We often talk about how loved ones of people with addiction should set boundaries to encourage the addicted person to get treatment. For example, set a rule that no alcohol or drugs are allowed in the house, or draw a line at how much financial support you’ll provide. Setting boundaries is an antidote to enabling behavior. When you let someone with addiction take advantage of you, you’re protecting them from the consequences of their addiction and thus giving them no incentive to change.
Setting healthy boundaries is important for a person in recovery. Healthy boundaries allow you to safeguard your sobriety from those who might intentionally or unintentionally draw you toward relapse. Let’s take a closer look at why boundaries in recovery are necessary, what healthy boundaries you may want to set, and how they can benefit your recovery.
Why Do You Need Boundaries in Recovery?
Setting a boundary is a little bit like staking out your territory. In this case, your territory is the physical and emotional space you need to maintain sobriety and feel safe and comfortable doing so.
For example, your time in addiction treatment may have taught you that you have certain triggers that will spark your cravings for substances. Maybe stress at work is a trigger for you. You experience stress when you don’t understand what exactly your boss wants from you, or when you have a tight deadline, or when you have to collaborate with certain people you find difficult. Maybe you feel stress when you have to work overtime.
If you have a job at which all of these stressors happen regularly, it could become very difficult to maintain sobriety–and maybe work stress is what led to your addiction in the first place. In this case, setting boundaries at work can help. You could communicate with your boss or supervisor regularly to make sure you understand their expectations. You could explain to your boss that you will work hard during the day but that you will not stay overtime or answer work calls or emails on the weekends.
While setting boundaries like these may result in tension at first, you’ll start to learn that you can trust yourself to protect your sobriety and overall well-being.
What Recovery Boundaries Should You Set?
Obviously, the answer to this question is up to you, but let’s look at some possibilities.
Recovery Boundaries with friends and family: You may need to explain to your friends and family that you cannot be around them when they drink or use drugs and that they cannot bring alcohol or drugs to your home. This boundary may change as you become more secure in recovery, but don’t be afraid to tell your friends how they can support you. Let them know that they can still choose to drink or use with each other, but that you can’t be with them when they do.
Recovery Boundaries at home: If you live with a roommate, partner, or spouse, you may need to communicate with them about what will help you feel safe at home. This may mean no substances kept or used in the home. It may mean carving out a physical space and time for yourself. It may mean telling them that a particular time every week is reserved for your recovery meeting, and that you’re not willing to compromise that boundary.
Recovery Boundaries around conversation topics: You may find that friends, family, and coworkers have all kinds of “helpful” advice to give you about living well in recovery. Some of this advice may actually be great advice, but you’re allowed to tell people “thanks but no thanks.”
That said, accountability in recovery is important, and so you might want to choose one or two people whose advice and feedback you will welcome. Maybe your AA sponsor, a spiritual mentor, a spouse, or a parent is someone you trust to be honest with you. They can talk with you if they notice that you’re struggling and recommend actions that you both know will be helpful.
Set Boundaries for yourself: In the end, you can’t really control other people. If people continually disrespect your needs, you might need to find a way to distance yourself from them, even if it means looking for a new job or moving to your own place. What you can control is your own behavior and attitudes. In that sense, think about what you need from yourself. Permission to say no? A creative outlet? Therapy? Less time at work, even if it means taking a pay cut?
Once you know what you need, you can quietly set your own internal boundaries.
This is what I want in my life, and this is how I will try to find it. This is what I don’t want, and these are the steps I will take to protect myself.
How Will Recovery Boundaries Help You?
Aside from potentially helping you avoid relapse triggers, boundaries help you develop a sense of self that you may have lost in addiction. They help you feel confident that you know what’s best for you and can trust yourself to take good care of yourself. As you grow more empowered and fulfilled in your own life, your relationships will improve. You’ll be more equipped to support others.
Safe Harbor Recovery Center Can Help
If you are struggling with addiction or feeling worried that you’re headed for relapse, you are not alone. Reach out to Safe Harbor Recovery Center. Our Portsmouth, VA, facility offers a full continuum of care, and our counselors can help you determine which level of care will work best for you.