First Responders: Learning to Set Long-Term Boundaries in Recovery

First Responders: Learning to Set Long-Term Boundaries in Recovery

Published on August 10, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Making it to one year sober requires many different ingredients: willpower, honesty, support, commitment, self-empowerment, and — possibly most of all — boundaries. For first responders, attributes like willpower and commitment are already part of the job. But after devoting their lives to helping others and working as a tight-knit team to survive, learning how to set boundaries can be challenging new territory. Regardless, it is essential for lasting recovery.

The importance of maintaining long-term boundaries extends beyond any personal goals we set for ourselves. Upholding boundaries amongst our peers and family members helps us to feel in control and capable of providing our own pathway through life. By constructing limits for ourselves and others, we lower the likelihood of being exposed to triggering or harmful situations.

Developing healthy boundaries allows individuals in recovery from alcohol and/or substance abuse to focus on their sobriety. Staying true to these guidelines can also benefit one’s mental health, as the brain has a tendency to feel rewarded by following through with goals and ambitions.

What Boundaries Should Be Set?

Every alumnus has their own triggers. As such, the guiding axioms for each person should be catered to fit the growth they would like to foster in their own lives. For many in recovery from trauma, alcohol and/or substance abuse, and other conditions, setting boundaries of how to interact with other people is a high priority. Outlining which situations you may want to avoid, or setting time limits on the amount of time spent with people who tend to trigger unhealthy habits, helps us identify the people and situations that strengthen our recovery and the ones that don’t.

When it comes to setting restrictions for the amount of time and energy you invest in projects, people, and settings that cause anxiety, keep in mind that stress can be a primary trigger for relapse. Over commitment can lead to feeling strained beyond our capabilities.

People who really care about another person’s well-being won’t put them in situations that inhibit their recovery or provoke traumatic stress. However, the people who continuously bring us into unhealthy situations — like environments that trigger addictive behavior — may not be taking our needs into account when they make decisions. For that reason, it’s important to set boundaries for personal relationships in order to prioritize our own mental health and addiction recovery.

Those who struggle to honor those boundaries should be re-evaluated as to whether they truly care about us or not. It can be immensely difficult to make these decisions, but placing value and importance on our recovery from addiction and trauma strengthens our commitment to sobriety and mental health. Once we feel more capable of managing our own emotional health, we might be able to help others in need of setting similar long-term boundaries.

How to Set Boundaries Effectively

Holding ourselves or someone else accountable to a predetermined standard can feel uncomfortable. We may experience backlash in the form of pressure to go back on our goal. The key to upholding boundaries over a long period of time is to remain honest about our own desires and ambitions.

Sharing this honesty with others will either build up their respect for our commitment to recovery, or will reveal their inability to support us on our path. It is also important to remember that recovery will not occur overnight. Making a plan will help to edify the guiding principles for our recovery, but sticking to a plan over any considerable amount of time calls for sacrifice, as well as positive reassurance.

This could look like opting out of a bowling team, an event where alcohol will be served, or any other social interaction that encourages unhealthy habits. Telling ourselves that our own health supersedes other distractions creates the space for us to give our recovery the attention it deserves. Letting a close circle of loved ones know our boundaries also helps to keep us accountable.

Just because we have made steps in our recovery doesn’t mean the path forward must be walked in solitude. Once we feel confident in constructing healthy relationships, this support system helps contribute to the identity and efficacy of our recovery. A friend’s confidence in times of crisis can make the difference between relapse and another step along the path of recovery.

In an ideal world, we would all be strong enough to power along as individuals, but the nature of humanity entails relying on the people we can trust in times of difficulty. Lastly, seeking the help of trained professionals who can guide clients through setting and upholding boundaries can greatly benefit our recovery.

Following the guidance of counselors and therapists gives us a blueprint we can use to continue seeking recovery from addiction and/or trauma. Staying sober and mentally healthy can feel like a full-time job, but the benefits of freeing oneself from addiction are often life-altering.

Staying sober for a sustained period of time takes hard work, even for those who have gone through treatment programs. As you work to create a healthy and balanced life, it’s inevitable to feel the weight of returning to your job as a first responder, your home, and your relationships. Even after graduating from our addiction treatment program, True Recovery remains dedicated to your sobriety. In addition to our alumni curriculum and fellowship, we offer individuals a variety of external resources to draw upon post treatment. The truth is that relapse is far less likely when you learn to enjoy sobriety by reaping the benefits of a vibrant support system. There may be days when you see yourself as a person with a drug or alcohol problem, but we see you as the strong, capable person you’re meant to be — and we’ll help you get there. To learn more, call True Recovery today at (888) 743-0490.