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Holding Boundaries: The Tough Love Move You'll Never Regret

Holding Boundaries: The Tough Love Move You’ll Never Regret

If you woke up this morning thinking “I did it again,” you’re definitely not alone. Maybe you gave the addict you love some money or you let them off the hook when they showed up hours late to a family event. You’re struggling, because you want to help, but you’re the one who ends up hurting and the addiction just gets worse and worse.

Wherever you’re at in the journey, you can never control another person’s actions. What you can do is take care of yourself and set boundaries that support recovery, not illness.

Why Boundaries Make or Break an Addict

At its core, the simplest reason boundaries are key to an addict’s recovery is this: nothing changes if nothing changes. If certain behaviors have become the norm in your relationship with the addict, there is no incentive to change if that relationship doesn’t change.

Let’s take the example above about money. Why would any addict lay down their drug of choice if they know they can always come to you to fund that habit? The addict has to learn his or her own way to self-control, and loved ones must support this path by redefining their relationships with the addict.

Under almost every addiction, you will find symptoms of codependency. The addict takes over your life, and the addiction takes over theirs. If you can’t figure out how you got to this place, you may need to do some work on yourself. When did your needs stop mattering? Why do you put so much emotional energy into helping someone who is destroying themself? This may require a professional’s help.

Though it will be necessary to determine the family dynamic and underlying behaviors, it is crucial for both the addict and his or her loved ones to remain future-focused and boundaries will play a large role in this.

Addiction thrives in secrecy and avoidance. Maybe you don’t bring things up because you just can’t handle fighting about it again. But transparency from both the addict and his or her loved ones is the only way to reach and maintain recovery.

Unfortunately, addiction is a disease and recovery is lifelong process. Relapse rates for addiction can be as high as they are for chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension. Therefore, it’s just as important for the addict’s loved ones to hold their boundaries as is it for the addict to not to go back to their old life. The addict needs to know that they could lose the people they value most if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain.

It’s similar to disciplining a child. If you tell your son he can’t go outside to play with his friends unless he does his homework, yet you find yourself doing his homework while he’s outside playing, it will be no surprise when he’s failing at college or a job down the line … because he never learned to do it on his own in a different situation.

An addict must learn to recover for themself, with your support. You can’t do their recovery for them.

Why Sticking to Your Guns is So Difficult

When a loved one has an addiction, it is difficult to view them as an independent adult. You’ve spent so much time in a cycle of supporting each others’ behaviors that living separate, complete lives is downright scary.

You begin to tell yourself lies and you begin to believe them. You don’t mean to; it starts with small things you say to yourself like “our situation isn’t that bad” or “it could be worse.”

Here’s where you really have to make a decision. The underlying fear is often “I can’t imagine living my life without this person I love.” So what’s worse? Continuing on this route, where addiction is likely to kill the person you love or knowing you did absolutely everything you could to support their recovery?

Like we said before you can’t force anyone to do anything. But you can refuse to support the addiction. We know this is hard, perhaps because you’re afraid you’ll spend even more time worrying, or because you’ve never been able to resist the addict’s threats of abandonment in the past. And those are not small concerns.

It will be rough, but time and time again, we’ve seen that you won’t regret it. If you continue the current pattern, and something awful happens, you’ll never be able to let go of the regret that you could have done your part to stop supporting addictive behaviors.

In addition, whether or not the addict ultimately pursues and succeeds at recovery, the likelihood is much higher if his or her support system has fallen away. If no one around the addict will support the addiction, he or she is more likely to come to the point where there is no choice but to seek help.

Finally, you’ll be able to heal yourself. You’ve been wrapped up in the addiction for so long, you need time to deal with your own hurt and anger.

Some Boundaries to Think About

Consequences are key to inspiring change. Whether or not the addict continues self-harming behavior, if you do not put a halt to the actions that are harming you, you’re only continuing to support the addiction. Without boundaries, the entire family continues to suffer.

When setting your boundaries, it helps to think about how “helping” has affected you financially or emotionally. Some examples to consider enforcing are:

  • I will not spend time with you when you’ve been using.
  • I will not give you money for your drug of choice.
  • I will not provide housing or transportation for you if you are using.
  • I will not pay to bail you out of jail or for legal fees if you are arrested.
  • I will not cover for you if have trouble with a job, school, probation officer, friend, or anyone else.
  • I will not be around you if you insult or threaten me.
  • If you can’t be on time for plans or an event, you are no longer welcome.

This may also require setting boundaries with others in the family. You must let them know that you’re doing everything you can to help someone you love, and you must determine if they’re going to get on board. For example, let’s say you have two young adult children living in your home. You set a boundary of no transportation, but you fear the addict’s sibling will offer rides to support the addiction. At this point, you may have to make it clear that the sibling will also suffer consequences if he or she ignores the boundaries you’ve set.

Ultimately the best success you will see is through coming together. If the members of your immediate family and other loves ones all come together and agree to adhere to the same set of boundaries, you will have the best chance in aiding recovery.

Why Partnering with the Experts Makes it More Doable

Change takes time, and often space. Attending counseling can help addicts, but this is much less effective than a residential treatment program. Full focus on the recovery process enables the addict to build a toolkit before returning to the environments and people they were surrounded by as the addiction grew out of control. A fresh start can do wonders for anyone, especially someone struggling with addiction.

On the other hand, if the person in treatment is working solely on recovery while family members and friends are back home making no changes, changing intimate relationships can be extremely challenging post-treatment.

Treating addiction is complicated; that’s why we offer a multi-layered approach:

  1. We make sure the addict and his or her family are on the same page. Weekly calls ensure that, even though you are apart, you are growing together. Each family is different. Of course, core boundaries will include complete honesty and not using, but we can work with all of you to make sure the specific boundaries your family needs begin at treatment and continue after.
  2. We help set our clients up for success. In addition in-depth counseling and family sessions, we require our clients to hold a job and work on their career future. Getting sober is the first step, but staying sober will take refocusing efforts on productive goals.
  3. We offered a structured aftercare program. A recent study showed that very few treatment centers offer ongoing care for young adults and their families. We don’t just want our clients to succeed, we want them to keep succeeding. Ongoing care is a built-in component of our treatment programs.

Next Steps

Are you ready to start establishing some boundaries? With all great and difficult changes, it begins with a single decision … a decision to stop focusing on what you could lose and start focusing on what you could gain. Think about a life with better relationships, more time to focus on yourself, less worry, and rediscovering the person the addict was before the disease took over.

This may all seem like a dream, but it’s possible. It’s not easy; you can’t just choose change and then wait for it to happen. You have to set boundaries and hold them, even when others refuse to. Do it for yourself and for the addicted person you love.

If all this seems overwhelming, you’re not alone. Whether you’re ready to pursue the possibility of residential treatment, need help addressing the addiction or starting to set boundaries, or don’t even know where to start, we’re here to help.