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Are You a Doormat in Recovery? How to Be More Assertive Now

Person feeling drained while trying to recover.

Do you find yourself agreeing to do things you don’t want to do? Do you pipe up in conversations like you are on board with what everyone is saying even if you disagree? Do you stay quiet around new groups of people until you have a feel for what to say?

If you struggle with being a people pleaser or feel like people won’t like you if you don’t fill in where they need someone even if agreeing to help means you are double-booked, exhausted, or resentful, you are not alone. Especially in early recovery, people often feel unsure of themselves and who they are. They may look to the people around them in their recovery community to help them define their path forward. While this is a great way to get started, it is important to have boundaries on your time and energy as well.

The good news is that you can show up for your community, be open to suggestion, and still prioritize your own health and wellness without being rude or putting people off.

  1. Take care of yourself first. Many financial experts recommend that the first thing you do with your paycheck is to cut off the chunk you want to save and put it away. By prioritizing yourself, you make sure you get what you need, and if your paycheck runs out before you get to everything on your list, at least you know you have savings working for you.
    In the same way, it is recommended that you start your day by taking care of yourself. Go for a walk, hit the gym, do some yoga, and have a good breakfast to make sure you are maintaining your own wellness before you start expending your energy on other people’s needs. Similarly, when you are writing things into your schedule, make sure you block off time for you—workouts, therapy appointments, 12-step meetings, and whatever time you need to stay healthy.
  2. Give yourself time to think. When you get a text or an email asking you to take someone to the airport, bring coffee to the meeting, or fill in for someone at work, give yourself time to think before you respond. Really consider if you have the time and energy to fill the request and if it will help you in some way as well (e.g., time to talk to a friend on the way to the airport, a way to get rid of extra coffee you have, or more money to help you reach a financial goal) before you respond.
  3. Suggest a different solution. If you are unable to do something that someone has requested of you, or if you know that agreeing to help out will only make you feel exhausted or irritated, try to suggest an alternative. For example, if they need a ride to the airport, you might suggest calling an airport ride service that is cheaper than calling a cab or an Uber. Point out that someone you know has a car and needs gas money, and if they wanted to help out, that could be an option, too.
  4. Be patient with yourself. Do not judge yourself harshly for giving yourself the space and time you need to take care of yourself, your sobriety, and your family and friends first. Yes, it is true that it is important for you to give back to your sober community and to volunteer in the larger community as well, but it is also necessary for you to make sure that you are not putting your own recovery at risk by overextending yourself or stressing yourself out.
  5. Know that other people’s happiness is not your responsibility. The only person you can control is yourself. It is not your job to make sure that everyone around you is happy and taken care of, no matter how much you love them or how much you want to be friends. If you can help, great! Go for it. If not, let yourself off the hook and know that your wellbeing is your first priority as long as no harm or abuse will befall someone else when you say “no.”

Infographic about how to politely decline someone's request.

How are you working to prioritize your emotional and physical health and wellness in recovery while also working to build strong connections with other people? What tools do you use to strike a balance in recovery?