New Boundaries After Battling Addiction

New Boundaries After Battling Addiction

Families draw new boundaries after battling addiction. Re-establishing boundaries after addiction has caused a family to distort the norm and accept the outlandish as the new norm is imperative during the recovery program. Addiction can cause families to accept outlandish situations as “normal,” but not right away. It creeps in slowly, first affecting the person of interest and their families get drawn in without even knowing it. As using progresses, so do the lies used to cover it up. These lies might start small, covering tracks for being a few hours late, missing an appointment, or an outburst of anger, but their frequency and peculiarity only increase as the addiction grows.  

Healthy relationships have healthy boundaries

Families know in their guts that something isn’t right. When they address the concerned person, a process of gaslighting, or turning the warranted concern around on the person that voiced it.  As a result, loved ones start to question their premonition and offer the person the benefit of the doubt all the while, the addiction is unknowingly in control of everyone affected.

Healthy relationships have healthy boundaries, lines in the sand that can’t be crossed without consequence. These boundaries might be explicitly stated, or more often, they are implied.  

Simple boundaries look like: 

  • Coming home after work.
  • Calling when you’re running late.
  • Picking up the kids on Thursdays.
  • Driving sober.
  • Remaining faithful.
  • Not doing drugs in the house, or at all.

Addiction loves blaming those who are trying to help

While these lines in the sand might seem like common sense, by the time addiction is noticed by others, the person with substance abuse disorder might have engaged in these behaviors for years. At this stage of the game, it’s difficult to implement rules to enforce these boundaries as they’ve been repeatedly broken and frayed. At this point, families fall into arguing or ultimatums. Relationships get unhealthier, loved ones acquiesce to the addiction, and the person using doubles down on covering their tracks, blaming the loved one for the problems or blaming the problem on third parties. Take Sarah & Tom, for example.

Sarah’s trust had been broken many times in the past. She could tell whenever Tom drank. Each time that he walked the dog, Tom would buy small bottles of alcohol, downing 2 on the walk and keeping two for later in the night. Tom was very good at hiding the alcohol, not getting caught for years. Sarah started to find the tiny bottles in the trash, yet whenever she confronted Tom he would get angry, leading Sarah to back down and question herself.

As addiction gains steam, the person of concern develops a second personality to cover their tracks. Families and friends can’t possibly have a structured relationship with a created personality. The lies and stories become second nature and the family is only interacting with the personality that is created to cover the addiction, not the person they know and love, although in many cases this new personality is a very one of an affable and successful person. At Adam Banks Recovery, we’ve seen many persons of concern who assume that because they pay all the bills, the family should bow down to them and allow them to do what they want.

Paying the bills doesn’t make you the boss

Families are effectively taken hostage by the personality created by the addiction. They can’t put their finger on why there are so many problems and they are seeking answers from a personality that they believe to be their loved one. Let’s look to Jen & Jay’s experience.

For years, Jen sought out couples therapy with Jay, her husband. Jay became removed, spending a lot of time in his home office and pulling back from her and their newborn. The relationship was crumbling from their daily arguments and Jay blamed their relationship problems on his depression as a way to tap into Jen’s compassion.  She sought psychiatric treatment for Jay’s depression and although Jay complied with most of these requests, something wasn’t right. Jay only became more agitated. One night, when he fell asleep, she went through his cell phone and found out Jay was buying drugs every day.

Families often become isolated and people on the outside have no idea what’s going on. The person of concern might actively isolate loved ones, forbidding someone from seeing friends, but usually the isolation comes naturally.  Addiction might take off when one  partner turns their focus on taking care of children, leaving them little time to see friends, anyway. A spouse might have a lot of shame and slowly withdraw from friends as a result of embarrassing situations. Often, the affected family members don’t reveal the truth to others outside of the nuclear family, seeking to protect children or to not worry another.

Shame and guilt are at the heart of most people’s addictions

As the lies and isolation increase family members no longer have an objective opinion of what is normal and what isn’t.  An unhealthy cycle takes over the family wherein addiction sinks its claws into the person of concern as well as loved ones affected by the lying and abnormal behavior. Here are a few snapshots of how this plays out in different ways.

Svetlana was worried about her son, she knew that he was buying drugs. I asked Svetlana if she was giving him any money for this. She told me no, he is “on his own.” I asked Svetlana a few questions about the flow of the money. Who pays for his cell phone, his credit card, his automobile payments and insurance?  Svetlana was paying for everything. 100% of the income her son made at his job was free to go to support his addiction. Her son was almost completely financially dependent on her and she didn’t see it.

Healthy boundaries are necessary for a healthy recovery

When someone gets sober, they can start to reestablish healthy boundaries. There’s no longer a need to sweep anything under the rug, no reason to miss appointments, and future plans can be made and kept. The need for a  second personality to manage the addiction is no longer necessary.

A person in recovery can change a lot in a 30 day treatment program, but it takes the family much longer.  Each person in the family has been let down in a different way, and may have difficulty building trust. They are thinking, “What makes this time any different?” 

Spouses and significant others often have a hard time adjusting

A spouse of a person that goes to rehab mentally replays the worst day or the worst year. While the person of concern just went through 30 days of therapy, the person at home was probably busy dealing with wreckage, managing their home and caring for children. It takes much longer for the person at home to believe that this recovery will last.

What was never spoken, or what was yelled when someone was using needs to come out. I tell the remaining family that as a rule of thumb, it takes 90 days to 6 months for loved ones to believe this recovery to be true, and the person of concern needs to understand this as well. To go back to an early example, Sarah was concerned about Tom each time he walked the dog when he came back from rehab. Sarah didn’t trust his recovery, and assumed that he would be drinking again on these dog walks. Each time he came home an argument would start.

The person of concern owes it to their family to positively engage in a program of recovery. They need to prove, over time, that they are dedicated to an out-patient program, or 12 steps meetings, and possibly regular drug testing. Once trust is established, then normal boundaries can be set and adhered.

New Boundaries

In recovery, boundaries need to be set and agreed on by both sides. The flow of money needs to be carefully examined. Who is paying for what and what strings are attached to this money? Is the person of concern unfairly holding money over their loved ones, are parents of adult children overly generous? Clarity is key when setting boundaries so all parties know what is expected and what is not acceptable.

We set boundaries around the addiction itself. What happens if the person of concern returns to use? Is the family going to support that or is that a trigger for separation? We get everything out in the open with no stone left unturned.

Daily commitments must be talked about. Who is expected to go grocery shopping, cook dinner, or pick up the kids from school? During addiction one partner probably picked up a lot of the slack. Returning to a partnership takes time and communication.


About Adam Banks

Adam Banks is a certified interventionist and the owner of Adam Banks Recovery. After receiving an MBA from the University of Chicago, Adam built a company acquired by United Health Care. His discipline and attention to detail comes from his former career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.

Today, Adam is dedicated to helping others achieve long-term sobriety. His work has guided executives, pilots, and physicians on paths to recovery. Adam brings families together through a loving and inclusive approach.

Adam has authored four books on addiction. His recent work, Navigating Recovery Ground School: 12 Lessons to Help Families Navigate Recovery, educates families on the entire intervention process. He also offers a free video course for families considering an intervention for a loved one. 

Adam is available for alcohol and drug intervention services in New York, Long Island, the Hamptons as well as nationally and internationally. 

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