Alison's Insights

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


It took many years for me to realize what boundaries are all about.  Until I addressed my addictions I used boundaries as a way of assuring no one could know the real me.  Living that “arms distance” from people suited me just fine.  I could stay comfortably under the radar, living quietly, although rather dishonestly, inside my life of secrets.

When I stepped up to recovery I came to find boundaries are put in place for the exact opposite reason.  They hold me in honesty with myself and with others.  They aren’t about keeping people away, they are about being who I truly am in order to interact with people in a clear and transparent manner.

Setting healthy boundaries means I know from the inside out, what things I will/won’t do, will/won’t talk about or will/won’t commit to in order to live without resentments for others as well as myself.  In order to do that, I need to employ certain action steps.

Here’s what I mean.

There are times when I feel I’m not being heard.  There are times when I think by saying something I might “rock the boat” or upset other people in some way.  I used to simply do nothing to avoid conflict, believing my non-action spoke volumes but it never did.  To make matters worse, I’d build a resentment toward others when they wouldn’t “just know” what I meant by my silence.

Today I employ healthy boundaries and have learned how to effectively use them.  It’s simple.  I get honest.  I use my voice and speak up for myself.  People are not clairvoyant.  They don’t know what I’m thinking or feeling if I don’t tell them.  I’ve learned the hard way, my silence does not speak my message.

This honest approach is not meant to be done in a defensive, belittling tone of voice or with words to that nature.  Setting boundaries isn’t about demanding I get my way.  On the contrary.  If I simply ask someone to respect what I’m feeling or what I may need, I’ve done my part.  I’ve been completely honest.  No game playing, no placating the issue, just clear truth.  It then becomes the other person’s choice as to how they choose to react to it.  There’s nothing I can do beyond calmly and peacefully setting my boundaries and moving forward.

For a more practical example, let me share this.  The word, “diet” doesn’t exist in my home, yet I live in a world where the word does exist.  I can’t change the world, but I can change what goes on during conversations I’m engaged in.  If I’m talking directly with someone and the subject shifts to the other person being on a diet or needing to diet, I can speak up and say, “how about we refer to that has healthy eating or healthy food choices or eating with the intention of balance.”  The other person can choose to accept that request or reject it, doesn’t matter.  What matters is I made it clear that word, “diet’ is not OK with me.  If I chose to continue engaging in that conversation, that’s on me and if it creates an unhealthy consequence, I need to take ownership for stepping beyond the boundary I set.

Setting boundaries is one thing, sticking to them is quite another.

We all have had this experience.  A family member asks time and time again for us to participate in some function we’ve made clear we don’t want to attend or be part of some “family stand” on something we don’t agree with.  I don’t know about you, but it seems the older I get the more these types of issues crop up.

In these situations, I can do one of two things.  I can either bite my tongue and just do what it is I’m being asked, or I can take a deep breath and say, “You know what?  I’ve been as clear as I can about this issue and I still see it that way.”  The first option, biting my tongue and doing nothing may very well keep the peace, but it won’t sit well with me in the long run.  Undoubtedly I’ll end up with some sort of resentment, guaranteed to fall upon the person doing the asking.

I will say it’s important to factor in that I’m human.  There are indeed times when biting my tongue or just doing something I’d rather not, may be the best solution depending on the circumstances.  This is when common sense is factored in.  I need to think the situation all the way through before I react.  As my Mom told me when I got married, it’s always best to pick your battles.

Yet, no matter how a situation ends up, I’m at my best when I respect my boundaries so I can live in peace.


How are you at setting and holding boundaries?  Are there some more challenging than others?  I’d love to read your thoughts about this so please leave a comment here. 

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