The term boundary is often misunderstood and misused. Setting boundaries with others is a way we can love ourselves and maintain the relationship. The definition of a boundary is said to be “a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you and the other person begins. The purpose of setting a boundary is to protect and take good care of yourself.” A boundary defines what behavior is unacceptable or acceptable from the other person.
Alcoholic/addicts may have a hard time setting boundaries with others. They are so busy trying to control and enjoy their drinking and using that they neglect to take care of themselves. Upon becoming sober they may discover that they have been the recipient of unacceptable behavior from another. Because of guilt and shame that the alcoholic may feel over their behavior while in active drinking, they may not feel entitled to set boundaries with the other. They may also discover that their relationships include a few toxic ones that are now unacceptable to the sober alcoholic.
No one needs to be belittled or degraded. The family may be especially hard on the alcoholic for past behavior. This places the alcoholic in a difficult situation. Upon embracing the new lifestyle associated with the 12 steps the alcoholic will become a stronger person. In making amends, admitting past wrongs and asserting that they will not be repeated helps some family members to become more receptive.
We have the right as human beings to set boundaries with others. A partner may bring up past wrongs at inappropriate times. It’s ok to say that you do not want to discuss this past wrong. The alcoholic who has made amends can hold their head up high and not be dragged into an argument over something that happened in the past. The other person can be reminded that amends have been made and that the behavior has not been repeated. Other than that, there is nothing the alcoholic can do to stop this line of exchange between them and another person. The sober alcoholic is doing all they can to mend relationships while removing themselves from toxic situations. At times they have to just walk away from a situation.
Being able to set appropriate boundaries can be a learning process for sober alcoholics. We become accustomed to living quite abnormal lives. Looking back to the Doctor’s Opinion in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous we can see once again how the “abnormal becomes normal.” It becomes normal to have adversarial relationships with others while drinking and using. Sometimes we ourselves provoked an argument over the same old thing. But now that we are sober, we can see the folly of this and try our best to get along with others in a healthy manner.
Maintaining sobriety remains a challenging thing for the newly sober person to do. In the chapter “To the Wives’ in the Big book it asserts that “God has either removed the drink problem or he has not.” Remembering our powerlessness, we turn to our Higher Power for relief from our addictions. In the beginning this is a one day at a time program to keep sober. After taking the steps the feeling that the drink problem has been removed often comes strongly. We realize we have the right to set boundaries with others and not be subjected to toxic behavior.