How to Say No to Others When You're Helping Yourself

By

Sober Recovery Expert Author

When you’re sober, you learn to say no to a lot of things. You say no to drugs and alcohol. You say no to old friends. You say no to old stomping grounds. One of the reasons why you can stay so strong is the support you receive from family and friends.

Since they actively help you stay sober, it’s natural to want to repay them somehow. While we bend over backwards trying to scrounge up every ounce of forgiveness we think we deserve by doing favors, helping out and paying for meals, the danger comes when we run out of energy for ourselves.

After family and friends have helped you in your recovery, it's normal to want to give back. However, personal burnouts is a real thing and sobriety is on the line if you don't care for yourself first.

Why do we stretch ourselves so thin? Part of the reason is the effort we see our family and friends put into our recovery, but most of it is because we somehow think we can’t—or don’t deserve—to say no.

Why 'No' is a Good Thing

In a way, our loved ones do deserve repayment for their investment in our sobriety. This looks different for everybody. Some people pay their families back financially while others volunteer their time and assistance when someone asks for help. However, when attempting to get back in someone’s good graces, we sometimes forget that it’s okay to say no.

Saying no is a healthy way to remember that you come first, even after you’ve been sober for six months or ten years. Taking time for yourself is an important piece of the sobriety puzzle that you will constantly be putting together for the rest of your life.

It’s like the directions we get in pre-flight safety guides: you put your air mask on first before putting on anyone else’s. The idea is that you can’t help out a friend or neighbor if you’re gasping for air yourself.

The loved ones who matter will understand that saying no doesn’t equal ambivalence. It just means that you have your own priority to tend to. Your goal is NOT to please everybody, which is impossible to do but easy to believe. Just remember, saying yes to one person is saying no to yourself in that moment.

Time is the most valuable thing you can give to someone and you deserve time to yourself as much as anybody else.

Ways to Do It

It’s hard to figure out how to make a decision when standing at a crossroads of yes or no. It’s even harder figuring out how to do it kindly. Sometimes we get caught up in creating the best excuse or story to tell, but lying is also a part of our addictive behavior and not fair to you or the other person.

A better way of letting someone down easy is to be polite. Gentle words let the person know that you would help if you didn’t have other obligations.

Be sure to stand strong with your response. If someone is trying to guilt you into saying no, be firm and tell them that you’re unable to help at that time. Somebody who cares about you as much as you care about them will be more than understanding and will not need to know why. There is no reason to go into any further detail, unless you are comfortable sharing your plans.

As for the method of delivery, use whatever form of communication that you’re most comfortable with. If you prefer speaking over the phone or sending a text message, that’s okay. If it’s someone close to you or a sensitive situation, you may lean towards a face-to-face conversation. The most important thing is that you do what you feel comfortable doing.

When to Say Yes

Not to be mistaken, helping others is obviously a good thing. Plus, you usually feel good doing it. Whenever you’re able to do something for another person, you should take the opportunity because it not only benefits them but yourself as well. If you have the extra time and don’t mind doing a little work, saying yes and helping others will keep you humble.

The trick to saying yes is to only do it if you’re truly available. The magic words only work when you aren’t busy or have other plans. If you have other obligations, do not hesitate to attend to them—your happiness and well-being matter as well. Taking care of yourself is just as important as helping out a loved one.

To smooth out the process, try making a list of things you enjoy doing or would say yes to. If you get hives from grass, mowing your neighbor’s lawn may not be the best decision. Of course, not all activities you do for others will be fun. Helping a friend move can be strenuous work but it’s also a great way to give back.

Once you are able to say no to things you cannot commit to, you actually make room for quality ‘yes’ moments that you can fully invest in and enjoy.

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