After working with a lot of people in addiction recovery, as well as a lot of family members of people in addiction recovery, a very common (but unpopular) theme constantly comes up:
“Sometimes you need to disappoint people.”
Sounds like horrible advice, right?
But what if we rewrote it like this:
“Sometimes you need to build boundaries.”
A common theme in addiction recovery is the idea of boundaries, and this article is an analysis of boundaries, how boundaries can be complex, and how boundaries are absolutely necessary for healthy relationships in sobriety.
So frequently we humans look at disappointing others as a negative, but with a simple re-frame, we can see that disappointing people is sometimes simply a result of when we draw boundaries. Disappointing people sometimes happens when we communicate to people what is and is not acceptable treatment of us. Additionally, sometimes we disappoint people when we do not meet people’s expectations for us, and instead focus on meeting our expectations for ourselves, .
Have you ever been in a situation where you had an idea of what was right and what was wrong, but because you were afraid to disappoint people involved you ended up choosing what you knew in your heart was wrong? Or have you ever been in a situation where you felt pressured to go against what you thought what was best for you or your future, and when the pressure became overwhelming you surrendered to that pressure?
That’s a lack of boundaries.
How does this relate to addiction?
Very often people who suffer from addiction were brought up around others who also struggle(d) with addiction, and therefore did not learn healthy boundaries. Moreover, even if someone with addiction was not raised around addiction, they often suffer from low self esteem, low self confidence, and an inability to speak up for themselves. This all leads to a lack of understanding of boundaries.
This lack of boundaries creates problems not only when a sufferer is in active addiction but also when a sufferer is trying to get and remain sober. Nine times out of ten getting sober means losing friends and old social circles. It means changing your environment and walking away from people and situations that are no longer conducive to health and sobriety. It means disappointing certain people.
Without knowledge of this piece of the puzzle it can be incredibly complicated for someone struggling with addiction to ever attain and remain away from their substance. Recovery is not straightforward at all, and this huge puzzle piece of learning how to disappoint the wrong people in the journey of finding the right people (the truly supportive people) is too often neglected. Talk of boundaries needs to be one of the first lessons that people learn in sobriety. And it’s a lesson that has lifelong health benefits.
Boundaries are healthy. Boundaries are an expression of self worth and how you expect others to treat you. But boundaries can not be created if we do not fail to meet other people’s expectations of us sometimes. It is okay to put your foot down to fight for your sobriety. And it’s okay to embrace a boundary and let go of the expectations of people who do not encourage your sobriety.