Boundary setting helps to know where you begin and someone else ends. Of course, we are aware of the skin and bones separation between ourselves and others, but often it is challenging to experience emotional distance. When boundaries are blurred, we take on the emotions of loved ones. We think by bonding with them, we can help them through their challenges. While the intention is the follow-through may cripple the person whose behaviors contribute to the persistence of their addiction.

Helping Can Hinder

Take for example, Sarah whose son Seth found himself in jail and rehab multiple. He swore to her that it would never happen again. She always believed him until it happened again. Still, she would take him back in. “How can I let my son live on the streets, where who knows what could happen to him?” she said. It was when, with jaw clenched in fear and prayers offered for his safety, that she finally closed the door. Only then was he able to sustain sobriety. Six months later, he walked back in following rehab and a sober living house, as well as continued outpatient treatment and meetings. In the interim, Sarah had been a regular at Nar-Anon meetings and now checks in weekly with her own sponsor to keep her on track. She set a boundary and it worked. But this was Seth’s choice. Others will not change and only family members get well.

Boundary Setting Is Like Playing Well Together And Being Disappointed When It Doesn’t Work

In workshops, I use this example of what recovery feels like. Imagine a girl riding a bright red tricycle. She passes various friends along the way and asks if they want to ride on the back with her. They all decline. She keeps on riding and is having such a blast that she doesn’t care if they join her. I then add that someone notices what a good time she is having and they do decide to jump on. That new person rides along for a while, and then decides to get off. She is sad because she wanted that person to continue with her. Another scenario is that of a person getting on the trike and expecting that the little one will do all the pedaling all the time. Our tricycle rider wants the freed loader off the back since that person is not sharing the work.

Recovery Means Letting Go For Family Members And Joining In For Users

In the case of Sarah and Seth, Sarah was experiencing both ends of the spectrum. She didn’t want her son off the tricycle and she was getting tired of doing all the work involved in keeping it moving forward. Now that he is sober, she can more fully enjoy the ride. They are working together as a family.


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