Death and taxes- they are the only two guarantees in this strange journey we call life. Of course, if you play your proverbial cards right, you can evade one of them. But death? That one is inevitable- it’ll happen to you and every single person you love- in a perfectly imperfect, randomized order.
We can logically know it’s coming- because it’s the end sentence for all of us- but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying.
Experiencing loss is challenging, but feeling the emotions associated with loss can feel impossible.
When someone has consistently relied on the mood-altering effects of drugs and alcohol to suppress pain, the thought of coping without these crutches can feel insurmountable.
Understanding the Grief Process (And Its Parallel Themes with Addiction Recovery)
Even though some mental health professionals disagree on the legendary Elisabeth Kubler-Ross stages of grief, I do believe these stages provide invaluable psychoeducation for what happens to us when we lose someone we love.
Denial: This is usually the first step, and it’s actually intended as a form of self-protection. When we’re in denial, we feel shocked or numb. Life seems meaningless. We can’t accept the reality of what’s happened. We see this process with addiction. In the thick of the problem, it’s hard to recognize that a problem exists at all.
Anger: The thought of actually feeling anger may seem contradictory. After all, we live in a society where we’re often expected to “look good.” But death evokes a sense of anger and injustice- it may even evoke a rage if we don’t agree with the circumstances.
Bargaining: In the face of death, we offer ourselves to God and create lofty promises and plans. We offer to bargain and lose ourselves in the abysses of If only or what if. We see this process with addiction as well. Those struggling plead for change, promise never to drink or use again, create bargains with themselves and others in exchange for serenity.
Depression: The depression is the painful stage, and it feels like it may last forever. Depression feels like a state of hollowed emptiness; it’s a state of apathy and sadness. Compare that process to that of addiction. Once someone entirely comes to terms with the severity of addiction, it’s normal to feel depressed about the missed opportunities missed and an uncertain future.
Acceptance: What keeps someone sober and fulfilled? Acceptance. What moves someone through grief? At some point, it’s also acceptance. That doesn’t mean that you’re okay or satisfied with the loss. It doesn’t mean that you don’t feel sad or angry or that you don’t still question what happened- but it does mean that you recognize that your new reality is the permanent reality.
This matters in your recovery from addiction, and it matters in your grief recovery as well. Loss can be painstakingly gruesome- being alone often just isolates you with your own negative thoughts and self-destructive behaviors.
Support doesn’t fix the pain, but it does provide relief from it. Stay connected with loved ones. Reach out for professional guidance. Share your feelings.
You don’t need to look for viable solutions, but you should look for places where you can efel heard and understood.
Find Small Ways to Cope Through Your Routine
In the aftermath of grief, it’s okay to feel sad and disconnected. You shouldn’t place too many grandiose expectations on yourself for healing.
But by committing to a routine- whether it’s your meetings, hitting the gym a few times a week, or creating a standing lunch appointment with friends, it’s essential that you pad yourself with different forms of coping.
Routine keeps your life in balance- when your emotions won’t feel balanced. Again, this is not about cures or quick fixes. It’s about finding sanity in a time that may feel utterly insane.