I'm writing this because I need to hear it. I need to hear that it's OK to say NO. It's ok, it really is. But for a long time I didn't think it was ok to say no. When I was drinking and using, the word no was not really in my vocabulary in the traditional sense of the word. I prided myself on being spontaneous, wild, and ready to say "yes" at the drop of a hat. I said yes because I thought that's what people wanted to hear. I said yes because I thought people would like me more if I went along with their ideas or their plans. I said yes because I didn't want to be held back from anything. I said yes because I was extreme in every sense of the word. So when I got sober, I continued to say yes. I continued to overpack my schedule as had been my norm throughout my drinking years. It was even easier to overbook myself because I was able to show up for everything and not just skate by with a hangover. But I quickly found that this didn't work for me. You see, for years I had packed my schedule with activity after activity. In college I scheduled classes, studying, soccer, drinking, and socializing down to the minute. Free time was a foreign concept to me and so was self-care.
After I moved to Florida and started to attend 12 step meetings I learned a lot more about the importance of self-care and saying no. I believe for the first year of my sobriety I wanted to keep up my old facade of attending every social gathering, maintaining several groups of friends, and people pleasing. I still didn't really know what it mean to say no. I didn't think I needed to. When I started hearing about self-care and being alone, I thought ok, but I don't need that. Being alone is something that never appealed to me in my drinking life, in fact I did everything I could to not spend time alone. Getting sober helped me find comfort in my own company. I started to love being alone, but I was still spending a lot of time participating in my packed social calendar and even overbooked myself with work hours. It wasn't long before I began to feel the pressure and the stress.
When I started working from home full time in March of 2015, I picked up as many hours as I could, only thinking about the money and what I needed to be saving and spending. It didn't occur to me to analyze how much my work is really worth, ask for more money, and cut myself off at a certain number of projects and hours in order to save my sanity and have time available to do house work, relax, and spend time with family and friends.
When we moved to Cape Coral I joined the local Democratic Women's Club, who I became heavily involved with and of course they were enthusiastic about having me. But that meant that they were asking me to immediately take on commitments like community outreach chair, Facebook editor, press release writer, and the list goes on. The same thing happened at my 12 step meetings. I was asked to be treasurer and commit to chairing meetings. I was asked to be on the board of my local drug prevention committee here in Lee County. And that doesn't include being asked to write for countless websites via sober señorita and be a guest on podcasts, answer emails, etc. There was no time for me to spend with my partner, to relax, or just BE.
I hate to complain about being asked to do so many amazing things, or having an over abundance of work options, but because I was incapable of saying no, these factors contributed to a lot of personal stress. I couldn't enjoy any of it because I was micromanaging every minute of my life and worrying about getting to the next activity or completing the next assignment on time. I knew I had to start saying no to things, but I felt guilty for wanting to, and for possibly letting people down in the process.
Recently, I started turning down work and getting rid of the work that made me the least amount of money for my time. I finally made a pact to myself that I would not write anything for free anymore, which is huge for me! This might come as a surprise to many, but yes I had been writing some blogs or content for free when friends or acquaintances asked me to. I finally realized that I am a writer and this is my trade, how I make money, and that it's not ok for me to be giving away my services.
After talking with a good friend, she told me something I'll never forget, "you don't owe anyone anything." I thought to myself in that moment; I don't have a social responsibility to people who ask me to hang out or commit to responsibilities that I can't fulfill. I shouldn't feel bad about taking into consideration my precious time, my goals, and my bottom line.
The problem was, I wasn't comfortable with saying no. Saying no can be very uncomfortable! But I had to learn how in order to keep my sanity, and to keep the boundaries I was slowly building for my new sober life. If I had any hopes of lowering my stress levels and having time left over to do the things I wanted to do: go to the beach, relax with my partner, see my nephews, and write a book, I had to say no to other things.
Unfortunately, there is never going to be enough time in the day for all of the things I want to do. I must pick and choose, or I will be forever overbooking myself and never enjoying any of the thousands of activities I sign up for. I shouldn't feel guilty for defining my priorities and making choices that will bring me closer to my goals. I shouldn't feel an invisible responsibility to people, situations, and commitments, that I don't need to have.
So yes, it's ok to say NO. I have to say no. I can't go around saying yes to everything and thinking there won't be any consequences, because the person who will suffer in the end is me. I'll never be able to get where I want to go, plan a wedding, move into a new house, show up for my nephews, and write a book, if I'm saying yes to every opportunity or favor that is sent my way. I can easily lose sight of what's important to me, my recovery, and my self-care.
Saying no is one of the most integral parts of my recovery and to my everyday self-care and self-worth. I am worth it. My time is precious and I need to handle it with care. There is nothing wrong with saying NO. I encourage you to start saying it more often and with authority. The alternative is driving ourselves crazy with resentments, an overpacked schedule, and lack of gratitude for living in the moment. Don't let this happen to you, say NO!