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There is a way to set healthy boundaries without putting up walls between you and the people you care about. As a chronic people pleaser, it took me a while to learn this. I thought that if I had boundaries people would not like me or I would feel distant and disconnected. In fact, just the opposite is true. When I set healthy boundaries and stick to them I actually feel much closer and more connected to the people around me. This has been true in all the important relationships in my life, with my partner, my parents and my friends.

Boundaries in RecoveryWhen I was newly sober I was still a little bit uneasy around people who were drinking. It did not necessarily make me want to drink but it made me a little uncomfortable. While I was in rehab my dad picked me up to take me out to lunch. He had a few drinks at lunch and then brought me back to the rehab. I did not at first think there was anything strange about this. My dad always drank with lunch and I could not even imagine the possibility of him doing anything differently. When I told my therapist about it she seemed concerned that he did this. We talked about it and I realized that it bothered me too but I was afraid of asking him not to drink in front of me in case he said no. Later on, with her help, I asked both of my parents if for my first year sober they would not drink in front of me. Without even hesitating both of them agreed. My mom even hosted a sober thanksgiving in hopes that it would make me more comfortable.

The result was not that I felt weird or different. My parents never made me feel like this boundary with a burden or anything like that. Instead I felt like I was able to ask for what I needed in a way that was reasonable and healthy. When they agreed and stuck to it I felt listened to and respected. This early experience setting a boundary helped me to set more in the future. However, there were many others that I set that were far more difficult.

When I was about a year sober my mom had planned a trip to come visit me. She was planning on staying in my one bedroom apartment with me. As it got closer and closer to the trip I became more and more anxious. I realized I was scared to give up my privacy and share this small space with her. I was worried that being with her all of the time like that would drive a wedge between us because I would become impatient with her. So I decided to express my concern ans see if she could stay with a friend for the trip. Unfortunately she was very offended. She felt like I was saying this because I did not want to spend time with her. She called me and sent emails trying to change my mind. I felt disrespected and I felt like I should not or could not hold to my boundary so that I could accommodate her. The more I talked to other people the more they told me it was important to stick to it and that our relationship would end up being better for it.

Although that trip was a little tense, it did eventually make our relationship better. Having the space to go and be by myself and center myself made me more present with her and more patient. This was a boundary I stuck to for years and it helped enormously. On a recent trip for her to come see me my partner was away and I invited her to stay with me. Now I had a slightly bigger place and I felt more stable. I thought I would be able for her to stay with me without it compromising my own comfort. It even sounded fun. We spend the few days together and it was very nice. Because I was able to set that boundary early on I was able to wait until I was really ready to have her in my apartment and share my space with her.

The greatest way that I know how to set boundaries today is by saying no when I need to. This is often very hard for me. I remember when I had my first sponsee she would ask me to drive her to meetings, or buy her food, or pick her up from somewhere. I always said yes. I think to some extent I was scared that if I said no she would relapse and it would be my fault. She did end up relapsing and I realized quickly it had nothing to do with me.When I looked back at it I realized I had not done her any favors. She did not have to struggle and reach out to other people or make new friends to ask for rides because I was always there to do it for her. She did not have to find a steady job because she knew I would buy her a meal every now and then. I came to understand that if I had said no more I probably would have been of more help to her.

Now I have gotten more comfortable saying no. I do not chase sponsees down to do step work or agree to every little request. Instead I say no when it is something I am not comfortable with and something I do not think will actually be helpful. I have learned to say no to my partner when I think he is being unreasonable. I have practiced over and over saying no to my parents as needed. Setting boundaries in these ways has helped me to have more close healthy relationships than ever before.

About Elevation Behavioral Health

Elevation Behavioral Health is a mental health and addiction treatment facility in Agoura Hils, California. Offering a truly holistic model and alternates to traditional twelve-step treatment, Elevation strive to meet each client exactly where they are. With CARF accreditation and a license from the Department of Health Services and the Department of Social Services, Elevation Behavioral Health is one of the few facilities licensed to treat a primary mental health diagnosis. Steve Booth and Dr. Priya Chaudhri, the directors, have been working in the treatment industry for decades, and Elevation is the culmination of their years of expertise and experience.

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