“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.” ― Brené Brown
Loving a person who suffers from addiction or alcoholism is very much like hugging a porcupine at times. The harder you squeeze, the more it hurts. Unlike any other illness with addiction when the well person attempts to help the sick person too often, the well person gets sick before the sick person gets well.
Knowing that we can’t control others but desperately wanting to help we can be left in a state of trauma. Little else is more painful than watching a loved one suffer while being powerless to help.
Behaviors to Avoid
Most self-help books or spiritual traditions will support the statement “No relationship can be healthier than the two individuals involved.” That being said let’s look at two things the behaviors and side effects of the nonaddicts side of the toxic relationship and some tips to change the dynamic.
- Judging and criticizing.
- Lending money that’s never repaid.
- Giving ultimatums.
- Making suggestions when they aren’t looking for help.
- Hiding their secrets.
Very likely this is just the tip of the iceberg. When a person is in treatment is a great time to set a new dynamic and new boundaries. Often the clinical staff can be most helpful in hashing out new ground rules for the clients return to home.
The first obstacle to setting proper boundaries will be guilt. Support groups like Alonon can be beneficial in the process. The successful results of others combined with their encouragement can be a powerful tool. Guilt is combated with the truth. Enabling which stems from fear, guilt and a well-intentioned desire to be helpful often can make things worse. Boundaries are a part of the answer to helping a life be put back together.
A Psychology Today article writes, “When you set appropriate boundaries and stop taking on other people’s responsibilities, they’re left with no choice but to complete their own tasks, resolve their own problems, and find their own resources. At first, you’ll probably feel guilty about this, but it will help to remember that this means other people will take more responsibility for themselves, which will improve their functioning and ability to do for themselves.”
The article also suggests some simple vital points to assist with the proper mindset:
- Know your limits
- Be firm
- Know that you’re worthy
- Change your role in your relationships
- Make time for yourself
- Apply the boundaries
- Don’t expect to become a master at setting boundaries overnight
Setting Boundaries for Coming Home
Some simple guidelines to establish with the addict or alcoholic will be best discussed before their return home. Get them to agree to the terms before coming back. There should be mutual understandings of what the conditions are and equally well-understood agreements as to what happens if those boundaries are violated.
Some standard and essential boundaries are:
- No drug or alcohol use at all
- Submission to random drug testing (can be bought at a local pharmacy for relatively cheap)
- No long bailing them out of self-induced addiction-related crises
- No lying
- Attendance in their recovery process
How do I Know if These Boundaries Should be Used?
The rest will most likely be tailored to the relationship in a more personal manner. The areas that one has allowed themselves to be used or taken advantage of in the past are the key leading indicators of what boundaries were not in place.
Last, but certainly not least self-concern must come first. Regardless of the benefit to the sick party, the boundaries are for the person enforcing them. As sad as this is to write, the family member or loved one must learn to be ok even if the addict or alcoholic winds up not being ok. We should do our best to teach love by applying it to ourselves first and foremost.
Resources for the Family
CoDA (Co-Dependents Anonymous)