When I sobered up in 2010, I went through the Kaiser Intensive Recovery Program in Walnut Creek, after having relapsed myself out of the Kaiser CDRP in Oakland. This is an intensive outpatient program, and sitting in two groups meant I was there all day, five days a week, for two months. It was excellent. Part of their program is a series of weekly Saturday seminars on a variety of recovery-related topics, and five years later I still occasionally attend these seminars to keep myself sharp, and so I don't forget where I was. Yesterday's topic was "Grief and Loss", given by a counselor who played a huge role in my own recovery, and who I try to see a couple times a year. I've seen this seminar several times, but it's different every time, and each time I attend I look at it from a slightly different point of view and I learn something new.
Grief can be a huge factor in addiction recovery, in several ways. We often experience losses related to our addictions - relationships, jobs, freedom, money, self-respect, the list goes on. We may also experience other kinds of losses that we did not fully deal with because of our addictions - deaths of friends and family members, for example. All of these losses can rise to the surface when we stop drinking and using, and can overwhelm us with sadness and trigger us to want to escape again by drinking and using. Early recovery can be very rough indeed.
But ironically, loss of our addiction can itself be a traumatic loss that must be grieved. There were terrible times, to be sure, but perhaps there were also good times that we associate with our drug of choice. We may miss the rituals, we may miss the predictable routines, we may miss people and places that we now need to stay away from, and we may miss the perceived relief the drugs provided. The relationship can be very conflicted, and while we know we must end it, part of us wishes we could fix it instead, stop the negative consequences but keep the good times.
It's a lot like a divorce, and having been through that process too I can see the similarities. You hate your former spouse, but you love her too. Why can't things be like they used to be? But they cannot, and it is important to accept that reality and move on. We can grieve, but the relationship needs to end or we cannot be happy.
And more, can we think of post-acute withdrawal in part as a grieving process? There are common symptoms that many people experience over the first two years or so of sobriety, but there are also similar common symptoms that people who end long relationships experience, and the time frame is often also around two years. Perhaps the analogy between ending addiction and ending a marriage is closer than we realize.
Abstinence. Personal Empowerment. Support. Inclusiveness. www.freestylerecovery.org.