Recovery from addiction can be complicated for many reasons, grief being one of them. Grief is not reserved for loss of life; we experience grief when experiencing major life changes including relationships with alcohol and drugs.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross listed the five stages of grief as Shock/Denial, Sadness, Anger, Bargaining and Acceptance. Let’s look at each of these stages as they apply to substance dependency recovery.
Denial: This is where we all begin with any kind of grief. Denial is the biggest hurdle to recovery. Minimizing, or rationalizing statements are expressed in this stage. Examples: “I don’t bother anyone when I drink, I get up and go to work, and I never drink and drive…” These statements keep clients stuck in a pre-contemplative stage of recovery.
Sadness: You are asking yourself to give up what “seemed” a good friend. Substances may have helped with anxiety, avoiding uncomfortable situations and feelings; often this has been a solution that in some way worked.
Anger: It can be directed in several directions: anger at self, “how did I let myself get in this situation;” anger at situations in life, “if I wasn’t so stressed out at home or work I wouldn’t have to drink or use…” or anger about not being able to be a “normal drinker.”
Bargaining: I describe bargaining as, “I wish, I wish, what if, what if…” This is wishing for things to be different. Some clients want to change, but not if it’s hard, or may bargain to give up one substance, but not another. Other common statements are: “I’ll only take medication on my days off,” “What if I only have two drinks?”
Acceptance: With any form of grief, this is where we hope to arrive. In acceptance you embrace the change you need to make or have made and acknowledge the above feelings, without overwhelm.
When experiencing grief, there is no exact pattern; no right and wrong way or set length of time. You may move back and forth through these stages even within a day. Most important is feeling your grief; it does not simply disappear over time.
• Gigi Veasey, LCSW, LISAC, CCBT, is executive director of Alcohol Recovery Solutions, Inc. in Ahwatukee Foothills. She has a private practice and specializes in grief and loss. Reach Veasey at (480) 496-9760 or bigsteptorecovery.com.