Boundaries are important for anybody, but they’re especially important during early recovery. As a person makes the transition from a life of addiction into their sober life, they have to come to terms with several unique challenges as they adapt to the circumstances they are faced with outside of their addiction. Depending on what they have done and how much time has passed, going sober after years of being addicted can be very daunting. Among the many changes you have to get used to, there is the fact that interacting with others may be somewhat difficult, especially if you feel you’ve hurt them, or if they feel you’ve done them wrong.
Coming to terms with what you’ve done and finding a way to mend broken bonds and overcome any feelings of self-hatred or anger is very challenging. Because it’s such a delicate time for most people, it’s important to respect the role that a healthy set of boundaries can play when helping someone adjust from being addicted to becoming a sober person.
To make effective use of boundaries during recovery, it’s important to understand what they are, how they can be helpful and problematic, and how using them effectively will mean understanding what is best for you and your recovery, as well as knowing how you’re going to have to move forward to help heal old wounds.
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are, very simply, rules of engagement for yourself and others when interacting. We often go our entire lives without thinking about boundaries, until we realize that we’ve employed them time and time again. A boundary in this sense is any measure we take to control the way we interact with others. Boundaries can be extremely helpful for your own mental health and for the wellbeing of others, or they can be destructive and harmful.
For example: good boundaries allow you to coexist with a loved one without constantly being up in arms against each other on specific topics. Bad boundaries actively impede your ability to communicate with one another, causing significant problems including alienation. Good boundaries include knowing when you draw the line in a conversation and decide to stand up for yourself. Bad boundaries are accepting no form of criticism whatsoever and blowing up in anyone’s face when they so much as dare to make a non-positive comment.
Boundaries are versatile and necessary for our ability to assert who we are, what we tolerate, and how we protect our identity and mental health. For those who struggle with addiction, healthy boundaries can help them maintain a better sense of self and avoid many issues related to self-esteem problems and guilt. For those who live with someone struggling with addiction, setting up proper boundaries can save the both of you a significant amount of grief.
Why It’s Important to Set Boundaries for Yourself
Recovery can be a difficult time, but it can be made significantly more difficult by a lack of understanding or a callous approach by others around you. Even if they mean well, a lack of compassion can fuel fears deep within many addicts that their addiction is something they deserved, or something they cannot overcome. Rather than seeing boundaries as a way to control a conversation, consider how words and sentiments heavily affect you when a loved one or a friend crosses a line they didn’t know existed. Making these lines clear is not being ‘demanding’ or overly sensitive. It is common decency not to verbally hurt those around us for no reason, and it’s vital to recognize that we all interpret hurt in different ways.
Consider how you want to be treated, apply the golden rule. Treat others as you want to be treated and let them know where you draw the line. This is especially important when considering things such as humor or topics of conversation. If you feel uncomfortable discussing your days as an addict or recounting memories of drug use, then simply create a boundary that is not to be crossed. If you feel that there are certain jokes you just cannot take without getting upset, be sure to mention it in such a way that your friends and family members know not to joke about certain things. You can’t forbid anyone from laughing at anything or saying anything, but you can enforce your boundaries by making it clear that you do not want to spend time around people who repeatedly ignore your boundaries and make a mockery of them.
As easy as it is to intimidate someone into disregarding their own boundaries and just going on with the abuse, that attitude can quickly lead to depressive thoughts, anxieties surrounding social occasions, and a significantly growing risk of relapse.
Setting Relationship Boundaries During Recovery
It can be especially difficult to set boundaries during a relationship, because we often work hard to maintain a healthy relationship and fear that anything that might ‘upset’ the nature of the relationship could end badly. But it is precisely with those that matter most to us that we must pay the closest attention to the way we communicate.
Consider if any of the discourse you’ve recently had with a loved one has left you feeling upset, sick, or resentful. Arguments are not inherently unhealthy, and it’s not wrong to sense a conflict between yourself and someone you care about. But analyze how you feel about the interactions you’ve had recently and whether they’re fair, or whether there is a one-sided approach wherein one party has all the power to criticize, and the other struggles to get a word in.
Making changes to yourself and your lifestyle is part of the recovery process. But if you feel that instead of support and compassion, your efforts are met with resentment or further criticism, it’s time to take a step back and consider if you need some time to be alone with your thoughts or in the company of other people to figure out your boundaries.
Another example of when to define boundaries is when you find yourself in a situation where you feel obligated to support your partner or do as they do but are in conflict with your own beliefs and morals. Should you value your opinion over your partner’s? Make an exception? Work towards a compromise? If you fear that you can’t stay sober at a family function, consider drawing a line and decide not to attend events that you feel endanger your health and sobriety. Or, make a compromise, by going with someone, staying only a short while, and completely avoiding alcohol. And so on.
Boundaries apply to yourself and they apply to those around you. Consider how your actions might lead to moments of temptation and unnecessary grief for yourself and those around you and consider where in the sand a line needs to be drawn to avoid all that. Consider your limits in the interaction with others, and how their words and thoughts might negatively impact your goals in recovery. Yes, not caring what others say and think is a lofty aspiration, but we are social creatures and we do care quite a lot about how others perceive us. Making the right choices and respecting your own needs is part of the recovery process.