order to remain in those positions. In my personal situation, I knew I needed to set a limit with respect to how much I would do and how much compensation I would need to have in order to continue to do it. After thinking it over, my employer determined that she would instead double my work load and give me almost of half the salary someone in my profession would normally receive. I gave notice the next day. Dean realized shortly after I left, that he too could no longer work in an environment that was asking more of him that he could personally allow. He sought and found employment elsewhere. We were grateful for our time in the work we had been doing but eagerly anticipated the opportunity to move on.
After working an additional two years in other situations, we made the choice to relocate again to Minnesota after Dean received a phone call requesting that he interview for an inside sales position at the company here. It was a “dream” position for him so I agreed it would be best to take it and move. I arrived here expecting to find a job with equal satisfaction. I applied for and found a job in my field in January of 2010. I am certain I would have enjoyed this position had I been a native Minnesotan, in my 20’s and had the extra year of education Minnesota requires for such a position. I finished the rest of that first year just exhausted but had every intention of making it a career. Two months into the next year, I decided to have surgery for the free reflux problem I had been battling. I’d started having trouble sleeping without stomach acid coming into my airway and was told that can be quite dangerous, so with my doctor’s guidance and the best surgeon for this procedure in the Twin Cities on board, I decided it to have the surgery that October. BIG MISTAKE.
I had this surgery, with all of my physical, mental and emotional reserves stretched to the limits. Five days later my stomach flipped up into my chest cavity and a medical odysee of epic proportions began in my life. I have spent the last 18 months in rehab from it all…that and a gall bladder surgery just a few months later! Clearly, I need to learn how to understand and respect my personal limitations. Hindsight is always crystal clear though, isn’t it? What really slays me as I look back on all of this is that even when I was really quite exhausted and barely functioning, I still did not want to give up my position and admit that it was simply too much for me. Until the day the principal sat me down and asked me if I thought the program could really continue with me coming and going, did I recognize the need to resign.
Since my resignation, I have had a lot of time to reflect about each of these events and especially the ones involving the move. As I have, I’ve come to understand and realize that moving to a small town on the very edge of the Twin Cities in Minnesota brought with it an enormous culture shock that I was totally unprepared for. Moving anywhere at 49 with no support system in place is a lot more difficult than I expected it to be as well. I now see that I really should have given myself at least a semester after I finished getting my Special Ed endorsement, adequate time to adjust to this new place and get my bearings before throwing myself into such a stressful job. BUT ever the optimist, I just went full speed ahead thinking I would “catch up” later. I have also learned that people in helping professions are always vulnerable to burn out and the statistics for the particular position I took are even higher than the norm. Seriously, what was I thinking?
I’m not completely sure. I have many inklings though. For now…this is all I’m ready to put out there. More blogs will be coming, though. That I am sure of.
2 thoughts on “Bruised Fences; Limits, Boundaries and ME, oh.my.”
From Alyssa: I think one on the most difficult (and on-going) lessons for me is honesty with everyone, but most importantly with myself. Being able to really analyze a situation before reacting–especially emotionally- has been surprisingly difficult for me. So many times I have expressed my needs or concerns to family, friends or an employer but didn’t get the response I expected, aka my needs were still not met or ignored. The result was elevated stress and a build up of frustration and anger until I blew up. So, I am working on being more honest and straight to the point when communicating my needs, even though I am still uncomfortable with confrontation!.
Such an eloquence in writing. I long to be able to communicate my deepest thots so succinctly and seemingly so easily as you do. Anyway – I enter this conversation with a lot of trepidation. Revealing my inmost has always been somewhat difficult, especially in a more public forum. Hard to take back words. What if belief systems which are entirely in place morph and blend and progress? Which does describe what my heart, soul and mind are continually going through, sometimes at breakneck speed. Would be so much easier to express myself if I had an English accent. Right now i am cloning Eleanor Bramwell’s voice – confident, determined and of course eloquent. 🙂