For people in recovery, feeling our feelings is extremely uncomfortable. The use of alcohol and/or drugs was our main coping mechanism to eliminate uncomfortable feelings. It is often stated in recovery settings, “feel your feelings”. Yet, how is that manageable without alcohol and/or drugs?
One of the biggest mistakes we can make in recovery is to deny the unsettling emotional state in which we find ourselves. As in our active addiction, we dismiss our feelings or try to stuff them. It is common to view our feelings as unjustified, unreasonable, or even unimportant. Even more common in recovery is to avoid or deny our feelings.
One thing is for sure, our feelings do not go away. They will return in a haunting way to remind of us we need to address them. In sobriety, especially early sobriety, our feelings come flooding back, and it’s hard to navigate through them. However, it is vital to be gentle with ourselves as we sort through these feelings honestly and courageously.
So, where does grief play a part in sorting through these feelings? “When we give up an addiction, we give up more than alcohol and/or drugs. We give up a confidant and a friend; a constant companion and comfort; as well as a means of navigating (however ineffectively) through life”.
Even though in sobriety we begin to feel physically, emotionally and spiritually better, we will still feel an overwhelming sense of loss, and even sadness as we process our feelings and progress in recovery. By not processing these feelings, it is easy to fall into depression in sobriety that can inevitably lead us back to active addiction. Addressing and moving through grief and loss is a huge part of the process in recovery. It is important to engage in a healthy way to bring closure to lives in addiction.
Similar to losing a love one to death, the relationship we have with our addiction is deep, intimate and entangled. It is a real sense of loss that must be approached and processed in a healthy way so we can find peace and have closure needed to start a healthy life in recovery.
We all have a uniqueness to how we grieve, yet there are some universal ways in which we grieve. The stages of grief are universal, yet the length of time one need to move through these stages are individual to that person, and their situation. It is important to have patience with yourself as it is common to go through more than one stage at a time.
The Five Stages of Grief
It is a very common feeling to initially be in denial of our addiction, and that recovery is necessary. It is also common in early sobriety to deny our emotions are getting the best of us. We absolutely do not want to feel our feelings, or even acknowledge that we are having the feelings. Rather than share what we are feeling, we will isolate or pretend the feelings don’t exist.
In recovery we may experience one of two types of anger; raged-filled anger or stuffers. We are either continuously angry, or pretending we are not angry. We are people that want to have it our way, and will do what it takes to get our way. When we give up alcohol and/or drugs, anger, even among the meekest of us, is unavoidable.
Most of us has lived in our active addiction in some state of bargaining. We would consistently try to control our alcohol and/or drug use to appear as normal user. However, when we find that recovery is necessary, we will still try to bargain, looking for loopholes where can still use alcohol and/or drugs without a calamity that will inevitably destroy us.
The sense of complete hopelessness and sadness is common for us to experience in early sobriety. Some of us cannot image a life without alcohol and/or drugs. Even worse, what would the future look like? This is the phase where we can experience some depression and despair. Don’t fret. This phase will not last. With honesty, and becoming open to work through this phase with a professional or a peer in recovery will be the great revealer that what we are feeling is normal.
At last! We come to the phase in our journey where we experience a freedom like none other. We accept we are an addict, and active alcohol and/or drug use is not an option for us. Life begins to come together for us. We are honest about our addictions, and begin to live peacefully and in harmony without alcohol and/or drugs. We have found the gift of acceptance!!!
Beyond the “Five Stages of Grief”, the journey can continue by exploring the, “Four Gifts of Grief”; forgiveness, love, gratitude and farewell. The gifts of grief allows the pain to pass, and we can to let go and live a life of beauty and serenity in our acceptance.
Gwen Henderson, MA
A Person in Long-Term Recovery
Canyon Crossing Recovery