Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

Boundaries: For Writers, For Humans

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Trigger Warning – This post includes an account of a sexual assault.

I 7622830348was 17. Behind the counter of the local drugstore. He was 17 in a uniform from the local military academy.  There was shoving, a tongue forced, a shove back. A door slamming shut.

I was mortified and went to the back of the store crying. The owner, one of the best bosses I’ve ever had, held me and quietly fumed.  We called a friend, the guidance counselor at the military school. The boy in uniform was dealt with.

Still, I felt guilty. Felt like it had been my fault, that I had enticed him. That the attack, well, wasn’t really an attack. It was just a second. Nothing major.

And yet, I felt violated.  Something about my personal existence had been intruded on.  It was horrible.

Still, I felt guilty.

***

I’m having to learn how to set boundaries for myself, even now at age 38.  I’m having to unlearn a lot of lessons about my “responsibility,” things well-intended people taught me about “sacrifice” and “love” that have made me wide open to violation and to the guilt that comes when I respond to it or prevent it.

Part of this miseducation came from the church, who taught me that Jesus gave all of himself to everyone so I should, too, no matter the cost to my health, my psyche, my body.

Part of this miseducation came from my beautiful parents, who taught me to think of other people’s feelings and needs before my own, even when I really needed something, even when to give to them would crack me a bit.

Part of this miseducation came from my society, who says that women are to be nurturers always, the ones who care for people’s needs, the ones who give of themselves completely, even if it means we are depleted.

But I am re-learning that I can be like Jesus, even if I care for myself, that I can care for other people without giving up everything that is me, that I can be a woman without having to carry the emotional burdens of everyone around me.

I can have boundaries – edges that expand and contract as I need them to – and still be loving and kind and a good Christian woman. I can.

I’m learning this lesson this week through my writing.

I’m learning that I don’t have to take the words of bullies on this blog – even if that bully is wounded and broken - the loving thing is not to just let him continue to bully.  I’m learning that I don’t have to open myself (or my readers) to this kind of attack and wounding just because the speaker is wounded, too.

I’m learning that as much as I want to help every single friend who needs proofreading and editing, as much as I want to help them for free, I simply cannot. I learning to charge for my work, even when I love the person who will be paying me.

I’m learning to put my own creative work first again, that it’s not selfish to write what I want to write before I give my energy to my paid work.

I’m learning to set boundaries because it’s only my fault if I let people continue to wound me, if I go broke because I’m too “kind” and then have to rely on other people to support me, if I resent the universe because I don’t get my “real” work done.

I’m learning that it’s okay to take care of me. That it’s not selfish. That it’s not unloving. That it’s not cold. I’m learning that self-care is actually about other people because if I do not care for myself I cannot care for others.  This is a lesson I have learned over and over again. . . maybe this time it will take.

***

When that uniformed boy attacked me, because that IS what he did, that guidance counselor threatened his life and future enrollment in colleges if he ever came near me again. Two other uniformed boys took him into a dark corner and without laying a hand on him told him that he was under watch and had best not come near that drugstore again.  I stepped wide every time I saw him in our tiny town.

Those boundaries – the ones my friends reinforced – saved me.  Then, and now.

How do you set your boundaries about life? About writing? Any lessons you need to unlearn? 

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Author: Andi

I am a writer, editor, and writing teacher whose most recent book, The Slaves Have Names, tells the story of the people who were enslaved on the plantation where I was raised. When I'm not working, my husband and I are working to make our small farm - God's Whisper Farm - a retreat here at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  • Gwyn

    I’m having to set the boundary that just because a person is married to my dad, this does not mean I owe them a quasi-parental role in my life. I am slightly older than you, not by much, and for the better part of a decade have endured a forced relationship with this woman who was sweet as pie for almost exactly one year, the first year of their rushed marriage (less than one full year after my mother died — they couldn’t have waited another year?), and then dropped the mask and started treating me and my sister as second-class citizens, per her real feelings. And this is, I think, a common problem with women — that it takes the mistreatment of someone else to get us pissed: NOBODY mistreats my baby sister. Nobody. Not Pope Francis I. Nobody.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Gwyn, I absolutely know what you mean. I’ll take a lot myself, but mistreat someone I love and look out. My hopes that you can find a way to set that boundary with your step-mom.

  • http://www.brendayoder.com brenda yoder

    Thank you for sharing. McCloud and Townsend have a great book on boundaries. I affirm your words.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Thanks, Brenda. I’ll have to look for those authors. I appreciate the recommendations.

  • http://wheretheshadowsmeetthelight.blogspot.com/ Von Rupert

    Hi Andi! :) I’m new to visiting your blog; I followed a link from twitter. This post touched my heart. I’ve been bullied before, and setting those boundaries is hard. And I understand your guilt, too. Last year, I had to let go of a cyber bully who has deep psychological problems. I feel sorry for her, I can’t seem to help myself. She’s a train wreck and I’m not the type of person who can watch a slow motion accident w/o trying to help. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.
    Von Rupert recently posted…Myself…ReflectedMy Profile

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      You expressed exactly how I feel – it is very hard for me to watch someone in pain without wanting to fix it . . . or even more thinking it’s my responsibility to do so. But I’m learning, slowly. And welcome. Thanks for coming by.

  • http://aressler042.wordpress.com/ Angie Bigler

    I can relate to each and every part of this. I have worked so hard on setting boundaries and learning that self-care is not only good but necessary. It’s a constant practice and definitely goes against what we learn and witness as girls. It’s a delicate balance to keep your heart big and open and also to keep it safe and sane. Thanks for sharing your story.
    Angie Bigler recently posted…WatchingMy Profile

  • http://aressler042.wordpress.com/ Angie Bigler

    Also – The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie has been invaluable to me over the years.
    Angie Bigler recently posted…WatchingMy Profile

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Thank you so much for sharing, Angie. . . and for recommending Beattie’s book. I”ll have to look for it. Have a great evening.

      • http://aressler042.wordpress.com/ Angie Bigler

        It’s especially nice because it’s a “page a day” type book with short entries. That’s about all the attention my psyche can absorb at a time. :)
        Angie Bigler recently posted…WatchingMy Profile

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