One of the most difficult things that a person can learn to do in life, and addiction recovery, is to set boundaries. Whether this is at work, with friends, or with families, the act of setting healthy boundaries can sometimes feel like the end of the world, or at least I know that is how it felt for me.
Setting Boundaries in Addiction Recovery
For many years I allowed others to dictate the boundaries of our relationships and often times this meant that I would be treated in ways that were not fair to me. I would stay in situations that were unhealthy, both mentally and emotionally, for far longer than I wanted, and yet at the time staying and keeping the unhealthy boundaries seemed like a better choice than speaking up and causing a change. These weren’t necessarily conscious thoughts on my part and during this time, I would often tell myself that I didn’t speak up because I was the bigger person, or that it wasn’t really that important for me to set boundaries, or that I couldn’t. The reality was, that I was just scared to set boundaries.
This is not an affront against myself, it just happens to be the truth, and a truth that I believe keeps many of us from setting boundaries. For myself, my biggest fear was always that I would be abandoned, and because of this I always believed that if I spoke up for myself or told people that it was not okay for them to treat me in certain ways, that they would leave me. Before getting sober, and having no real identity with which to root myself in reality, I judged my identity solely on how I perceived others to see me. So if a person was mad at me, I was nothing, if a person was happy with me, I was okay and safe, and given this basis for identity, setting boundaries was a near impossibility.
Building a Sense of Self in Sobriety
Once I got sober a lot of this began to change. I started to heal from many of the things that had ailed me for years and because of this, I started to build up a sense of self that I never really had before. I began to learn how to have healthy relationships, you see setting boundaries is an integral aspect of healthy relationships with yourself and those around you. Yet, in doing this I still found it very difficult to create and maintain boundaries. I would at times feel myself being overpowered by stronger personalities who would seemingly infringe upon my serenity with impunity and when this happened I would always suffer. Not necessarily because of their actions, but mostly because at night I would think to myself that I should have spoken up and then I would get the metaphorical hammer out and beat myself with it.
This I found to be an unintended ramification of not setting healthy boundaries. Worse than the act of allowing people to be in my life in ways that I did not really want them to be, was the fact that in doing this I felt like I was betraying myself and so I would judge myself harshly. In time eventually this got to the point where I had to learn to stick up for myself and set boundaries, and while it was extremely uncomfortable at first, I learned that it was not in fact the end of the world as I had believed for so long.
Setting Boundaries with Friends in Addiction Recovery
The first real boundaries that I learned to set in sobriety were with my friends in addiction recovery. I found that this is a really good and safe way to learn to set boundaries. What usually happened is I would bring a resentment to my sponsor and she would bring to my attention that my part in the problem lay in my inability to stand up for myself. Especially in the beginning, I felt like I was saying yes a lot and later resenting them for what I had freely given. I learned slowly but surely that I needed to simply say no when I was uncomfortable with a situation. I had to learn when to say no to my friends, which at first was very uncomfortable to me, but after doing it a few times I learned that the world did not end and even if they were mad at me for a little bit, I knew that was I was doing was right.
Setting Boundaries in the Workplace in Addiction Recovery
The next place that I learned to set boundaries was at work. Finding a work-life balance has always been something that was exceedingly difficult for me and being the people-pleaser that I am, I always took on more than I was actually capable of doing. This would usually cause me unneeded stress, which in turn would result in resentments and a feeling of being burnt out. I realized at some point in my sobriety that all of this was unnecessary and that with work there was a time to say yes and a time to say no. At first I was very scared about doing this as my fears kicked in and I believed that if I wasn’t always the team player I would be fired, but starting to set healthy work-life boundaries, ones where I took the time that I needed for myself, I realized that my work actually improved and what was even more amazing, no one wanted to fire me.
Setting Boundaries in Personal Relationships While in Addiction Recovery
The most difficulty that I had with setting healthy boundaries in addiction recovery was in my personal relationships. I had never really done this before and so many of the relationships that I had were based on boundaries that were not favorable to me. One of the hardest things about setting boundaries is that once you already have unhealthy boundaries set, it is exceedingly difficult to break them. The people with whom you have these boundaries have gotten used to interacting with you in a certain way and so any deviation to these norms usually is a cause for alarm. When I started to say no and set up more healthy boundaries some of the people with whom I did this with attempted to react against them, and I had to stay firm in my choices to keep the boundaries. This was very difficult because everything in me was saying just give in and return to the status quo so that I don’t have to feel uncomfortable, but as time passed this became easier and I found that less and less frequently would I berate at night.
Practice Makes Perfect
After doing this a few times I become more and more confident in my ability to set and keep healthy boundaries and while it was still uncomfortable at times, I no longer reacted against it as I had in the past. Setting healthy boundaries has removed a lot of the unnecessary drama and stress from my life that had plagued me for years, and while there was a period of adjustment, I believe that my life has dramatically improved by simply learning how to tell people no.
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