Learning to Say No in Addiction Recovery

February 2, 2012 Kendra Sebelius

In years past, I was a yes person. Whenever I was asked to take on a new project, help contribute to something, be part of an event, I would say yes without thinking. I had no idea there was any issue in this. This seemed in stark contrast to early addiction recovery. When in early sobriety, I was able to take care of me, and make things simple. I knew what I needed to do, whether it was to go to meetings, see my therapist, get enough sleep, not go out on weekends, surround myself by supportive people, etc.

Saying Yes in Recovery From an Addiction

As the years in sobriety and recovery continued, I became an activist, advocate, writer, mentor, and wore various other hats in the fields of addiction, mood disorders, and eating disorders, because I not only wanted to help people through the process, but to give hope, and create awareness surrounding these issues. What started out as a single twitter, where I was hoping to just connect with people on a one-to-one basis, grew into something so beautiful and amazing.

I networked with individuals struggling, those in recovery, other advocates, professionals in the field, researchers, and went to conferences, wrote a well-received blog, and was asked to be part of the HealthyPlace writing team. All of these I consider to be gifts and blessings in recovery. I was saying yes to a lot of things, and eventually had to take some time to re-consider all of the hats I was wearing, because I was tired, and had no time to take care of my own needs.

But Giving Back is the Work of Sobriety

We are told in addiction recovery, that giving back to others is part of the process that not only helps spread the word of recovery and sobriety, but helps keep us on the path. However – we must remember to come back to taking care of ourselves and setting boundaries. Perhaps this means we can only have one mentee, one sponsee, in order to give what they may need, while also taking time for our own sobriety. Also, I believe it is important that no matter where we are in recovery, or sobriety, we need to have mentors, role models, support systems in a variety of areas in our life.

Signs it is Time to Say No

Often we need to say no when we feel we are doing too much! We feel exhausted, overextended, and constantly feel there isn’t enough time in the day to even take a break for ourselves. If you feel you are giving to others all day and cannot fit in at least a half an hour of self-care time, then the time is to start re-evaluate the commitments you have made, and consider saying no to future commitments.

Feeling Guilty About Saying No

When I first started using my voice and saying no when requests would come in, it felt awkward! I felt bad, like I should be able to say yes. I felt like I was letting people down, and being selfish by saying no. It was uncomfortable for a few months, and then something shifted within me. It started to feel more natural, and actually felt empowering. Whenever we begin something new in sobriety, it will feel awkward and uncomfortable.

Look at how long it took to become comfortable in social settings without a cocktail in hand; or being the only sober person in the room, or the default go to designated driver (you can learn to say no to this as well since I know it can get old real fast). It takes practice, practice and practice.

Saying No is an Investment in Your Recovery

We are our own best caretaker, even if we do not know it or practice it. We may be hard on ourselves, have to monitor our self-talk, and work through triggers and struggles, but through it all we are capable people who can take care of ourselves in body, mind and soul. When we begin to pursue a life full of compassion and love for ourselves, and our own needs, we can make choices that better embrace this spirit.

Self-care and setting boundaries on how and what we spend our time on does not mean we are self-centered, or not giving enough to others, it means that we are willing to make an investment not only to ourselves, but to our own journey in sobriety and recovery.

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APA Reference
Sebelius, K. (2012, February 2). Learning to Say No in Addiction Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Kendra Sebelius

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