Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

Setting Boundaries – It’s Not About Keeping People Away

When I got into recovery, I had no idea what setting a boundary really meant.

Sure, I knew how to stand my ground. Ask anyone who knew me back then.  I didn’t try very hard to keep my stubbornness a secret.

I wasn’t shy when it came to making sure people knew to step back and not cross the proverbial line I’d drawn. I referred to this as setting a boundary, but what I really was doing was putting up unseen iron gates.  I wanted to keep people away and out of my personal space. You can’t get hurt that way – or so I thought.

I never equated the reason I did indeed get hurt was because I had not set any boundaries when it came to respecting myself.  Never.

So imagine my shock when I entered the rooms of recovery and was told, “It’s really important for you to have healthy boundaries.”  They’d go on to tell me that people outside the rooms of recovery set boundaries all the time.  They did so in their personal as well as professional lives in order to stay sane, balanced and healthy.

Um, what?  How can a boundary be anything but unhealthy, isolating and hurtful?

And then someone shared with me one of the most shifting things I’d ever heard.  This person said, “If I think attending a family function will put my recovery in jeopardy, I’m not going.”   I couldn’t imagine saying “no” to a family event.  But that’s not what she meant.

What my friend was trying to tell me was, it isn’t about whether or not we’re tempted to take a drink or hold back from eating what’s being served, it’s about how we act/react when in that type of situation.  She was talking about standing up for our universal recovery and respecting ourselves for doing so.  If being somewhere might trigger behaving in a manner that would be disrespectful to where we are in our recovery, don’t go.  Period.

I learned something quite profound that day.  I learned setting boundaries has very little to do with keeping people away.  It has everything to do with keeping myself together.


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