Addiction, NA, Narcotics Anonymous, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Compassion and Boundaries

In my relatively brief time in the Narcotics Anonymous program, I’ve had some rough lessons about the balance between demonstrating compassion, and maintaining healthy boundaries. There is a bumper sticker that exemplifies the balance I have struck. It reads “Yes, this is my truck. No, I won’t help you move!”

Whenever I see that bumper sticker I get a good little chuckle. I wonder how many times the owner of the truck was taken advantage of before drawing a line in the sand saying “no more.” How many long hot days of “just a little more.” How many cancelled plans because someone’s one hour project lasted all day.

Not only does this bumper sticker conjure up images of long days of trying to be helpful, but also images of resentments and strained relationships. Once close friends are now avoided because, over time it began to feel like the relationship was predicated on free use of the truck.

What started as an act of kindness or compassion became an assumed obligation. If you’ve ever purposely let a call go to voicemail because you saw it was from someone who only called when they needed a favor, you can likely relate to the message of that bumper sticker.

So, balancing compassion with healthy boundaries has become a necessity in my recovery. Here are just a few:

  • I am not a bank – this one seems pretty simple, but it took some hard lessons for me to learn that saying “no” to requests for money is a must for me. It’s hard for me because our family is so blessed. I have a great career, and have reaped the financial rewards of a lifetime of hard work despite my addiction. Helping a struggling addict in recovery once seemed like the least I could do, but I soon found that my “help” was becoming an expectation.
  • I am not an Uber driver – when someone needs a ride, I am likely to step up and offer, once. Even then, if my would be passenger doesn’t have significant clean time, I’ll have to decline. I’ve given rides before to people who, after the ride was over, I felt certain had drugs in their possession. I simply will not sacrifice all that I’ve worked for by gambling that my passenger isn’t carrying drugs.
  • I’m not your meal ticket – very early on in my recovery, I enjoyed picking up the tab after sharing a meal with a group of recovering addicts. Frankly, doing so was harmful in two ways. First, it was more of an ego boost for me than an act of generosity. Second, it became an expectation for some. Before long, I felt that repeat offenders were more interested in sharing a meal with my wallet than with me.
  • Ladies, I am not your… anything – I struggled with what word to fill in at the end of that sentence. After testing several, I found that none of them was sufficient. You see, I know myself well enough to know that women can be just as much of a vulnerability for me as drugs. It is my firm conviction that boundaries between the sexes in recovery need constant attention. I see too many men who enjoy hugging female members just a little too much. Likewise, I see too many female members who seem more interested in attracting the attention of men in the rooms than in actually recovering. I respect Amanda, myself, and our marriage too much to participate in such behavior.
  • I don’t do NA fundraisers – once, after attending a fundraiser for an NA event, I expressed interest in serving with the group responsible for organizing the event. It was something I was enthusiastic about, and event planning had been a part of my career in the past. It seemed like I had found a place in NA where I could make a difference. The desire to help came after the fundraiser, so my generous donation there was not an effort to “buy a seat at the table.” My motives were pure. Unfortunately, I was informed that I didn’t meet the clean-time requirement for serving on the committee. I felt as though I’d been told my money was welcome, but I was not. That resentment almost drove me from the fellowship. I won’t risk that one again.

Well Kent, you don’t sound like a very compassionate person. Sounds like you are as stingy as old Ebenezer Scrooge.

I suppose my list of “Don’ts” does seem a bit harsh. There are probably those who have no problem with lending money, giving rides, etc. It’s just that I have to be very selective in these areas. I know myself well, well enough to know that without boundaries, I can over-extend myself in any one of these areas, and end up risking my recovery as a result.

My list of “Don’ts” is only selfish in that it protects my recovery. It reflects the fact that I must show compassion to myself in certain areas, or there will be nothing for me to give in other areas. In part, these boundaries have made it possible to be more generous, a better friend, a truer husband.

Have a remarkable day!


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