How to Set Boundaries in Addiction Recovery

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Boundaries are a fancy word for self-care. What do I need to do to take care of myself? What are my needs? How can I ensure that my spiritual, emotional, and physical space are all safe while, at the same time, I am supporting my loved one in active addiction or in recovery? That could come in many ways, shapes, and forms. Boundaries are about slowing down and being able to look inward to keep yourself going and keep yourself safe, all at the same time.

For an example of a boundary, your son may be completing a 30 day rehab program, and he’s starting to think about his aftercare plans. So he calls you on the phone, and he says, “You know what, Mom, I’m really interested in going to this sober living environment in California. We get to go surfing all day and we have 12 Step meetings by a campfire at night. I would really like to do this.” Well you’re not quite ready to think about what the aftercare plan is yet. You have your own thoughts, which might include, “Well, I’m glad that he’s looking for a sober living environment, but I was thinking of one that is a more structured living environment, where he goes to group therapy during the day, meetings at night, and possibly gets a job throughout this process.” While you’re on the phone with him and he’s talking about the sober living place he wants, you can simply say to him, “You know, I’m not ready for that conversation yet, so maybe call me back in a couple days and we can talk about it.” You are setting a boundary. You are slowing down. Letting them know where you are. You’re not quite ready for that conversation.

The next time he calls, you can say, “You know, I’m really glad that you’re thinking about continuing your treatment, but I was really thinking of a sober living environment that is closer to home, one that is more structured, and one that has the 12 Step component to it. I’d like you to go back to your clinician or case manager and talk to them about these options. This is what I’m willing to financially support.” There might be some pushback from your loved one, but you set a boundary. You were clear in talking about what your needs were and what you were willing to do to support recovery.

Another example of a boundary might be that your loved one is living at home with you, and you have to get up every day at 6 A.M to go to work and function in your daily life. But your loved one is coming home really late: 12:00, 1:00, 2:00 in the morning, and you’re recognizing that you’re not able to go to sleep until everybody is safe and sound in the home. One of the things you can say is, “You know, I really need to get more sleep at night, so I would really like everyone to be home at 10 o’clock. I’m not able to go to sleep until you’re at home and I know that you’re safe.” That’s coming from a place of what you are feeling and what you need, and it’s giving that person those choices. They can still go out, but they should be back by a certain time.

Now your loved one may break this boundary and start coming home at 10:30, at 11:00, at 12:00. You can readdress this with them: “I’m really concerned. You’re not following what we set up as the boundary in this house of everybody being in at 10 o’clock. Because of this, we may have to reevaluate our living situation.” So again, it’s keeping yourself safe in your own physical, emotional, and spiritual place and it’s helping your loved one to become accountable for his or her actions and the choices that they’re making. It’s not about trying to control your loved one. It’s about being able to be respectful of each other’s spaces in keeping that support alive.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
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