If your loved one is struggling with substance abuse, their addiction can be just as detrimental to you as it is to them.
Working through recovery can often be challenging; naturally, your loved one’s recovery will create challenges for you, too. Some of the symptoms of addiction, like neglecting responsibilities, developing a sensitive temper, and keeping secrets will clearly affect more than just the person dealing with the substance abuse.
But you can also be affected by your loved one’s addiction in a more indirect but just as powerful way. When you love someone, it can be extremely difficult to separate yourself from their pain, obstacles, and bad habits: in other words, their addiction. This natural tendency to take on your loved one’s burdens is what makes setting boundaries necessary in the recovery process.
Not only can boundaries create a buffer between yourself and the stress of the situation, but they can also assist you in supporting your loved one’s recovery. An article* from Psychology Today explains that boundaries “[…] are an emotional line. If there is no follow through on ramifications, your intentions are quickly dismissed as frivolous, your credibility is shot and your word is like quicksand.” Boundaries can help you remain objective about your relationship with your loved one. Additionally, setting up boundaries can keep you emotionally healthy.
So, what would these “boundaries” be? How would you set them up?
Similar to types of addiction treatment, no single boundary is universally effective. Boundaries are specific to each situation, relationship, history of substance abuse, and recovery process. Think of how your loved one’s addiction is affecting you, look at some of the example boundaries below, and see what comes to mind when picturing your personal experience.
Three examples of boundaries to set with an addicted loved one:
- We plan to discuss only recovery goals and any corresponding rules when in a family wellness program or therapy appointment or when a trained professional is present.
- We agree to be honest with each other about how we are feeling, especially in regards to the substance abuse.
- We will try to be aware of what we’ve done in the past that has hurt the other (especially when we didn’t realize we were causing hurt).
One essential boundary that will help ease your stress is this: making a conscious effort to “detach” yourself from your loved one’s addiction. This could be difficult for many reasons: you care about them, you feel responsible for them, or maybe you blame yourself for their situation. Even so, the truth is this: you cannot solve your loved one’s addiction or “fix” them.
Three examples of statements you can use to help protect your emotional well-being:
- My self-worth is not related to my loved one’s addiction or recovery process.
- My loved one’s recovery process is their own journey; I can be present and support them, but I cannot take this journey for them.
- How I feel about my loved one is not the same as how I feel about their substance abuse.
The final component to boundaries is communication between yourself and your loved one. In order to set up boundaries, you have to first talk about and agree upon them. It’s critical to have these boundaries in place so you can refer to them when times get tense or complicated; boundaries make it easier to acknowledge when your loved one’s substance abuse is negatively influencing you–and when your response is enabling or ineffective.
Setting boundaries protects both you and your loved one. Detaching yourself is not selfish; you cannot effectively support your loved one’s recovery if you are not coping with your own stress in healthy ways. You cannot support a loved one if you are burnt out from carrying their burdens.
Remember that you can always reach out for help. The Aviary’s Family Wellness Program is intended specifically for people who have loved ones in recovery. The therapists in our program can help you come up with and stick to the boundaries. We work with our clients and their loved ones to create an environment that promotes recovery and healing for all.