The holidays can be an especially triggering time, causing us undue stress and draining our energy. We’re supposed to be relishing time with family and feeling festive. I often feel like it’s a time we all think we should get together to celebrate, but it can seem as if no one really wants to be there. However, it is entirely possible to set boundaries with family members and loved ones to ensure that you keep calm, don’t get triggered, and keep true to yourself — honoring your needs in sobriety.

What Is a Boundary?

When I first came into recovery, I had no concept of a boundary. I believed it was only a dividing line in a state. In reality, boundaries can be visible and invisible. A boundary is a dividing line or a way of setting asserting your needs, values, and thoughts. Sometimes these compete with others’ differing opinions and values.

I didn’t realize that I could tell my family that I didn’t want to do something, that I didn’t need to seek their approval, and I could pick and choose what I wanted to do over the holidays. I always felt obliged to do what they expected of me. I was a people-pleaser.

Giving myself permission to enforce boundaries was revolutionary; I suddenly felt empowered and free.

Common Holiday Triggers and Boundaries

Crucial boundaries you can place with your family and loved ones during a potentially triggering  holiday season include:

Putting your needs first. Your sobriety needs to always come before demands from family. That means taking care of your needs first and maintaining your recovery your way, with meetings, joining friends in recovery, meditation, exercise, yoga or eating well.

Recommended boundary: If you’re challenged or encouraged to miss something just this once, you may be breaking your boundaries unintentionally. Allowing this may cause those around you to think you do not enforce your boundaries in every situation, and they may not respect your future boundaries. It is important that you stand your ground, for the sake of your own well-being.

Know you have the right to take a timeout. I’m an introvert, so I can only spend short amounts of time with people before I start feeling drained. Over the holidays, that time is even shorter, because I can get overwhelmed by all of my senses being stimulated.

Recommended boundary: Only book one event a day — or whatever amount you feel comfortable with — being conscious that the holidays may make you feel a little more overwhelmed than usual. Feel free to excuse yourself from social events at any time. You don’t have to explain yourself; you decide what to do with your time.

You don’t have to discuss anything you don’t want to. This is possibly the most challenging boundary for me. When family members impose their opinions or give unsolicited advice, it can be infuriating and demeaning. I had lost count of the number of times I heard my weight as a standing talking point — until I enforced a boundary against that topic.

Recommended boundary: Simply and respectfully telling a family member or loved one that that topic isn’t up for discussion is sufficient. It is up to them how they react If they react, and it is not your responsibility to explain your boundary or appease their feelings. Overstepping your boundaries is not OK for anyone to do, friend or family member.

You Are in Charge

The extent to which you take part in holiday festivities is entirely up to you. There have been holidays in early sobriety when I told my family that I did not want to take part in gift giving. And surprisingly, this was such a relief. It removed the stress of pleasing everyone, and the strain of stretching my finances, meaning I didn’t have to worry as much about how to afford to feed myself. Understanding that I was in charge of my holiday experience and that it was perfectly okay to enforce my boundaries was life-changing for me, and it can be for you, too.

If a drug or alcohol addiction is a higher priority for you than setting boundaries, help is closer than you think. The Recovery Village can provide you with a full continuum of programs from medical detox through outpatient care to help you get started on the road to sobriety. And then, you’ll be able to set holiday boundaries of your own. Call today to speak with someone who knows the weight of your struggle and can guide you toward the right treatment.