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Say Goodbye to the Holiday “Musts”

text on paper that says set boundaries

The holidays are a particularly tough time when it comes to doing all the right things for the right people at the right time. The “must-dos” can be exhausting and, worse, can pose major challenges to our recovery. So what’s a person in recovery supposed to do? There’s a perfect answer and it’s one we learned in treatment and practiced often in our early recovery: setting boundaries.

Setting boundaries is often defined as selfishness by the people who wish you wouldn’t. The reality is that setting boundaries is understanding what you need to do and have in order to live a healthy, happy, and generous life. Putting limits on what people can ask of us or how they behave toward us is a healthy behavior, not a selfish one. It means you value yourself and don’t rely on others to set your value according to what you do for.

Start here:

Respect yourself. Understand the time and energy you have for others is limited. Recognize that others may not like that you are setting boundaries. They may get mad at you or make fun of you. That’s okay, because you know what your healthy, happy life is worth and that you are more than what someone else thinks of you.

Stop trying to please others. Put yourself first. This sound selfish, right? But it’s not selfish to think of your health and well-being, and, foremost, your recovery. If you put others before that need, you will find that you can never be at peace and will easily become stressed, depressed, and unhappy. Think of your energy and capabilities as marbles in a big jar. The more you dip into that jar, the emptier it gets. If you are constantly saying yes to other people’s requests, demands, and needs, the less time you have for your own needs, like keeping yourself healthy, resilient, and able to maintain your own life.


Learn to say no. Saying no goes hand in hand with putting your needs first. It’s not easy. It took me a long time to find a way to say no without resorting to confrontation and anger. I learned that there are healthy, confident ways to say no. The first is to tell the truth: “I wish I could help you with that, but I can’t do it right now.” Or “I wish I could but I can’t.” Full stop. It’s easy to say either of these with a smile on your face.

You can also briefly explain why you can’t. There’s no reason to apologize when you give your reason. Saying something as simple as “I don’t feel comfortable going to that party with you. It’s important to my recovery” is fine. If you get pushback, simply reiterate your reason for saying no with a smile and then turn away or hang up.

Let others know that you value your health and recovery. Be clear and honest that you are setting boundaries because you need to take care of yourself. “I like who I am now and I want to continue being proud of myself and my sobriety. Setting boundaries is one way I can maintain my recovery.”

Create a group of friends who will affirm you and your choices. Find friends who understand healthy, reciprocal relationships and lean on them. In instances when you are doubting yourself, think of those people and how much they value you. When someone disrespects your need for boundaries, turn to one of those friends for support and affirmation that you are making the right decisions. Those friends can be people you met in treatment or in meetings or can be family members who understand the importance of setting boundaries, particularly when it comes to staying in recovery.

Take care of your recovery. Don’t stop going to treatment, therapy or medical appointments, or recovery meetings, even when things get busy during the holiday season. Maintain contact with your therapist, recovery coach, or sponsor. Reach out to them  when you feel stressed, emotionally overwhelmed, or confused about how to navigate a situation.

Turn to your higher power. That higher power doesn’t have to be God. It just has to be an internal core of strength and sustenance that you can call on when you need it and look to for guidance.


Addiction is hard

Getting help shouldn’t be.

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