How I Learned to Establish Boundaries in Sobriety
Growing up, I was never taught about boundaries. I didn’t realize boundaries keep us safe, sane, and thriving. I didn’t know boundaries are a way to cultivate self-love and help keep us sober. Before I got sober I equated “boundaries,” with more rules and I hated rules. I was ready to break rules and do whatever I wanted when I wanted. I had no personal boundaries, nor did I respect anyone else’s.
After I got sober I began learning how essential boundaries are to living a healthy and happy life. Personal boundaries help us identify reasonable and safe ways for others to interact with us and how to respond when someone crosses that line. Personal boundaries are defined by beliefs, opinions, attitudes, social learning, past experiences and traumas.
Boundaries help set the distance between you and other people. They go both ways, affecting incoming and outgoing interactions with people. Boundaries are often a gray area for many people with substance use disorders. During my addiction I did not respect other people’s boundaries. I used people for what they could give me. I put my desires and needs first before others’. I also let people to do the same to me. When I felt like I owed someone something I gave it to them, even if I didn’t want to. I had friends and hung out with people who had questionable morals. I didn’t think twice if something traumatic happened to me or I endured pain in an interaction with another person because I thought, “that’s just how life was.” Once I got sober I realized that personal boundaries were an important concept for me and for my sobriety.
Here is how I established boundaries in sobriety.
1. Listened to and established a relationship with my intuition
During my addiction it was difficult to trust myself. I didn’t listen to my gut and I didn’t have a trustworthy relationship with my intuition. You might say that I was impulsive. In my sobriety I’ve learned how to listen to my intuition and trust that it knows me. When I get certain feelings or energy from a person, I have learned to trust it and establish my boundaries accordingly. This is an ongoing process, of course. People can change and each person deserves a nonjudgmental first encounter. But I’ve also assumed people would act better than they did and have been hurt by them. That’s why listening to my intuition and believing it can take time and practice.
2. Tested my limits
As I mentioned, testing our boundaries is the only way to know if they’re truly working or not. At first, I put high walls up. If I thought anyone who still drank or didn’t look like they would relate to or accept me, tried to enter my life, I would put a stop to it. On the flip side, there have also been times where I’ve given people too many chances and I end up getting my feelings hurt again and again. The difference now is that I recognize this as a boundary issue. It’s something I do have control over and can establish myself. I realize that I can no longer get mad at other people for crossing my boundaries because I am the one who lets it happen. I must establish and enforce my own boundaries.
3. I seek support
Personal boundaries can be difficult and messy. For some of us, it’s the first time in our lives we’re being compassionate and assertive. It’s the first time we’re taking a stand and putting our foot down when we don’t want to be treated a certain way or engage in certain types of relationships. Sobriety isn’t easy, and boundaries can complicate things even further. That’s why I still seek support when it comes to personal boundaries. I reach out to other sober women who I trust for advice, to help navigate each individual situation, and to go over my choices before I take action. I also speak with my therapist about different situations and feelings I’m experiencing and how to go about staying true to myself while sticking to my boundaries. Just like my sobriety, I don’t go it alone. I reach out for help and support as often as I can.
4. I take action
Thinking about and writing out boundaries isn’t enough. We must take action and follow through. People aren’t mind readers and everyone else is working from a different set of experiences and boundaries than us. It’s important to be assertive and communicate with someone who has overstepped one of your boundaries. In a respectful way, I now try to let the people in my life know what happened that bothered me and how we can work together to address it. Forgiveness helps, and we learn as we go. As I get more sobriety under my belt, I learn what I can and cannot tolerate and what does and does not make me feel good.
Today I understand boundaries are designed to help keep me balanced and safe. I use them as a positive addition to my sobriety and my life. I continue to use these tips to help me establish new and improved boundaries as time goes on.
About the Author
Kelly Fitzgerald is a sober writer based in Southwest Florida who is best known for her personal blog The Adventures of a Sober Señorita. Her work has been published across the web including sites like The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Ravishly, SheKnows, Elite Daily, The Fix, Brit + Co, Addiction Unscripted and AfterPartyMagazine. She is currently writing a memoir.