Whether it’s a new job, a new apartment, tax season, family in town, or the holidays, certain moments or events are often accompanied by higher rates of stress. For some, these moments can become a potential trigger for relapse. But the good news is that with thoughtful boundaries, these whirlwind experiences become more manageable, and even enjoyable with the right mindset.
Here are a few tips to help establish boundaries to maintain your sobriety, regardless of the social setting.
Pack Your Toolbox
When I pack my luggage, I also pack my toolbox. Sometimes, it’s literally a toolbox. My mental and physical health have some needs that are unique to me and my recovery. Therefore, it is my responsibility to pack my tools. I bring my tools that help me navigate flashbacks, a scheduled check in time with my therapist, a scheduled check in time with my community support worker, and daily messages with my husband since he doesn’t travel well. I plan this all before I leave to create accountability.
For those in recovery from addiction, your toolbox should include things like recovery literature, a list of meetings, and scheduled check in times with your sponsor. I also suggest creating and bringing a list of your favorite safe beverages. My safe beverage is Diet Cherry Pepsi. I ONLY drink it if I’m around others drinking alcohol. My bestie always makes sure I have one or two available just in case.
Having my own beverage helps me to not feel left out. Whichever non-alcoholic beverage you choose, make it something you enjoy so the night feels special.
Make a Trigger Recovery Plan
One thing I have found on my journey is that no matter how much planning I do, I will inevitably experience a trigger of some sorts. I may even experience a flashback or two depending on the activity. In order to continue enjoying myself and to prevent a meltdown, I must make a trigger recovery plan. This is similar to tools I use at home but altered for the change in location.
If your family is a large group with boisterous gatherings, consider creating an escape plan for when you get triggered. This could mean something like a code word with a trusted person to let them know you are leaving. This could mean taking a break in another room. It could mean that you simply aren’t going to talk to a certain family member. Or setting boundaries around conversation topics. It most definitely means sharing your plan with a trusted person, preferably one who will be with you.
Identify a Safe Place in Unfamiliar Surroundings
For me, it’s very easy to identify all the places in my hometown where trauma happened. Visiting my hometown was important because my children have grandparents there and getting to see them was important. In order to maintain my sanity, I had to find a safe place. I had to find a place where I could simply be myself and prioritize my care. I’m lucky and beyond grateful that my best friend back home provides that place. Not everyone has that option. For some, it may be finding an AirBnB in a nearby town, getting a hotel room, or if the weather allows, using an RV or even tent camping. I would not recommend a stick shelter like Eeryore built.
Sometimes, alternative lodging is not an option. So, finding safe places to go to visit is important. When navigating substance abuse recovery, it’s important to avoid places that are a temptation. When I first stopped drinking several years ago, I had to avoid bowling alleys for a while. I switched to my favorite coffee shop. There’s a phrase in AA that says something like “hang out at the barbershop long enough and you’ll eventually get a haircut.” Watching where you go hangout applies in towns you visit too.
Identify a Safe Person
While it is so easy to set intentions and boundaries before arriving to a party, the hard part is sticking to them. This is why I suggest identifying a safe person. Is there a friend that can go with you to the family party to help you avoid the one creepy person? Who is the person that you can call when you are not ok? Who will guide you through an intense moment and help you come back to baseline? Identify that person and create a plan with them.
I remember one time I went home for a visit. There were some strong tensions within the place I was. I called my husband to vent and he told me to go stay elsewhere. If he had not told me that, I would have tried to make it work to stay where I was. More than that, he talked me down from a near relapse. I needed him to be my safe person in that moment, even though he was on the other side of the state. Identify your safe person who can do that for you. Even if they can only be a phone call away, knowing you have at least one person available will help reduce feelings of isolation which can be a trigger for relapse.
Just Say No
If you are old enough, the phrase “Just Say No” may have brought back some good ol’ DARE memories. While I certainly laugh at how unsuccessful that program was in my life, I am certainly a fan of the simplicity of “Just Say No.” Old friend asks me to go to the bar? “No.” People want me to go to a party while I’m already done being around people? “No.” No is a beautiful word, and sentence.
I recently heard a podcast, “Insights on Communicating Boundaries” by Kyla Cofer, where I learned something simple yet profound. I do not have to explain my reason behind saying “No.” My no, and your no, is enough. Now, I tend to be a people pleaser and will offer a reason. But even a simple “I don’t want to” is valid too. You simply do not have to go to every single activity or visit old haunts. No is a powerful tool.
Plan Ahead for Your Needs
Whether you are planning a trip back or home or simply driving down the road, it’s important to think about the boundaries you need for your recovery. Pack your toolbox, identify your safe places and people, create an escape plan, and know that it’s ok to simply say no. Remember you are never alone, and your recovery is worth it.