The disease of addiction causes havoc in all areas of people’s lives. Nothing is left untouched. Usually it is the addicts’ closest relationships that suffer most…and longest. A person can protect themselves while still supporting their loved ones, if they understand the need for healthy boundaries.
For anyone involved with an active addict, you know it can be heartbreaking and destructive, leaving people feeling helpless and wrung out. One of the hardest things to do for our loved ones is to set and maintain healthy boundaries. Not only do these boundaries protect us, they may help the addicts find recovery.
Setting boundaries between active addicts and family may mean detaching oneself a bit. It may mean having that person leave the home or even calling the police. These are challenging tasks and it is common to feel guilt as one takes necessary steps.
The sooner we set firm boundaries between an addict and his/her family, rather than enabling them, the sooner loved ones may find their bottom, and consequently, treatment. Every addict has to find his or her bottom, the point at which they can sink no lower. We show respect for loved ones when we allow them to find their bottom, their own truth of sorts. Attempting to shield loved ones from the consequences of actions may only wind up delaying the inevitable, at great cost to everyone.
Boundaries with family members are just as important once an addict enters treatment. Trust must be earned and it is important to learn good self-care during the process. It is also not uncommon for those in relationships with an addict to develop co-dependent behaviors. One may become so accustomed to taking care of an addict that we don’t know any other way. When the addict stops using and is active in recovery, the dynamics of the relationship may change dramatically.
One would hope that simply removing drugs and alcohol from an active addict’s life will solve all of their problems. For an addict, living clean and sober is far from normal and takes some getting used to. Newly recovering addicts may find themselves trying to relearn how to live life while at the same time trying to cope with a roller coaster of emotions, guilt, anger and unresolved trauma. This can be a tumultuous time for everyone involved. Which is exactly why learning and practicing to boundaries is so important.
We must learn to care for ourselves first, allowing loved ones to find support from their counselors, sponsors and recovery groups. If you have a relationship with an addict or alcoholic, whether they are in recovery or not, it is important to learn, practice, establish and maintain new boundaries. These boundaries will allow a loved one to both care for themselves and simultaneously support their loved one in recovery.