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Just say no!
December 5, 2016

Recovery Milestone #3: Being Able to Say “No”

Just say no!This month we’ve been looking at important milestones in recovery: sober anniversaries (and finding opportunities to celebrate them) were one; gratitude (and practical ways to cultivate it) were another; and this week we look at a third critical milestone in recovery — namely, learning to say “no.”

Why Being Able to Say “No” Is Important to Your Recovery

Being able to say “no” is a critical milestone in the journey to freedom from drugs and alcohol, for a number of reasons. First, the capacity to say “no” to various demands on time, priorities and health is one important component of a healthy lifestyle and a helpful technique for relieving stress, according to a Mayo Clinic report. Those who find it hard to say “no” are more apt to let the daily stresses and pressures of life become unmanageable. Feeling overburdened and overtaxed, they in turn can become more susceptible to stress-related health problems, among them, substance abuse and other mental disorders. The result is a drain on quality of life and, for those with a substance use disorder (SUD), higher chances of relapse.

Second, being able to say “no” — keeping healthy boundaries — is a measure of self-confidence and self-esteem. People with lower levels of self-confidence and self-esteem tend to rate the needs and feelings of others before their own. They are more prone to be anxious about the ramifications of issuing a “no.” But being one’s self really means not trying to be all things to all people. And for those in recovery, learning to love oneself starts with a respect for personal limits and an assurance of intrinsic self-worth that ultimately does not depend on what others think.

Third, being able to say “no” can be a sign that you have overcome dysfunctional patterns of relating inherited from your family of origin. For example, maybe you imbibed the message growing up that your value and lovbility depended on what you could do or achieve for a parent. Learning to say “no” to certain parental requests can be a sign of healing and self-growth.

Finally, and maybe most obviously, saying “no” is crucial when it comes to overcoming at least one big trigger of substance abuse: invitations to use drugs or alcohol (be they from the same friends you used to drink or do drugs with or from others in new social situations). The ability to decline others’ offers to drink or do drugs is necessary to relapse resilience and successful long-term recovery.

Tips for Saying “No”

Saying “no” to a request or invitation that conflicts with our value system or is a risk to our health can be challenging for many of us. Here are some hopefully helpful tips for how to practice. They come from the social psychologist, Dr. Susan Newman, who authored the book, The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It — and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever. In an interview with the popular blogger and psychologist Dr. Irene Levine, Dr. Newman shared the following pointers:

  • “Always be polite. Use phrases such as, ‘Wish I could, but I can’t.’ Or, ‘I know this is important to you, but there’s no way.’ Or, “thank you for asking, but I have to say NO.’
  • Be firm and don’t offer explanations and excuses, which will open up room for the person to keep pressuring you.
  • Don’t apologize; save the ‘I’m sorry’ for the time you really do something wrong.
  • Don’t gild your NO with a lie or pad it with lame excuses. That’s counterproductive because in all likelihood you will feel guilty about your fabrications and that’s precisely what you are trying to avoid.”
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