Why I Keep My Boundaries and Why We Can’t Be Friends

Something I have learned through my experiences with my family and their ongoing addictions and my own struggles with addiction and substance abuse is when it comes to implementing and honoring boundaries….

All of it resides in a beautiful, flexible, gray area.

And this area is meant to provide a safe place but things there aren’t permanent. They are there sort of leasing short-term lots; like a camp ground for the shitty things that we don’t know what to do with, so we just do our best and continue on knowing that everything in the gray area can be re-evaluated at any time and assessed to fit what’s most current.

Things can then stay there or we can take them and move them and change them.

And the choice is always up to us.

I haven’t always fully understood this but that is because it has taken time.

For a long time, creating a boundary within a relationship or a friendship always felt so concrete. I believed that because I made a decision, that meant that I had ruined any possibility of a future relationship.
*(And yes, sometimes cutting ties and burning the bridge to the ground is what’s up. It is what is best for everyone and in my experience, it can be therapeutic and positive.) But that isn’t the only option and it is not always obvious as to what ‘the next right thing’ is going to be.

So when I got a friend request on Facebook from my brother last week it through me through a loop. I was surprised to see it in the notifications because it has been around six months since we last spoke.

Without thinking it to death, I sent him a message that said I wasn’t trying to offend him or make him feel bad, but I am not sure that we’re ready to be friends. I added that I hoped he was feeling well and that he was alright.

And that was it.
For now that is all that I have to give.

But it is also all that I should be giving to him.
He doesn’t need to be my friend right now.

Not only are boundaries okay.
Not only are they (not) permanently fixed , set constrictions.
They also aren’t always set because they are what’s best for US.

I have watched and felt and observed our dynamic over the years that I have been sober.
For some reason my brother and I cannot be in the same room for long periods of time.

Too much of my own sober time has been spent perpetually wondering what I have done wrong or what I could maybe do better or different, and where the rage and impulsive behavior comes from when we are together. I am always left feeling confused and sad and hurt.

But it wasn’t until the truth finally clicked:

I am a trigger for him.

It’s that simple.
And right now, he doesn’t recognize it.
Until he is in a place where he is ready to confront that, we can’t be friends.

Seeing me and being around me obviously stirs his emotions and buried issues and negative feelings that he has in his heart and mind that cause him pain and anxiety and anger.

Lots of anger.

How badly do I wish I could just explain this to him and have it click?
But that’s not how it works. I know that.

I believe that he needs and deserves connection because he is valuable.

But it is wrong to believe that I have to be that person to connect with him or that I am a good candidate to help them feel connected.

Because in this particular instance, I am not. I am not the person for the job even if I want to be and it doesn’t matter that I feel like I am over-qualified for the job.

It’s God’s job.
There is no doubt in my mind that He will provide the right people who will walk alongside of my brother when he is ready for that walk. And when it is my time to walk I will walk alongside of him, gladly.

I know that one day we will have to come face to face with some hard things that he has buried. I am also positive that some day I will need to apologize for a long list of things that I have done indirectly and purposefully and unknowingly, and I am ready to ask for his forgiveness so that we can learn to move past the water underneath the bridge of reconciliation.

I am open and willing to do that when the time comes.

Until then I am going to try to stay out-of-the-way and do my best not to become another hindrance to an already difficult and bumpy road.


  1. Brittany

    I wrote a lengthy reply earlier but I am trying to do my best to balance my own need and desire to share and reflect, with respecting his privacy and trying to be ethical.

    Which is not easy.

    Sometimes every bone in my body would love to live by the popular quote by Anne Lamott, who said:
    “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

    The short of it all is this.

    He and I are both products of trauma.
    I have discovered what that means for me. But he has yet to uncover his own truths.
    I do know that means that he has issues connecting, and that issue crosses over into our abilities to connect with each other, despite being family.

