There is a saying in the recovery world that goes something like this: “It’s okay to be selfish in early recovery.” There is truth to that statement! However, I learned partially by observation of how the matriarchs of my family function versus the combination of being told HOW to be and my adolescent perspective of survival. Ultimately being a woman—not a young girl or child—but being a woman, meant pushing through and always sacrificing yourself to make sure everyone and every task was taken care of before you can even begin to think of yourself.
Circling back to being “selfish in early recovery,” I’m still learning how to navigate and deal with the everyday expectations of my family; and to be honest the expectations that I have for myself as an individual. Being a person in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) and a person that also suffers from Major Depressive Disorder, it took trial and error, learned lessons, and lots of heated emotions before I realized that all I could do was try to be the best version of myself, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with my attitude or continence that day.
Keeping Inner Peace
My mother and grandmother always taught me that family is family, and until the end we take care of each other. Neither one mentioned if you have nothing left to give, don’t try to give—breaks are necessary. I had to learn that the hard way and by setting boundaries and realizing that we are all human, which means we all mess up and are naturally programmed to look out for ourselves.
For me, growing up in a family with multiple members suffering from alcoholism meant that whatever could be done to keep the peace, that’s just what you did. In full transparency, my husband—who is also in recovery from SUD and has a mental health diagnosis of Bipolar II with Ultra Rapid Cycling—and I are living in the same household that I was raised in with my parents, both of whom have recently been diagnosed with serious health issues within the past 6 months. In learning to keep my inner peace and not letting those triggers and/or thoughts of not being good enough, not being able to complete all the tasks on my to-do list, and not having the energy to simply throw laundry in the wash on those mentally and physically long days, I had to begin to let go of my taught view of failure, and how to deal with not living up to the expectations that were unknowingly set and ultimately defined “me.” If I could somehow find any way to not self-destruct, I was solid! Ironically, self-medication and my eventual active use led to the incorrect beliefs that I could not and would not ever be good enough.”
I had to learn to celebrate the small victories. I noticed thoughts begin to ruminate on every little comment about my performance as a wife, daughter, and employee. Especially on those days when I was scolded or criticized for how the dishes weren’t all done or if the trash was full again. It isn’t always easy to push yourself daily and to keep in the forefront of your mind that putting up boundaries is a safety measure for your mental health to stop yourself from going, going, going like the Energizer bunny. Some people are fortunate enough that this may not be the end-all be-all of their self-worth, and honestly no one should feel affected by other’s obligations and expectations. However, trauma and hurt are very real, and sometimes the emotional responses are involuntary—and as much as we may fight it, the words, emotions, and perceptions of how we are seen cause effect on our daily peace, and our personal environment.
Give Yourself Grace
Setting up boundaries to preserve your mental well-being is hard enough, and implementing them can be even more of a challenge. I remember when I was in an inpatient treatment facility one of the meeting facilitators said: “If you get push back when you set up a boundary, then you’re doing it right.” I didn’t fully understand this until I honestly and truly started using and grasping the power of NO. I was burning out, beyond irritated, and just dragging my way through with what I had left and ultimately lead me to start having those unworthy feelings of dark depression. It was different this time, I had a network and was having more frequent sessions with my therapist and was processing and realizing that I was not being aware of myself or being kind to myself.
Even 3 years into recovery, I’m still having to remind myself that even baby steps ARE still steps. Completing one goal off the list is progress, there is no timeline or deadline on becoming the best possible form of yourself. Again, we are human and that means we always have room for growth. No one is perfect, life is not and will never be easy breezy—there will be days where your best is 80% and there will be days that all you have to give is 20%, and that’s okay! Give yourself grace and commend yourself on the tasks you do get completed.
Jessica Bryant is a Peer Support Specialist with Youturn Health, who has personally been in recovery from SUD for the past 3 years. Jessica has a heart for helping people that suffer from substance use, depression, anxiety, and grief.
For more information on substance misuse, please check out our Substance Misuse resource page.