"My mom needs to go to the ER again," M said to me recently. I was enjoying a leisurely breakfast while reading the newspaper, when I saw his name pop up on my phone and answered.
"Wow, we just took her last week," I said, putting down my tea mug and feeling my muscles start to clench in anticipation, "I am so sorry."
"So," M paused before continuing, "I'll guess I'll just Uber up to the hospital and meet her there?"
"Okay," I said, taking a deep breath disappointed, as I thought we were done with this bullshit game, "keep me posted." I hung up the phone and closed my eyes, allowing the anticipated wave of guilt to wash over me. I tossed my phone across the room for fear, I would pick it up, and call back to alleviate my emotional discomfort.
M, a close relative of mine, does not drive. When he first stopped driving many years ago, I found myself chauffeuring him around. A lot. To his office downtown, to the cleaners, to the grocery store, and to McDonald's for his favorite ice cream treat. At first, I didn't mind. Part of me felt terrible for M as I couldn't imagine not having the ability to hop in my car to get ice cream if I wanted. And I felt guilty. Although I was a stay a stay-at-home mom of two pre-teens at the time, I felt selfish not taking the time to drive him around in between my kid's activities and my own.
I'm exhausted," I remember lamenting to Kirin, my therapist at the time" I feel so overwhelmed."
'Sherri, it is within your right to say no," Kirin reminded me, "it is not your job to drive him."
"THAT is the thing," I said to Kirin, flinging my arms in the air in exasperation. Her statement highlighting the crux of my problem," I can't say no."
"Why is that?" Kirin asked inquisitively.
"Because he never asks. "I screeched flopping back in the chair, defeated.
For years I stood at the ready for M to mention his daily activities. How he was thinking of going to grab a coffee, or that he forgot some needed documents at the office. The familiar silence after each statement allowing just enough time for the helping/enabling/guilty part of me to pipe in with "I can take you." He never had to ask, he just had to hint, and I would flutter, skip and fuss all around to meet his request. All the while, resentment was growing and festering inside of me and slowly eroding our relationship.
With Kirin's help, my work in Al-anon, and the continued support of my treatment team I learned about boundaries. Although I love rules, the ones I relied on for years were punishing and detrimental to my mind and body. On the other hand, boundaries, I came to understand are a form of self-care. They are not meant to control my life but rather allow me to BE in control of my life. So, after much rehearsing, I set my boundary with M. With a quiver in my voice and forcing myself to maintain direct eye contact, I stated the following;
"M, if you would like a ride from me, I need you to to ask me directly and allow me the opportunity to say yes or no."
He didn't love it. Why would he? The old way worked a hell of a lot better for M than it did for me. Imagine getting a ride without ever having to ask someone willing to drop anything to accommodate.
I added one rule for myself (of course I did). If he did ask, I could only answer yes if I could do so without the eye-rolling, door slamming, monosyllabic, passive-aggressive words of resentment.
Over time, M adjusted, as did I. M, not one who is comfortable asking for help, learned to utilize Uber, and discovered a love of walking and I, someone who is uncomfortable holding a boundary, learned saying no doesn't make me a selfish bitch. I discovered I love helping people when I can.
Just gotta ask.