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Boundaries around addiction
Adapted from Henry Clouds book on boundaries
It is important to identify and impose healthy boundaries around addiction and the chaos that it causes. Setting boundaries with addicted family members – Why do we keep moving them? And how do we know they’re an addict or alcoholic? Does that even matter?
The Twelve Steps and the Bible teach that people must admit that they are moral failures. Alcoholics admit that they are powerless over alcohol; they don’t have the fruit of self-control. They are powerless over their addiction, much like Paul was: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (Rom. 7:15, 19, 23). This is powerlessness. John says that we are all in that state, and that anyone that denies it is lying (1 John 1:8).
Though you do not have the power in and of yourself to overcome these patterns, you do have the power to do some things that will bring fruits of victory around boundaries around addiction in the long run.
Using your boundaries around addiction:
- You have the power to agree with the truth about your problems. In the Bible this is called “confession.” To confess means to “agree with.” You have the ability to at least say “that is me.” You may not be able to change it yet, but you can confess.
- You have the power to submit your inability to God. You always have the power to ask for help and yield. You have the power to humble yourself and turn your life over to Him and incorporate boundaries around addiction. You may not be able to make yourself well, but you can call the Doctor! The humbling of yourself commanded in the Bible is always coupled with great promises. If you do what you are able—confess, believe, and ask for help—God will do what you are unable to do—bring about change (1 John 1:9; James 4:7-10; Matt. 5:3, 6).
- You have the power to search and ask God and others to reveal more and more about what is within your boundaries around addiction.
- You have the power to turn from the evil that you find within you. This is called repentance, much of what the twelve steps stands for. It means starting over. It means changing the way you do things. This does not mean that you’ll be perfect; it means that you can see your sinful parts as aspects that you want to change by adding boundaries around addiction.
- You have the power to humble yourself and ask God and others to help you with your developmental injuries and leftover childhood needs. Many of your problematic parts come from being empty inside, and you need to seek God and others to have those needs met.
- You have the power to seek out those that you have injured and make amends. You need to do this in order to be responsible for yourself and your sin, and be responsible to those you have injured. Matthew 5:23-24 says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
On the other side of the coin, your boundaries around addiction help define what you do not have power over: everything outside of them! Listen to the way the serenity prayer (probably the best boundary prayer ever written) says it:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Now that you know what behavior is unacceptable to you, figure out what are some reasonable consequences if these boundaries are crossed. Setting boundaries is actually the easy part; it is enforcing them that is challenging. So many self-help articles on setting boundaries simply advise to point out to the alcoholic or addict when they have crossed the line-end of story. Truthfully, this isn’t very effective, as you’ve no doubt already told the alcoholic a million times not to be late or not to drive drunk or whatnot. In fact, you’ve probably asked every which way possible to the point of becoming a nag. A boundary without a consequence is worthless.