If you are in the process of rebuilding your life in recovery you already know how important it is to clean up the areas that were affected by your substance use. Whether it is restoring your health or resurrecting a career, there is plenty of work to be done.
One of the areas that may require attention involves established patterns of unhealthy relating. During substance use, boundaries were fuzzy, if not totally nonexistent, which set up dysfunctional and even harmful ways of relating with family members or friends.
Codependency is extremely common in families were a member is struggling with a substance use disorder. While usually well-intentioned, the family member’s deep involvement in their loved one’s struggle will actually enable the disease to continue its progression.
Firm boundaries are also called for to shield yourself from toxic acquaintances that were once part of your life while in active addiction. With sobriety comes the necessity to remove any and all exposure to these individuals. In essence, laying down healthy boundaries helps protect your recovery.
Why Are Boundaries in Recovery Important?
While in treatment, therapy sessions help guide patients to consider underlying emotional issues that might have contributed to the substance abuse, which often include troubled relationships. As you explored these unhealthy relationships during treatment you came to realize that they must either change or end, lest they undermine your recovery.
Boundaries offer new structure for the dysfunctional relationship while limiting any further damage. Unhealthy relationships are not always doomed to failure as long as both parties are committed to making the needed changes. Taking control, by defining acceptable relating behaviors and clearly communicating your needs, is critical. This kind of transparency and open communication should naturally lead to the setting of healthy boundaries.
What is a Codependent Relationship?
When Melody Beattie’s groundbreaking book, Codependent No More, hit the bookstands in 1986 it provided substance and weight to a concept that had not previously been well defined or fleshed out. Essentially, codependency involves two players in a dysfunctional relationship based on neediness. One of the parties struggles with a substance use disorder, which results in ongoing negative consequences that affect not only their life but also the lives of others in their orbit. The other person gains a sense of self-worth and self-importance by coming to the rescue and “helping” the needy person by putting out the fires over and over again. These two people have become co-dependent on each other to have needs met, while never arriving at a healthy outcome.
In recovery, it is important to clearly identify any codependent relationships and make the necessary changes. Expect to meet resistance from the codependent party. They are accustomed to their role they play in your life and will fiercely protect it. Remember that the codependent party derives a sense or purpose or identity from being the hero who comes to the rescue. These patterns are difficult to break, but with awareness and the guidance of a therapist, the bonds of codependency can be broken.
3 Tips for Setting Boundaries in Recovery
Knowing you need to set boundaries in recovery with a loved one or friend is one thing. Actually following through and doing that is quite another. As difficult as the process might seem, however, it is imperative. Without healthy boundaries the old patterns will re-emerge and potentially threaten your recovery. Consider these 3 tips for working through the process of setting new healthy boundaries:
- Honor Your Recovery. Above all else, your recovery must be important enough to make the effort to set new boundaries. Keep sight of your recovery as the number one priority in your life, and this will help you plow through some of the difficulties of setting healthy boundaries.
- Don’t Go It Alone. Putting down boundaries with a family member or loved one can be extraordinarily challenging. Dysfunctional relationship behaviors are not easy to break, and there will be push back and hurt feelings. Enlist the help of a therapist to guide the process.
- Be Firm But Kind. Most likely the new boundary involves someone you are very close to in your life. When describing your needs, use firm, assertive language while also avoiding accusatory language. Blaming the person will only put them on the defensive. What you want to do is improve the relationship with new ground rules.
While not an easy task, setting boundaries can free you up from one more thing that could torpedo your recovery. Consider the new boundaries as a firewall to protect your recovery and your mental health.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.How To Set Boundaries in Recovery