On boundaries and saying ‘no’

7 Apr

12:40 pm

So, this morning, as I was scrolling Facebook, I became frustrated:

Why do I have to care about you?  Ugh, I should have gone to that thing last night–why am I so lazy, why am I so antisocial? 

And, on and on and on.  I saw in the early years of my sobriety just how much I could overthink and overanalyze, and how this contributed to my unhappiness and dependence on wine to escape my thinking.

It got me thinking about something else, too:  here I was, on a beautiful Sunday morning, and what was I doing but berating myself because I had let my Facebook feed intimidate me!

In getting sober and staying sober, I have come to realize that creating boundaries and saying ‘no’ are essential to my peace of mind.  There are a LOT of things that caused me to binge drink and drink alcoholically, and I never made the connection between that reactive behavior and the bullying forces in my life until I got sober.

In fact, there are a lot of bullies in everyone’s life–whether your friends, parents, or coworkers are consciously aware that they are being bullies is up for debate, though.  And, until I started to understand the concepts of boundaries and saying no–that there could be emotional bullying, and that this is far more prevalent than actual, literal bullying–I didn’t get that I could both say, No, I will not do that, and say no to taking on other people’s stress or expectations of me (or themselves).

It still makes me feel angry when I delve into this aspect of long-term sobriety, and I feel like this is something that will never go away completely because almost everyone out there (including myself) is engaging in some form of bullying–whether it’s dumping their emotional baggage on you, manipulating your weaknesses, or just using your reactions to make themselves feel better.  I have to remind myself, almost daily, that it’s ME who is in control of how I perceive and receive people, and how I react and interact with them–that ultimately, bullying is a two-way street.

Some real-world examples:

Facebook/social media–Before I got sober, I would scroll relentlessly, and I would allow everyone’s story to affect me.  I would internalize my feelings of “not good enough” and “guilty” and “should have, could have, would have” without realizing that one, I didn’t need to feel any of that, and two, I had control over who and what I let into my worldview.  These days, when I feel that coming on, I try to remember that social media is not real life; people posting to social media are not trying to offend me, personally; and if I want to not care, I can choose to not care and close the app.  I don’t have to feel guilty about not really interacting with my so-called friends; I have friends in the here and now, and I can interact with them–and this is healthy, and it is good enough.  These days, I would much rather engage people offline, in the real world, and not on social, email, or text.  And, some days, it’s as simple as closing the app and moving on with my day–and not judging myself to be a bad friend, somehow, because I have chosen to be a spectator on social media and not a player.

Parents–You know, before I got sober, I didn’t have as much frustration toward my parents for their mental health issues as I do now.  I knew that my mom’s difficulty setting emotional boundaries and my dad’s bullying behavior definitely contributed to my drinking, but I didn’t know exactly how.  In any case, I internalized my mom’s pain, and I always tried to please my dad–two things that I have to work very hard at today, every time I talk to them, to NOT do!

These days, I don’t know if I’ve figured out exactly how these family relationships have made me who I am, but in getting sober, I have learned that calling my parents less is OK, that not allowing them to control how I feel is OK, that putting up boundaries and saying no to their projections and expectations is OK–I wish it was different because they are in their 70s and “should know better,” but…

My mom has a lot of health problems these days, and so, our calls are always quite long and tedious. I feel like she feels slighted that I don’t call often, and I feel almost unconsciously judged for having become an alcoholic drinker and for not having had kids; but none of this matters when it comes to me needing to say no to taking on her bad mood or her feelings of helplessness.  In part, I think she wants me to share my own health problems, but I refuse to go down that road because it’s almost as if she relishes that; simply put, I DO NOT relish it.

My dad is an entirely different beast in that the family believes he has multiple actual mental health disorders, and his entire way in the world with everyone has always been about manipulating other people to do what he wants them to do for him, and expectation (I am hard on myself and need to prove my worth, so you should be, too).  I have simply come to the frustrating conclusion recently that nothing will ever change in our relationship except the way that I deal with it.  I have decided that while our conversations won’t change, and while I’ll never likely be able to directly say no to him, I can say no to his expectations–I love our life, and I don’t have to let him lead the conversation toward accomplishment as a measure of success.

Job and school stress–It took me getting sober to see that I was putting a TON of unnecessary expectations and pressure on myself for many, many years.  And, that I don’t have to respond to stress the way people around me are either responding to it or worse, telling me how I “should” respond to it.  It’s like, I don’t have to keep up with the Joneses by wanting that house, or that car, or that “bigger” job–likewise, at work, I don’t have to stress out just because my boss or coworkers are stressing out, necessarily or unnecessarily so.  You don’t have to stress out to care, or to prepare; stress will not help you have fun.  You can (and should!) take long showers, eat nice dinners, go to your yoga class, or hey, even hit the beach (man, I miss it!)–AND get your work done, and be a careful, caring employee who is worthy of her paycheck.  This mentality is really hard to push back against, but I have to push back–if not just in defense of my health, but in defense of my sobriety.

Exhale.  We all have to set boundaries and guard them fiercely, no matter if we’re getting or staying sober.  Likewise, we all get to say ‘no’–and that is a beautiful thing.  I think that is the most empowering aspect to my sobriety, and to my evolving life and lifestyle these days.  As recovering binge drinkers or alcoholics, saying no is essential to our happiness, to our joy, to our continued sobriety.

So…just say no (sometimes)!

3 Responses to “On boundaries and saying ‘no’”

  1. lookingout4lia April 12, 2019 at 5:55 am #

    Loved this article…hit me so hard.

  2. Mark David Goodson April 25, 2019 at 1:50 pm #

    Such great advice! Why is it so hard for people like us to understand the simplicity of that idea. Just say no. I used to think that was a corny saying, but it has saved me in sobriety on many occasions. So simple.

  3. adminstartingsobercom June 16, 2019 at 6:17 am #

    It seems so simple to say ‘no’ but yet it can be so hard. I’m in the early stages of my sobriety (1 month sober and going to AA). But social media has us fooled, people only put the ‘highlights’ of their life on there, not the realities.

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