    Although he and I have bonded and connected as kids, as we grew into dysfunctional adults, our relationship relied and was fueled by the memories that we share. Our connection as adult people has always been superficial or shallow. Neither one of us really knows how to pursue or relate to the other without resorting to an old, tired, unhealthy dynamic.
    Until he and I can get to a place where we can re-define our roles and try this as two healthy, sober, adults- this thing just won’t work.

    And sometimes that truth hurts.

    I don’t want him to die. I don’t want his addiction to take him and for him to go thinking that he wasn’t valued, or loved, or wanted.

    I started my life feeling like his caregiver- as if he was mine to worry about and take care of. A lot of my own issues had to do with role reversal conflicts that fed my codependency issues and my need to fix all of the things, neglecting my own needs and goals. I spent a lot of my own sober time trying to change him and shove my truth down his throat without his consent. I tried helping and loving him to death and giving unsolicited advice knowing the entire time that’s not how this all works.

    I just pray that one day he can see that he isn’t too broken or too far gone to start excavating who he really is.

    And yes, I have had a lot of time to think about this issue but my sound thinking is only a result of my own trial and error. I have made a long list of mistakes in the ways that I have mishandled this relationship in my pursuit of doing the right thing.

    I have allowed my anger to speak for me. I have said things that I don’t mean and others that I meant that still shouldn’t have been said. I have enabled him dozens of times in the exact same ways that one would see on any episode of ‘Intervention’. I have been there. That place KILLS me but like I realized and shared in my post, that place KILLS him as well.

    I have learned that I have to stay back, not just for my safety or sanity, but for him to have the best chance at kicking this things ASS.

    Thank you so so much for reading. I appreciate your honesty too. We are all working on this gray area business and I don’t think it is an easy thing to navigate. It will get easier as you feel around and figure out your groove. We do hard things, you know that.

  2. Mark

    That must have been really hard. I don’t know anything about your relationship, but it sounds like you thought this all the way through. It sounds like “sound thinking”. I’m working on that gray area business. Never been good at it.

  3. Brittany

    Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by.
    I am *so* sorry for your loss.

    I don’t think it is dramatic way of looking at it at all. Addiction rampaging through families is dramatic, that’s what it is. It is hard and it is destructive and ugly and messy.

    I know that I don’t need validation from anyone or approval from people. I do what I do because my sobriety and my new life matters to me. My children and their future and their children’s future is what matters to me. Legacy matters. Breaking cycles- it all matters more than all of the rest. I have spent the last nine years learning how to distance myself from toxic things and sobriety has been good to me.

    I am thankful that God fills the voids in my heart and my life and as I have had to create distance with people, He has provided me with an awesome circle of people in the recovery world and my own little family.

    But as you know, it is still something that lives in my heart and I am truly grateful to connect with people like you who can empathize and understand that there are hard days, and there are easier days.

    Thank you again for taking the time to stop by and to read, Wendy. Nice meeting you 🙂 and also, congrats on your sobriety!!

  4. Wendy

    My sister and I triggered eachother. I loved her to death but until I realized that I couldn’t stay clean. So I had to stay away from her towards the end. She took it as I betrayed her. I knew she wasn’t in a place to understand why or else I would have tried. My clean date is April 2, 2014. She passed away from an overdose on September 15, 2014. Anytime I start to feel a little bit guilty about the way things were till the end, I think I did what I HAD to do to save myself, my sanity, and my sobriety. I miss her everyday. But I miss the old memories, the person she had turned into was what I needed to be away from or I could of been right there with her leaving my kids without their mother.
    Might be a pretty dramatic way of looking at it but for now that’s what gets me through the day.
    What I’m trying to say is you may get a ton of “but he’s your brother” etc Some people don’t understand. You need healthy boundaries. I’m still in grief counseling, so I’m not “over losing her” or my other sister yet, but for now that works for me.
    Anyways, thanks for the post.
    A.K.A. “Hope & Recovery”

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