Boundaries are things you set for yourself to promote and assure your recovery. It’s especially important to think about boundaries in your first year of recovery. If you didn’t have models of boundary setting while growing up, chances are you don’t know what healthy boundaries look like. You might feel guilty about “needing something” or “saying no,” but it’s not your fault if you don’t know.
Not setting boundaries can put you at risk of getting hurt, and life can feel chaotic and unmanageable. Your recovery is a journey–a process you go through to change your life to improve your overall health and wellness. Part of this process is learning to accept that you cannot control things outside of your own thoughts and behaviors. Setting healthy boundaries is about taking care of yourself first.
When I was not able to hold the boundaries I set for myself, I found myself getting emotionally upset. I got to a place where I was unmanageable fast.
Boundaries are uncomfortable but necessary
When you first get into recovery everything is new. You are starting a new way of life to deal with life on life’s terms. At first setting boundaries can be hard to define. It can feel weird because you don’t have the habit of putting yourself first. You don’t know how to “speak up.”
Learning what your boundaries are and how to set them is a process of discovering yourself. This process helps you figure out where you don’t have boundaries, where you don’t know how to speak up, and how to speak up the right way.
As you commit to addiction recovery, it’s important to know that setting boundaries is self-care. Recovery is best in groups or with others because it gives you permission to focus on yourself. Setting boundaries with others helps to ease your guilt about “being selfish.” Try to stay positive and not blame yourself for things in your past that could lead to relapse.
You don’t need permission to take a shower, so do your self-care
What do healthy boundaries in recovery look like?
In order to set healthy boundaries at the start of your recovery journey, you need to commit to recovery and the process. Accepting that establishing and applying boundaries takes time and practice. And you will learn what works and doesn’t over time. Here are some ways that you can start setting good boundaries that will help you stay in recovery:
- Stay away from situations that may tempt you. For example, if you are addicted to alcohol do not go to bars or liquor stores. If you have a gambling addiction stay away from situations where there is gambling.
- Make no major changes in your life for the first year. Major life changes add more stress and can make recovery more difficult. For example, do not suddenly end an important relationship like getting a divorce without reflection or support. Do not change your location or move for a fresh start. Your problems will just follow you and may become worse. You have plenty of time to deal with important issues later after you have had time to recover.
- If you relapse, get right back into recovery as soon as possible. Set a boundary that you will forgive yourself and move forward. If you are hospitalized or live in a recovery home be sure to stay until you are released. Do not leave against doctors’ orders. Set that boundary for yourself.
- Staying away from family members who cause you to have cravings and may lead to relapse especially during the holidays. This may seem extreme, but it’s necessary to recover. Especially, if your family is toxic to you and bad for your recovery. Try to distance yourself from them for the first year. This is hard, but if you want to have all the benefits of recovery, you need to set boundaries with people, places and things including families.
- Combat negative thinking. Watch what you are thinking and change negative thoughts. Say affirmations about yourself daily. It’s one day at a time in recovery and sometimes one minute at a time. Accept that. Do not let the shame your addiction has caused you impact your recovery. Talk through how you feel with someone who can help you. Do not let resentments you may feel about someone linger. Talk through it with someone.
- Be sure to set aside time every day to take care of yourself. Exercise, get 8 hours of sleep every night and eat three meals a day. Rest is important. Do not let anything cause you not to do these self-care activities each day.
- Stay off social media. Set a boundary that you will not get on social media for at least a few months. Focus on recovery.
- Do not cross the boundaries that you have set for yourself. Stay within the guard rails. Your recovery is the most important thing.
Talk to someone who has more time in recovery than you do
It’s important that you get the appropriate help and support from a peer or sponsors who have been in recovery to help you set boundaries. They can lead you and give you advice.
During early times of recovery, it’s helpful to lean on the wisdom of those who “have been there.” A person who is trained or chooses to be an addiction mentor is a sponsor, peer specialist, and/or an addictionologist. In the early days, it’s helpful to check in with someone every day to let them know how you are doing. And ask them to help you and give you advice in tough situations. This is so important during the first year.
To help explore boundaries chatting with a friend, a peer, or someone who can empathize with you can help you identify boundaries and help with exploring personal needs for healing. Hold onto your recovery and know it will get better if you work at it.
If someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, it’s okay to walk away
You start slow, just by saying no. You can tell someone no nicely or just say no.
If someone does not respect your boundaries it is important to step away from it. Recovery is about getting better. If you have been ill, it only makes sense to take care of yourself and walk away from things that may make you feel worse.
Adhering to our boundaries in recovery is a form of respect that you have for yourself. You are in recovery now! Sometimes what is toxic to you is not toxic to someone else. Again, saying no and shutting the door on situations may seem awkward at first, but it’s important to learn how to defend your well-being. It’s okay to realize that the situation you are in is beyond your control and is unmanageable. Accept this and move forward. Get help and respect others and their opinion.
The main thing is to practice self-care and stay in recovery. When people, places or things make you feel bad, depressed, anxious, or make you want to return to your addiction, it’s time to step away from it.