If an addict finally decides to kick their bad habit and make their way into recovery, what could they possibly have to grieve?
It might not seem like it at first, but recovering addicts actually have a lot to grieve. The actions and habits that have been the center of their lives are now things they can never do again. The only relief they previously knew is gone, and their life needs total repair. That’s a lot to take in, particularly at a time when they are in need of new coping mechanisms. Good thing is the necessary skills and tools to overcome loss while recovering are taught in most addiction recovery programs.
Will all the struggle and effort be worth it? Is sobriety a convincing goal? Faced with many uncertainties but motivated by hope, the recovering addict may be dismayed to find out that they may feel even worse for a while. Having to confront feelings and emotions that have long been bottled-up and take stock of the damages or losses brought on by their addiction, the recovering addict may be filled with the many emotions of the grieving process.
Accounting for the Loss
Everyone has experienced grief at some point in their life. It is an emotion that can arise any time an individual loses someone or something they value. For many alcoholics and addicts, unsettled grief, loss or trauma added to the addiction, and those emotions get compounded in early recovery when the addict gives up alcohol or drugs and starts to see all that they’ve lost to their addiction.
These are some examples of what the addict grieves in recovery:
- The drug itself, and the rapid, simple sense of excitement or euphoria it provided
- The old support system, often made up of other drug users
- Time spent seeking out drugs, which now must be occupied with healthier pursuits
- Rituals surrounding drug use
- Divorce, separation or loss of important relationships
- Loss of career, home and investments
- Missed time with family or loved ones who have grown up
- Being preoccupied for significant milestones in other people’s lives
- Loss of freedom
- Moral or values
- Loss of self-esteem
- Dreams or goals in life
5 Stages of Grieving
People may experience similar patterns, although grief is greatly individualized. These are the general stages of grieving:
- Denial– Denial is a defense mechanism that permits the addict to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and behaviors, and from knowing the effects of those actions.
- Anger – Giving up alcohol or drugs, and facing the truth that there are no other alternatives can inspire emotions of anger in even the gentlest people.
- Bargaining– In reply to the gradual realization that they have a problem, the addict begs for another opportunity, makes lies, excuses and promises that they will eventually change. The addict isn’t really ready to face the truth or ask for help. Bargaining is trying to keep the status quo without making any real change.
- Depression – Rather than try to turn away the attention from the addiction, the addict starts to understand that their behaviors have hurt people and that they have lost their control. This acknowledgement prompts feelings of sorrow, disgrace, and fear as the addict tries to anticipate a life without their main coping mechanism.
- Acceptance – In this stage, the addict now realizes that recovery is possible. They have an idea for how their life can be, and have initiated putting the pieces in place to reach their goals.