By Diane Cameron

Boundaries are an ongoing lesson in recovery. When we were in our addiction, we hardly had any boundaries. As we recovered, we learned to set them –often with the help of a sponsor or a therapist. We also, surprise–experienced people setting boundaries with us. And we learned from that too.

A former therapist once explained to me that I could think about boundaries this way: Imagine yourself as a house. If the house across the street burns down, you feel bad, but you have not burned down. But if your roof leaks, that is your issue. Similarly, if the house next door gets remodeled, you can be happy, but that’s not yours to brag about or take credit for.

Similarly, you get to decide who gets to come into your yard, who gets to sit in your living room and who gets to see the bedroom. Having good boundaries means having people where you want them and not where they want to be.

You get the idea.

But later, I learned that boundaries can also apply to emotions too:

For years, I kept a sticky note on my calendar that said: “If it doesn’t have your name on it, don’t pick it up.” In early recovery that meant literally don’t pick up what doesn’t belong to me, and don’t snoop in other people’s medicine cabinets or file drawers.

But later, and still, now, it means that I should not pick up other people’s fears, worries, or emotions if they don’t have my name on them–and almost none do. I don’t have to fix anyone’s life, and I can’t fix anyone’s problems. If someone has an addiction or problem behavior, that is his or her property, not mine. Yes, this takes discernment. I can be caring, and I can offer resources, and I can always share my experience, strength, and hope, but other people’s emotions are not mine to fix—or to suffer over.

And still, later I learned that having good boundaries is the best way to prevent resentments.

Recently I heard a spiritual teacher say: “Being compassionate requires strong boundaries.” I was a little surprised, but then it made sense: When a person has good boundaries, you can trust that their “Yes” is really a yes, and their “No” is really a no. That clarity and their boundaries make it possible to ask them for help, and for me to make a clear decision on what I am willing to do without resentment.

Just as I learned not to pick up what doesn’t belong to me, I also learn not to pick up emotions that are also not mine.   

Women new to recovery find much support; sponsorship and fellowship are new, and everything about the recovery life seems fresh and exciting. With time, recovering women face challenges from complacency to burnout, menopause to overweight. Author Diane Cameron has faced these issues, and shares her experience, strength, and hope to teach readers how to handle the unexpected trials of double-digit recovery.

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