Drug and alcohol addiction can have its roots in how we manage our relationships. To move beyond substance abuse, and establish lasting sobriety, building good and healthy boundaries is often an important step. Cheryl’s story shows us how critical these changes can be in the journey to a better life.
Cheryl was 32 years old. She was the mother of two young girls, had a loving husband, and worked as a teacher at a school near her home. From the outside, the family seemed close to perfect. So why did this young mother become addicted to drugs?
One of Cheryl’s qualities, which became a serious weakness, was her “people pleasing” tendencies. She was always quick to say “yes,” volunteering to help out, or letting others take the lead while she stayed in the background, often doing most of the work. What she didn’t realize was that her lack of boundaries led her to constantly say “yes” when she should say “no.”
The principal at her school knew that Cheryl would always volunteer for extra assignments. When a teacher was needed to direct the Christmas play, or organize a fundraiser, she always went to Cheryl first. The principal knew that Cheryl would agree, avoiding the need to arm wrestle other teachers who were reluctant to take on extra work. The minister at Cheryl’s church also knew that she would be quick to volunteer and he took advantage of her generosity. As you can guess, Cheryl was chronically over-loaded with work, resulting in perpetual exhaustion and a feeling of despair.
At home, Cheryl had a different boundary problem. Her mother lived nearby and was constantly dropping in unannounced. Family time was constantly interrupted by “grandma,” who had a knack for showing up just before dinner, and waiting for an invitation to stay. However, this intrusion was the least troubling part of the relationship between Cheryl and her mother.
It seemed that there was never a visit that didn’t include a lecture from mother about something Cheryl was doing wrong. “You’re not raising the girls the right way,” “the stew really needs some more spice,” “why don’t you change jobs,” were among the constant stream of critical advice. Cheryl was reluctant to correct her mother, and never created a boundary that said “this is my life and these are my responsibility, please accept this, and don’t always try to run my life.”
Falling into addiction.
Over time Cheryl began to feel that her life was unmanageable. She was tired, felt unappreciated, and had lost a lot of self-esteem through the negative relationship with her mother. During a visit to her doctor, Cheryl discussed her feelings of depression and was given a prescription for Valium. Within a few months, Cheryl didn’t know how to get through the day without her medication. Two years later she was abusing benzodiazepines at a rate that required her to constantly lie to her doctor, her husband, and spend all of the family savings.
Following a number of crisis situations, Cheryl sought help for her blossoming drug addiction. As she reflected on how substance abuse was tearing her life apart, she realized the large role poor boundaries played in her addiction. As she moved into recovery, she was determined to establish strong and healthy boundaries. Fortunately, her husband stood by her. Together they learned together how to create boundaries to protect their lives and their marriage.
Cheryl met with her principal and they discussed how she could no longer be the “go to” person for all of the school’s extra work. They agreed on a new relationship that would help Cheryl balance her job and family life. The discussions with her mother did not go as well. Cheryl took back the key to their house and made it clear that mother was not welcome if there was continuing criticism of her parenting skills, cooking, or anything else. She would like to have a relationship with her mother, but only if her new boundaries were respected. Mother stormed out and it took a year to reestablish a connection, but Cheryl knew this action was necessary if she was going to beat her drug addiction.
Creating a happy ending.
Building healthy boundaries is critical to personal happiness. Feeling good about yourself, and being able to have control over your life, makes the process of overcoming drug and alcohol addiction much easier. Learning how to establish appropriate boundaries is an important part of creating a better life with lasting sobriety. Among the many topics addressed in our 10 Day Program for addiction recovery is establishing better boundaries.