Grief in Early Recovery

grief in early recovery

R.I.P., Neatly Evading Reality

We drink because we like the effect produced by alcohol. We get high because we don’t know how else to cope. We’re in pain – a lot of it, and no one really understands. They say they do. They say, “There are other people like you, people who can help you.” Sometimes we go to the meetings and we sit and we pretend to listen, just to get them to shut up. To get them off our backs. We can’t relate. Everyone is smiling and laughing and talking about God. They must be putting something in the coffee. We get drunk again. We get high again. Trying to imagine life without booze and pills and dope and weed is like trying to imagine life without arms and legs. Actually, no. It’s unfathomable.

On Second Thought… Who Needs Arms?

And then something happens. The booze and the pills and the dope and the weed stop working. We take more and more and nothing works; no amount can adequately numb. We’ve built an emotional tolerance. That indescribable sinking feeling lingers all day long. Our saturated brains shout profanities; tell us we’re worthless and evil and bad. That excruciating feeling – good God, that throbbing, aching void deep in the pit of the soul. We desperately try drown it and anesthetize it and run it deep, deep underground but it remains. We reach that sick and precarious point between life and death that so many of us reach. Sloppily sewn together with that corroding thread of fear and manic insanity, falling apart at the seams and screaming and not caring if we die but not fully committed to such an irreversible solution.

So What Are Our Options?

Okay, so what, then? What are the options? Continued agony and eventual death, or change. Unrelenting misery at the hands of chemical substance, or an entirely better way of life. And we ponder this! We weigh the options. Sometimes, pumping our frail and vacant bodies full of poison until we collapse seems a more logical alternative, yet this is only because our minds and spirits are so tarnished by years of dishonesty, manipulation, and compromised morality. We might experience a fleeting moment of clarity – of grace – during which we comprehend the possibility of healing and making a full recovery. During these little ephemeral moments, we become willing, and we finally commit to change. And thus the journey begins.

Grief is an almost fundamental part of early recovery. Not only are we grieving the loss of our only known comfort and relief, but we are also finally faced with all of the underlying pain that has kept us sick and intoxicated for so very long. Let us first take a look at the grief that comes with mourning the loss of the drink or the drug itself.

Grieving the Loss of Alcohol

Alcohol was essentially my best friend. I adamantly set fire to every remaining bridge in my little life, knowing that booze would be there to console me. Vodka was there to help me through the loss of my first long-term romantic relationship. Cheap wine was there to help me forget about all of the past trauma (sexual abuse and whatever else), and tasteless beer was there to help me stifle the pain of being a screw-up and a drop-out and a low-life. I screwed someone over, I drank and forgot. Facing reality was something that I was able to neatly evade with alcohol by my side. No worries. It’s all good. I mean, it wasn’t all good at all – but deep-seated denial had become another close friend.

Grief – A 5-Step Process

And then I couldn’t drown it out, and the misery stayed with me always. And then I wound up in a psych ward far away from home, and woke up soon thereafter in a Florida drug rehab. And they told me I could never drink again. “One day at a time,” they said. I knew they meant, “Never again for the rest of your life.” Drinking was all I knew. Drastic change is terrifying, and I was terrified. I didn’t know how to process my feelings, how to communicate with another human being, or how to function as an adult in the real world. Self-sufficiency was a skill I had never learned, and honestly discussing my emotional state seemed nothing short of impossible.

I was in denial for quite some time, convinced (at least superficially) that I didn’t really have a problem. I got angry sitting in group sessions. Being told that I was an alcoholic severely compromised by delusional beliefs, and that angered me. “Who are you to tell me what I am?” I didn’t want to be an alcoholic. Fuck that. I didn’t want to sit in AA meetings for the rest of my life, I didn’t want to sit at home alone while all of my friends went bar-hopping. It wasn’t fair. Why did I have to be an ‘alcoholic’ while all of my friends were out there successfully getting trashed? I began to obsess about ways in which I could drink normally. I could learn moderation. I could. I could only drink on the weekends, or maintain sobriety for a year and then try my hand at controlled drinking. I mean, right? Maybe I could still smoke weed or occasionally take Adderall, so long as I steered clear of the hard stuff. And then the depression began to settle in, like a thick gray layer of heavy LA smog. I began to grieve the loss of my former self. I began to grieve the loss of $3 Long Islands on Thursday nights, and of all of that shallow, short-term validation I squeezed from one-night stands. I grieved because I recognized for the first time that I had no idea how to function as a human adult. I had squandered years of my precious life in a prolonged black out. My parents were disappointed in me. I had no friends. I had no career, no passion or drive. I was alive (just barely), but I hadn’t lived since I was 15 years old.

I was contributing nothing.

And finally, after a long and painful process, I accepted that in order to lead a fulfilling and contented life, I would need to learn how to stay sober. I would need to recover from the cunning disease that had unwittingly stripped me of all innate humanity. I accepted this, for the first time I truly accepted this. And thus I had successfully grieved the loss of alcohol, and I thought that the heartache was over.

And then, like molten lava breaking free from the core of the earth, all of the pain that I had been stifling since the first drink bubbled up within me and broke through the surface. Childhood trauma and fear and abandonment and bad body-image and sexual abuse climbed up and poured out, and I was left with a whole new set of experiences to grieve. Raw and vulnerable and afraid, I was being asked not only to acknowledge all of the hurt I had buried, but to dig it up and lay it out to dry. And so I did, because I wanted to be a productive member of society. I wanted my parents to hug me and kiss me and congratulate me, not bury me deep underground. I wanted to fall in love and get married and get promoted and travel. I wanted to live, and therefore I needed to grieve.

Addiction Recovery and The Grieving Process

Grief is an inevitable part of early recovery – and an inevitable part of life. Learning to grieve in a safe and protected environment, such as an inpatient treatment center, will help to set you up for healthy grieving later on. Grief is a natural process, and everyone will likely experience it at one point or another – regardless of personal history. However, the average alcoholic tends to forcibly avoid this natural process, leaving him unnecessarily sick and distraught for years. While there is no way to dictate the mourning timeline (some individuals may remain in denial or anger for years while others move to acceptance quite quickly), surrounding yourself with supportive peers and professionals will help. Processing through all of your past trauma and loss in a therapeutic setting is crucial to laying a solid and lasting foundation for long-term sobriety. For more information on our program of recovery or on experiencing grief in early sobriety, please fell free to contact us today.