Note: This post on setting boundaries with an addict is part of our series of posts written by a guest contributor who is bravely sharing her stories about her son’s addiction and recovery process. Our guest writer will be continuing to share stories from throughout her journey on MyAddictionInfo. If you’re interested in contributing, please contact us.
The Effects of Addiction on Family and Loved Ones
Addiction has a great impact on family. Whether the addict is living at home, or living away from home, it is still very hard on the emotions of family members. Family members find themselves wondering what their child is doing every second of every day. When an addict moves back home, this may help ease the minds of parents, especially if the parents (or parent) is dealing with issues of codependency.
Why Is Setting Boundaries So Important?
Setting healthy boundaries greatly impacts the way the family functions. The dynamic is very much improved as the addict and the parent create the tone for a healthy relationship.
Speaking to each other in a structured setting and in a calm tone makes it easier to communicate the needs and “rules” of the household to an addicted loved one. The boundaries are important because they specifically lay out what is expected and all parties agree that these expectations must happen, no matter what.
Setting boundaries also relieves stress, confusion, and anxiety between family members.
How to Set Boundaries When You Love An Addict
In the beginning, sitting down and talking to one another may be very difficult, due to the rawness of the pain that was caused. What makes this a little easier is when the loved one is willing to do whatever it takes to stay clean, honest, and help the family emotionally heal…together.
Setting boundaries will not work if the addict is defensive, obstinate, or doesn’t take anything you say seriously.
With my son, we told him we were going to have the conversation of boundary-setting a few days beforehand. He was very agreeable to this, and we have been very blessed because he really wanted recovery to work.
Of course, he also wanted a place to live, as he had been on his own and just couldn’t make it work with the rent, bills, and generally being a responsible adult. With two prior relapses, he knew he wasn’t ready with all of the temptations of living with roommates.
This being said, he was quite agreeable and the whole conversation went much better than expected. This significantly eased the nervous tension I was feeling, that’s for sure! My husband and I had made a list and had a discussion a few days before, so we would be more grounded and confident during the conversation.
Examples of Healthy Boundaries
Every family has different expectations of their loved one in recovery. Every expectation typically has to do with their beliefs and the structure of the home environment, as well as the duties outside of the home, such as work. Our boundaries were relatively simple and very realistic.
We sat at the dinner table and pulled out our list. We talked a bit about moving forward and making life better and worthwhile. We told our son that he was very fortunate in the fact that he has so many positive qualities. He has a great personality, he is intelligent, he is quite charming, and he has everything he needs to succeed, and, most importantly, a loving family. He absolutely agreed to all of these wonderful characteristics about himself, as they were very true.
The boundaries included always being honest with feelings, no matter if they were negative or positive. They also included a curfew of 11pm if he chose to go out, being at work each day, only smoking cigarettes outside, absolutely no drugs or alcohol, and that we would do drug testing once a week on any given day. Believe it or not, he was very receptive to all of this, because he wanted a better life for himself. He had already been at rock bottom, and he was ready to fight for his life, even if he had a craving or the notion to do something on impulse.
The ramifications were that he would get one warning and stiffer boundaries if he broke any of our rules, except for drug use. Drug use would lead to him being dismissed from the home…no exceptions. He was completely on board, and was actually quite grateful that he got his bedroom back, food to eat, and a cozy house to live in.
Boundaries are very similar to any type of rule setting that is made when kids are growing up. We never had to set too many rules with our boys because they were so well-behaved and always made good choices. This was completely new to us, but extremely essential and actually life-saving to our addicted son in recovery.
As hard as it may seem to be, talking to your recovering loved one can, and needs to be done in order to relieve family tension, decrease emotional instability, and make you more confident as the parent.