Establishing Boundaries in Sobriety

September, 2019Establishing Boundaries in Sobriety

Understanding Boundaries

Boundaries are limits we set that help maintain our sense of well-being. For example, we all have physical boundaries – limits we set between how close or far we let someone get to us physically. Some of have had our boundaries crossed in early childhood. If we’ve been abused or sexually violated, we may never have had the opportunity to cultivate healthy physical boundaries. Others of us had normal physical boundaries but compromised those limits because of our addiction.

Emotional boundaries are like physical boundaries. They too are degrees to which we allow the emotions of others to impact our personal lives. Prior to getting sober, we may not understand that we have the choice to walk away from someone who verbally assaults us, smashes our sense of self-worth, and tries to define our self-esteem.

Boundaries are borders. If we’ve never learned them or had them, sobriety gives us the opportunity to create them. We get to find the balance between trusting everyone, trusting nobody, and trusting the people who have our greatest good at heart. Forming boundaries in sobriety is a process and they become healthier the longer we stay sober.

Creating New Boundaries in Early Recovery

It is very common for people who are newly sober to have all or nothing boundaries. Some of us come into recovery and finally feel safe. The new and wonderful feeling of safety can lead us to trust everyone and anyone. While it’s healthy to begin to trust again, not everyone can be trusted. We must have boundaries and define limits of what is and is not acceptable to us and our wellbeing.

Others of us come into sobriety unable to trust anyone or let anyone in. We have built huge walls around ourselves to keep anyone from getting to us physically or emotionally. When I was newly sober, this is the side of the spectrum I was on. I blocked everyone and believed I was protecting myself. I let nobody get close to my physically or emotionally. I learned in sobriety that my harsh boundaries were unhealthy. They blocked me from friendship, love, and God. If you fall on this side of the boundary spectrum when newly sober, understanding that opening a door just a crack enables the light to get in.

All or nothing boundaries just don’t work. They either leave us completely vulnerable or totally isolated. Once we determine where we are on the boundary spectrum, we can begin to work our way toward defining healthy limits that will help us in our sobriety our lives overall.

Defining Unhealthy Boundaries

Before we set new boundaries in recovery, we need to understand what boundaries are unhealthy. Here is a list of boundaries that are unhealthy.

  • Participating in toxic or abusive relationships. It is unhealthy to let another human being physically abuse you. It is equally unhealthy to allow anyone to emotionally abuse you, yell at you, or degrade you in any way.
  • Codependent relationships. Please speak with your counselor to learn about codependent relationships – especially since they are commonly seen in the family system. A codependent relationship is one where one person enables another. Other examples of codependency are relationships that are one-sided and feel like emotional entrapment.
  • Defining people and places that are unsafe and counter-intuitive to your sobriety. We’ve all heard that we need to change people, places, and things in order to maintain sobriety. This is one of the most important boundaries you can set in early sobriety. It requires walking away from anyone who does not support your sobriety and not going places that may compromise it.
  • Allowing others to intrude on your personal boundaries. If people get too close to you when they are talking you have the right to back up. If anyone touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you have a right to say something to stop the behavior.

Your boundaries are yours. You define what makes you uncomfortable and what doesn’t. If you’ve never had boundaries before, or if your boundaries have been trampled on due to abuse in the past, learning what boundaries are unhealthy is the first step in establishing how to set boundaries that serve you.

How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Early Recovery

Now that we understand a bit about what boundaries are unhealthy and about all or nothing boundaries, it’s time to learn to begin to set healthy boundaries. Keep in mind, that our boundaries evolve over time and that even with our best efforts, sometimes our boundaries will still be crossed. The difference is that once we understand them, we can react differently when boundaries are compromised in the future.

Here are suggestions for setting healthy boundaries – especially in early recovery.

  • In early recovery, stay away from members of the opposite sex. I know. This is a tall order. But, until we are sober enough to know who we are and what we deserve, it is too easy to get involved in a new relationship that compromises our boundaries.
  • Pick a sponsor that you feel safe with and who answers your phone calls and provides guidance. If we have a question about a person in our life, a relationship with a family member, or anything else related to our boundaries, we should call our sponsors.
  • Work the steps. Working the steps with a sponsor helps us learn who we are. By the time you are done, your self-esteem should be on firmer ground. Your idea who you used to be and who you can be will change. You will have a much, much better understanding of what is and is not acceptable behavior and how to handle unacceptable behavior when it arrives.
  • Work with a therapist. If you have codependent relationships in your marriage, with your children, or your parents, a therapist can help you learn to set healthy boundaries and navigate unhealthy relationships. What’s more, a therapist can also help you and your loved ones on the right track so that new healthy relationships can be forged. Our Family Program at Breakthrough Recovery Outreach is a great resource.
  • Trust the process. If you are completely closed off and trust nobody, please trust the process and the twelve-step program you are in. If you follow the guidelines set down by the program, growth will occur.

Boundaries – An Important Takeaway

Those of us who come into sobriety with trust issues must work to break down some of our walls. It took me a long time to realize that blocking the world out was a coping skill that protected me in childhood but harmed me greatly in adulthood.

While working through the steps, I realized that my desire to keep anyone from knowing who I really was and how I felt prevented anyone from really knowing and loving me. Only after I began kicking the bricks I had built around myself out did I learn what it felt like to hear the words “I love you,” and understand the person who said it was saying it to ME – not the person I wanted them to see, but ME.

You deserve love. We all do. When we break old behaviors that included unhealthy boundaries, we open ourselves up to true human connection. If self-love and being loved well by others is not the goal of sobriety, I’m hard pressed to say what is.

Obviously, the point of sobriety is to save our lives, but a life that is filled with love is a life worth fighting for. Love defined by healthy boundaries, above all else, will safeguard our sobriety.

Let Us Love You Until Your Can Love Yourself

Breakthrough Recovery Outreach is full of love. We’ll love you before you love yourself. For help, please contact us at (770) 493-7750.