The Importance Of Establishing Boundaries

How To Establish Boundaries With Friends & Family In Early Sobriety

This will be the first year in a very, very long time that I celebrate the 4th of July sober. However, this is not my first holiday of sobriety, and I felt it might be pertinent for me to share the boundaries I had to create with myself, my family, and my friends in early recovery. And I promise it's not nearly as dramatic as that sentence sounds. It's more about learning my comfort level within certain situations, and the best way to respond when I'm feeling uncomfortable. I experienced quite a bit of trial and error while establishing these boundaries, and I hope to spare you from some of the mistakes I made along the way.

Holidays, in particular, can become tricky when applying and enforcing these boundaries. They're moments when you want to spend time with your family and friends, enjoying their company. You want to hang out and chat and finally be present, but with that usually comes a bit of booze. And it was always strange for me to imagine asking people not to drink in my presence because I have an affliction. I understand the theory behind it, truly, and mean in no way to criticize or demean the practice of asking others to refrain in your presence. I'm merely stating that I found it an odd thought for me, as I would have spent a decade making that request. It would have grown quite tiresome, I'm sure.

Rather, I understood that, in my life, I would most certainly have to cope with others drinking in my presence. Not drinking like me, of course, guzzling gallons of vodka, but having a glass of wine or two. A cocktail or a beer. You know, standard drinking practices. Not my forte. But I knew this would be a constant in my life, and that I should make my peace with it. So I did. I created a boundary with myself. I decided that, in the safety and sobriety of my apartment, I would further explore my jealousy regarding others privilege and ability to drink. I acknowledged that it made me sad to watch others drink because I cannot. It made me feel left out and boring. I allowed myself to feel those emotions, without judgment or pity. And while I was doing this, I came to the conclusion that by staying sober, I wasn't left out, nor was I boring. I was actively engaged with my family and friends again, able to remember conversations. Able to provide insight or a chuckle. I wasn't actually sad at all that I couldn't drink, I was happy because my family and friends wanted me around, and enjoyed my company. They wanted me to stop by and hang out.

Once I was able to flip my perceived sadness into something larger, I realized the potential for establishing boundaries. They're an excellent tool to have in your arsenal, for they provide a safety zone in which to grow and learn in early recovery. And they can be quite simple. For example, I decided that if I were hanging out with my friends and family, and the point came when everyone had drunk one too many, I would politely excuse myself. This is an easy and effective way for me to partake in the party, but avoid triggers. Please note, I've found it's best to advise my friends and family of this boundary before implementing it, to help them understand my process and coping techniques. I believe keeping everyone on the same page helps maintain open and supportive relationships. No one feels confused or left in the dark; it helps foster trust, as well.

After mending relationships with my family by creating and sustaining healthy boundaries, I began to reach back out to the friends I had discarded along my road of alcoholism. With sobriety comes clarity, and I could see very clearly the amazing people I had shut out of my life. It broke my heart, knowing I had so easily forsaken such beautiful friendships, and I wanted to reenter their lives properly, as they deserved. So, I established a boundary. I would reach out to them, in one way or another, careful to be as authentic as possible. I needed to explain what had happened to me, the depths of my depravity, and ask how I may make my entrance back into their lives. I needed to explain that I wanted to right my wrongs, but that it would require a safe, alcohol-free environment. I needed to let them know how fragile I was, and how much their friendship would help me. And lemme tell ya, it works. I wrote about it previously, but your friends still love you and want to help you. Let them in on the process of creating new, healthy boundaries for yourself. Believe me, they have nothing but your best wishes at heart. Don't wait around for years, like I did, make the move, you can thank me later!

Be careful this holiday. Set up a short-term boundary if need be, that you'll only attend a function where there's alcohol for one hour, or perhaps you won't go at all, but find other ways of celebrating the day. Do whatever you need to do in order to maintain your integrity and sobriety. I have faith in y'all!

Have fun until we meet again!


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