Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is essential to long-term recovery – and your overall quality of life. Many individuals struggle with boundaries, especially when it comes to those they love. Individuals who struggle with substance abuse are often “people pleasers,” meaning they will go to great lengths to keep those around them happy, even at their own personal expense. This personality trait is closely linked to perfectionism and low self-esteem, interestingly enough. For example, say your boss repeatedly asks you to work on the weekend with no pay. Your boss calls you up on Sunday afternoon and asks if you can handle one more task, assuring you that it will take you under an hour. You know that it will take you significantly longer than that, and you had plans to meet up with a friend for dinner. Now you are in a dilemma; if you say “no” to your boss, he will be extremely upset, and you might even lose your job. But if you say “yes,” you will have to cancel dinner plans with your friend, which will disappoint them and put a strain on your friendship. What do you do? You don’t want to let anyone down, but there seems to be no way around it. You agree to complete the additional task, rushing through your work so that you can make your dinner plans. You resent your boss for consistently asking more of you on your days off, and you bring this resentment with you to your meet-up. Your friend asks if something is bothering you, and you don’t want to be a burden so you bottle it all up inside. When you get home, you open a bottle of wine, hoping to drink away the stress of the day. Sound familiar?
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Setting a healthy boundary would mean letting your boss know that you cannot continuously take on extra work; that you wouldn’t mind if you were getting paid, but your time is valuable and you cannot keep working for free. Setting boundaries is important for a variety of reasons. First of all, your time is valuable – working on the weekends is not good for your mental health, everyone needs some downtime! Additionally, those who struggle with substance use disorders will begin harboring resentments, which will lead to ramped up substance abuse. You will start to resent your boss, and rather than effectively work through those feelings of anger you will attempt to drink them away, or turn to drugs as a way to forget and/or self-medicate. Resentments are the enemy of those in addiction recovery. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is essential to preventing resentment, and keeping yourself sane. The whole boss scenario is only an example, of course. Only you will know which boundaries you need to set. It is important that you consistently practice self-awareness, and tune in when something upsets you or feels unjust. There are many ways to instill healthy boundaries. Below are several more examples, and ways in which to set healthy boundaries with your peers and loved ones without upsetting anyone. In some cases, people will get upset – but just remember, if you are being true to yourself and prioritizing your own recovery, everything will be okay in the end. You are not required to make everyone happy all of the time. Do what you can to keep yourself happy, and everything else will fall into place.
Remember that you only have to share as much of your recovery as you want with your close family members and your friends. You do not owe anyone an explanation, and you don’t have to explain more than you’re comfortable with. It is pretty likely that upon returning from residential treatment, people will ask you questions that you don’t necessarily feel comfortable asking. Someone might ask what rehab was like, or what you “did” to wind up in a rehab facility. Remember that it’s perfectly okay to say, “I don’t feel comfortable answering that question, but I appreciate your curiosity!” Remember that others mean no harm, but they might accidentally cross one of your personal lines from time to time.
If something is a trigger for you, do what you can to eliminate it from your life. Maybe whenever you run into your old group of friends you feel triggered, because you used to use drugs with them. Maybe going into a billiards hall triggers you, or attending the carnival is actually a trigger. Whatever the case may be, do what you can to protect your sobriety. Set boundaries. Tell your old friends that you are taking time to better yourself, tell your date that you’d prefer not to play pool after the movie, or let your friends know that you don’t feel quite ready to attend the carnival. Explain your boundaries to the extent you feel comfortable, and remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation.
Don’t be afraid to say “no.” There is nothing wrong with a simple, powerful “no.” It might seem a little harsh at first, but there is nothing wrong with making your mind up and remaining firm in your personal decisions. You can tweak the “no” to make it a little less abrasive, but keep the message intact. “Hey, will you cover my shift tomorrow?” “No, maybe another time. I have plans.” Or, “Will you tell me what it was like to use heroin.” “No. There are a lot of articles online you can read. The whole experience is still a little fresh for me, I’d prefer not to talk about it.”
If you are uncomfortable doing something, make it known. If all of your friends are talking about sneaking onto private property but you have a bad gut feeling, just let them know. No one who cares about you will judge you for taking a stance. Stay true to yourself, and trust that gut instinct – most of the time, it will not lead you astray.
Take time for yourself and your recovery. Remember that part of setting and maintaining personal boundaries in engaging in self-care and taking time for yourself. If you’re feeling worn down and would love a night inside by yourself, cancel your plans. Canceling plans is not the end of the world, so long as you don’t make a habit of it.
Try not to worry about making everyone happy – trust us, it’s impossible. Making everyone happy is simply an impossibility. All you can really do is work towards your own happiness, be considerate of others, and be as kind and compassionate as you possibly can be. Consider the feelings of others, of course, but try not to put them before your own.
Intrepid Detox Residential
Intrepid Detox Residential is a comprehensive addiction treatment program, geared towards helping those new to sobriety develop the life skills they need in order to stay sober and happy for years to come. Setting and maintaining personal boundaries is a crucial life skill, and one that we work extremely hard to instill. We believe strongly in the importance of taking care of yourself in every way possible, which includes knowing when to say no and knowing when to protect yourself, even if self-preservation may seem difficult or irrational, given the circumstance. To learn more about our program of recovery or to learn more about setting personal boundaries, please feel free to reach out to us at any time. We are looking forward to speaking with you soon, and providing you with any additional support you may need.