When we were using we didn’t have good boundaries. In early recovery we experienced them being set for us. Then, in later recovery we learned to set them as we began to practice self-care.
In “Out of the Woods” I write about my own journey of learning to set boundaries.
A former therapist explained them 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 the roof on your house leaks that 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 can come into your yard, who gets to sit in your living room, and who gets to see the bedroom. Having good boundaries means you have people where you want them and not where they want to be.
It also applies to emotions.
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 don’t snoop in other people’s medicine cabinets or glove compartments. But later, and still now, it means that I should not pick up other people’s fears, worries, or their emotions. I don’t have to fix anyone’s life, and I can’t fix anyone’s problems. If someone has an addiction that is his or her property, not mine. Yes, this takes discernment. I can care about others, and I can offer resources, and I can offer my experience, strength and hope, but other people’s lives are not mine to fix.
Recently I heard a spiritual teacher say: “Being compassionate requires strong boundaries.” It makes sense. When a person has good boundaries you know that their “Yes” is really a yes, and their “No” is really a no. That makes it much easier to ask them for help, because you can be sure that if they give that help there are no strings –and no guilt –attached.
There is more on boundaries and on life-long recovery in “Out of the Woods.”