As a person in recovery from a loved one’s addiction, learning how to set boundaries was a brutal, but necessary, life lesson.
I struggle with co-dependency, so it is in my nature to want to please people at all costs. Even when it costs me my own happiness, I have a very difficult time saying no.
Loving an addict was a recipe for disaster. I couldn’t say no to him, and he knew it. If he pressed hard enough, long enough, he knew I’d cave. If I hid his alcohol or Ambien he could throw a big enough fit and I’d let him have it. If he begged enough, I would call in sick to work for him. If he got angry enough, I would leave him alone to sleep it off. If he said the right words, I would believe things would change.
Going to any lengths to keep it all together was my M.O.
It meant lying to family and friends about why we couldn’t make social gatherings. It meant lying to myself about the severity of our situation. It meant my life was a lie.
I compromised my values and sanity to ease his discomfort because that is what a person with co-dependency does. I walked on eggshells to not upset him. I tried in vain to anticipate what might set him off. It didn’t work. Something would set him off anyway. His moods were volatile; ever-shifting sandstorms. Just when I thought my toes were on solid ground, I would find myself neck deep in muck.
Trying to regulate someone else’s emotions is a lesson in futility, and hitching my emotional well-being to his was catastrophic.
In my recovery groups, I kept hearing how I should set boundaries, but only if I was prepared to follow through. And never when he was under the influence. It had to be when he was sober.
Set boundaries? What does that even mean?
I learned that it meant telling him calmly and clearly “If, then” statements. If you do this, then this is what will happen. If you use, then you cannot come home. If you cannot quit using, then you cannot be a part of this family. If you disrespect me, then I will hang up the phone or walk away from you. If you lie to me, I will not trust you.
People struggling with substance use do not like boundaries. They don’t like being told no. But when you love someone who is addicted, for your own well-being, you have to get to place where you can say no.
Often I wouldn’t hold firmly to my boundaries and I would backpedal. Addicts can tell when we don’t mean what we say. They are master manipulators. It is the nature of the disease.
Setting boundaries is imperative.
My own recovery takes a lot of work and determination, and I don’t do it perfectly. I never will. It is about progress, not perfection. I am healing.
Over time, I began to use this practice of boundary-setting in other areas of my life. I set boundaries with other relatives who were addicts, or toxic, or unhealthy, when it directly affected my serenity. I set boundaries with people who were chronically negative or disrespectful.
The beauty of boundaries is that they can be changed.
It is a line in the sand, not a mark in concrete. It is completely up to you what you are comfortable allowing in your own life. Decide for yourself what is acceptable to you. Just be very clear and specific. And stick to it.
Setting boundaries is inevitably painful. I have had to distance myself from loved ones who broke them. I have had to cut ties with people for a time, or for good. It doesn’t feel great. In fact, it it heart-breaking and terrible.
But I have come too far in my own recovery to be hijacked by someone else’s dysfunction.
It has also proved to me that while I am not in control of anyone else’s actions, thoughts, or feelings, I am in control of my own. That is where my power lies. I do not need to be held captive to other people’s junk. That is theirs.
Boundaries empower me to take back my peace.
Meet The Author:
Melissa is a blogger for Faith in the Mess and Mella Memories, contributor for Greater Mankato Mom and Her View From Home. She is a wife to her best friend and mom of two amazing teens. A lover of Jesus, photography, and nature.
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