Loss & Grief Issues in Addiction & Recovery

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Giving up an addiction is often compared to experiencing a death or major loss.

It's not just a substance you're leaving behind, it's usually an entire way of life, a social circle and a set of attitudes and beliefs you've carried with you over a long period of time.

Comparing recovery to the five states of grief, we can see that leaving addiction behind is a process - and one we must honor no matter where we are on that path.

1. Denial

Denial is part of the recovery process. Even after we decide to get help, there will probably be times we tell ourselves we don't really have a problem. Denial will come and go during recovery, so it's important to understand that it's just part of the process. We don't want to believe that the substance or behavior we loved so much is gone for good.

2. Anger

Similar to what we experience when a loved one dies or when we suffer a major loss, anger becomes the second stage of grieving. We may be angry that we can no longer do the things we used to in our addiction or that we have to so radically change our lives. It can be a tough reality to face, and it's easy to be mad at the world. Realize that a period of anger is unavoidable. Let it be and let it pass.

3. Bargaining

Continuing the pattern we probably followed when we were in our addiction, we will probably start to bargain with ourselves or the world in recovery: "If I get one more chance, I won't mess things up again. I can control my drinking/drug use/behavior." We want a loophole that will allow us to return to the addiction - but there isn't one.

4. Depression

Feelings of depression and hopelessness are normal responses to the end of an addiction. Just like in death, giving up an addiction poses a whole new set of emotional challenges, which can feel overwhelming and terrible at times. During this phase, it's important to allow our feelings, not stuff them or deny them. Move through the depression and eventually you'll come out on the other side.

5. Acceptance

Eventually we come to place of acceptance about our addiction. We realize that we can no longer hold on to the past, and we must move forward with a new attitude. At this stage, we realize that we'll never be able to drink or use drugs normally, and that's OK - there's a new way to live and we realize it's a better way.

Moving through the five stages of grief and loss takes time, and there's no set formula for how long it takes or navigating it successfully. Realize that honesty and accountability are your best assets in recovery. Stay connected with a support group or sponsor - this will help you move more gracefully through the stages and reach a place of acceptance.

Source: Addiction Treatment Magazine

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