You’ve discovered your loved one or friend is an alcoholic or addict—now what?
For many people in that situation, their first reaction is, “What can I do to fix my alcoholic/addict?” It took a while for me to figure out that I couldn’t “fix” my son. Instead, I needed to focus on fixing myself, because my son wasn’t the only one who had issues; our whole family system was broken. As I began going to therapy sessions and reading books about broken families, l discovered many resources are available to people who are on the journey toward recovery. Because people have different experiences and backgrounds, you may find some of them more helpful than others. In part one, we looked at Al-Anon as a primary resource, and in part two we examined the paradox of focusing on our own lives to fix ourselves. This time, we’ll look at the role of establishing boundaries to fix ourselves.
I lived most of my life in Boundary-less Land, and it was nothing like Candy Land! No gumdrops, no lollipops, and definitely no serenity! No matter what crisis arose, I felt responsible for fixing it. That was especially true where my alcoholic son was concerned, but my lack of boundaries bled over into every relationship as I tried to advise, fix, cajole, and manipulate people into doing what I thought was best. I regularly cancelled plans with friends, or I left work early with little notice to my boss, so I could rush home and check on my son, because I thought that would prevent him from drinking. Of course, all my attempts to manipulate the situations that arose failed, because alcoholism and addiction are cunning, baffling, and powerful diseases.
When things went badly for him, I was right there to pick up the pieces, and I thought I was helping. A small example of this occurred after my son graduated from the BRC residential treatment program and moved to sober living. We had an unusual weather pattern during his first month in sober living, and it poured rain almost every day. He didn’t have a car, so he had to walk about a mile to work. One afternoon as it poured rain, I texted my son’s recovery coach and asked whether I should offer my son a ride home from work. He texted back, “I would advise against that and allow him to have his experience.” And sure enough, my son asked someone for a ride home, so he didn’t get drenched after all!
That proved to be valuable advice, and it’s true of my relationship with each of my adult children, whether they’re addicts/alcoholics or not. In Al-Anon, I learned that by stepping in to rescue them or give advice all the time, I not only shield them from the consequences of their poor decisions and choices; worse, I steal the joy from their successes, because I take away their satisfaction of having done something on their own and succeeding.
For those reasons alone, it is critical to set boundaries for yourself with your adult children and in all your relationships. Through reading books about setting boundaries, attending Al-Anon meetings, seeing a therapist, and listening to advice from my son’s recovery coach, I learned that setting boundaries makes me a healthier and more content person. When I have boundaries, I know where my responsibilities end and those of the other person begin. I stop taking (or accepting) responsibility for actions over which I have no control—those of anyone other than me.
It is critical that we set boundaries in all our relationships. And the first rule of setting boundaries is to remember that “No.” is a complete sentence. I do not have to make excuses or give reasons for my boundaries. As Al-Anon speaker Ellen C. says, if the boundary is good for you, it’s good for your alcoholic or addict too. It’s okay if they’re not happy about the boundary.
People set boundaries in different ways. One boundary I have often found helpful when I am feeling particularly anxious about the choices any of my adult children are making is to put some distance between us, either by calling or texting less often, or by not asking them about the situation that is making me feel anxious. I remind myself that my sons also need to have their own boundaries, and they will share the things they want me to know. One person in Al-Anon likened this to getting off the roller coaster your loved one is on, and instead standing on the platform and waving as they go by.
I encourage you to learn more about setting boundaries this week so you can get off the roller coaster and wave from the platform!
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
When Pleasing Others is Hurting You by David Hawkins
Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life by David Hawkins