One of the most straight forward and time-saving boundaries I use when dealing with someone with substance use disorder is matching the level of energy someone else puts in.
I love helping people. For a long time, my love for helping people cost me so much time and energy, and I feel like I rarely got a return on investment.
I was left feeling resentful, exhausted, discouraged, and skeptical of everyone. Throughout the years, I have become more aware of where I put my energy.
I mentor a lot of people who enter into recovery. The very first boundary I set for them and remind them of is that I will not put more energy into their recovery than they do. I will match their level of commitment.
That seems simple enough, right? It is simple. It just isn't always clear if you don't have measurable outcomes.
I started getting in the habit of giving them tasks, tasks that can easily be measured. Tasks such as reading recovery literature, watching recovery videos, making them write a gratitude list. If they don't do simple things, I know how much energy I will give them.
When they come to me with the same problems over and over and aren't willing to take action to change anything, we don't talk about that subject anymore. It doesn't mean I cut them off; it means that I politely remind them that if they aren't willing to do anything to change it, then we aren't going to spend any more energy talking about it.
For you, they may be asking for help. When someone asks for help, that is GREAT. What we tend to do, though, is rush in and do all the footwork for them. We find them the rehab, we get into the car and drive them, we pay for the rehab, and they are left with very little skin in the game, so to speak.
I tell families to be proactive with what actions they are going to take and where they will send people to when their loved ones come to ask them for help. It's important not to be scrambling at the last minute.
Let’s also remember to allow them a chance to have some skin in the game. Let them make the phone calls. Have conversations with them about the conditions under which you are setting so that you don’t end up putting more energy into their recovery than they do. You can help guide them; you can even help them find other people like myself to talk to that can help lead them in the right direction.
I saved myself so much time, energy, resentment, and disappointment when I allow them to do all the heavy lifting. I have to remember they won’t get stronger if I am lifting their weights for them.
If they ask something of you, ask them to do something in return. If they don't do what you asked them to do, they don't get what they asked for.
Another simple way to look at this is as an exchange. What is the exchange? Before you spend one more cent on your loved one, think about the exchange. Support and help should come with some exchange and/or clear agreement. Not for your benefit, for theirs.
For example, I work with people in early recovery to help bridge the gap and teach people how to enter back into society and a recovery community. My condition and agreement with the family is their loved one has to pay them back for my services. The conditions are up to the family to set, so whether they work it out through labor activities like cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, or actually exchanging money is up to them. It doesn't matter if it takes 2 years or more to pay it back; the important thing is their loved one is forced to decide if they want to invest in themselves or not and put the effort in changing their own lives.
There is an exchange, agreement, and skin in the game. Plus, they are more likely to actually show up for themselves when they are paying for it. They are investing in their own future. It also removes the Parent/Child dynamic from the conversation and creates an adult to adult situation. After all, we want them to grow up and mature. This is, in part, how to do it.
I want you to remember this one boundary that will save you so much time and money. It will put the workload back on their shoulders where it belongs because they are the ones who need the strength and confidence to do the legwork. Whenever something comes up, I want you to pause and ask yourself, what is the exchange?
It can be difficult to see the exchange in certain situations or coming up with ideas, so if you are struggling with a situation you would like guidance on, always feel free to reach out to me. Send me an email at, firstname.lastname@example.org and let's talk.