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Setting Boundaries in Sobriety: Lessons from Superman

by Jeffrey Juergens ❘  

What Superman Can Teach Us About Boundaries

177140077_58aabd8a1a_mWe all know who Superman is: he leaps over tall buildings, is faster than a speeding bullet, and always saves the day. However, he has a weakness: Kryptonite. Whenever he gets near it, he loses his power, becomes very weak, and the dark side wins.

I tell this story because it’s a great model for addiction that I have used with many patients over the years. Kryptonite in addiction is any person, place, or thing that weakens your recovery. In more common terms, Kryptonite may also be called triggers. For many people, these triggers come in the form of friends or “using buddies.” Kryptonite can also be a place, like a favorite bar or a parking spot where you used drugs. These Kryptonite people, places, and things can cause strong memories and urges to use, because they remind you of feeling good and covering up pain.

How to Avoid Your Kryptonite

To avoid Kryptonite, you must learn to set boundaries.

Boundary — A line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.

- The Oxford Dictionary

A boundary surrounds and protects. A fence is a good example—it protects what’s inside of it from some danger from the outside. Sometimes the fence is electric, if the goods inside are really valuable. The goods we are talking about here is your life; give yourself permission to set strong boundaries.

For the addict, it is important to construct this “fence” around themselves to avoid being damaged from outside Kryptonite. I often have patients imagine setting up an invisible force field around them, so that when they run into a tempting person, place, or thing, they are able to keep their recovery — which they have worked so hard to earn — safe.

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Some boundaries are physical objects. For example, the door to your home is a boundary. I once had a patient who said she had people knocking on her door early in her recovery to tempt her to use substances. I asked her why she kept opening her door and letting the Kryptonite in. She understood what I was saying and realized it was her choice whether to keep the door shut or open. That was a major step in her recovery.

The telephone is a boundary too. Patients say to me, “but my phone keeps ringing, my dealer/friend/buddy wants me to drink/buy drugs/use drugs.” Like the door, you have the choice to pick up the phone, ignore it, or change your phone number.

By choosing to talk to the Kryptonite person, you run the risk of relapse.

Examples of Boundary Statements:

  • “No thank you, I don’t drink alcohol/use drugs.”
  • “I’m not interested in talking to you.”
  • “I’ve told you to leave. If you do not leave, I will contact the police and have you removed.”
  • “I’ve moved on with my life. I don’t want or need what you are offering.”

As your recovery progresses, you will be better at saying no to Kryptonite. But Kryptonite is sneaky. It pretends to be your friend until it’s too late, because you let it get too close. By then you are on the ground, weak and vulnerable, like Superman.

The thought may creep into your head that says, “I can handle it, I can hang out with my old crew/place. I’ll just say no.” This is dangerous thinking that can lead to relapse. In recovery, you choose to move to another place in life, you choose to move forward out of the place you don’t want to be anymore. The challenge is that not everybody is ready to move forward with you. If you’re lucky, a friend will choose to move into recovery with you, but most times you are on your own.

It takes courage to move forward, and it can be a lonely road for a time. But the loneliness will end when you start to find other people, places and things that are healthy for you. You start to surround yourself with positive, healthy people, who often want the same things you do: a good job, family, relationships, health, money, and happiness. Maybe you will meet a lifelong friend in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or a social group where substances aren’t involved, like meetups for hiking or book clubs.

Like Superman or Superwoman, the sky’s the limit for you when you Say No to Kryptonite by setting boundaries. Try putting your hand up in a stop position and yelling “No!” It’s a powerful way to feel yourself setting a boundary. Or when you drive past an old favorite bar or using spot, keep your eyes straight ahead and move forward into your future instead of turning into your unhealthy past. Be like Superman, more powerful than a locomotive, when it comes to your recovery. So put that “S” on your chest; no one has to know it’s there but you!


About the Author: Brian Carberg, LPC, NCC, BCPC

Brian Carberg is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private counseling practice in Connecticut. He is a National Certified Counselor, a Board Certified Professional Counselor in the American Psychotherapy Association, and holds a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Counseling. He has been assisting people in their healing journeys since 1990, serving as a counselor and supervisor in various Mental Health and Addiction programs. For ten years he worked as a Substance Abuse Counselor and Supervisor in an outpatient treatment program for people addicted to heroin and other opiates. In his current private counseling practice, he thoroughly enjoys assisting clients in all stages of recovery from various addictions. He believes today can be the start of the life you want, if you are willing to do the work.

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