Submitted by Mel Gaynor
Only those who are recovering from addiction, can truly understand the extent to which ending it can be almost like leaving an abusive relationship. When they first start using, the drug is an exciting escape, a rush, an intimate thrill. Once experimentation gives way to dependence, however, what once was so enthralling, gives way to feelings of shame, guilt and depression as relationships with significant others begin to crumble and the addict becomes caught in a spiral of lies, deceit and guilt.
Drugs take away everything we most value in life: our prized relationships with loved ones, our professions, our social networks… yet why is quitting accompanied by a strong sense of grief, as though one was losing a lover?
Grief therapy for addiction embraces the idea that ‘grief deprivation’, refusing the recovering addict the right to grieve for the things they most enjoyed about addiction, is counter-productive. It is a little like telling someone whose spouse has been unfaithful, to ‘forget them and get over it’. Even in unhealthy relationships, there is usually something positive to grieve, including memories and the sense of not being alone…
Grief therapy relies on the Kübler-Ross model, comprising the ‘five stages of grief’: Denial (addicts deem they don’t have a problem), Bargaining (the addict is keen to show that they can somehow control their addiction), Anger (the addict can become angry with their addiction because of the loss it has brought them), Depression (often out of a sense of being ‘abandoned’ by drugs) and finally, Acceptance. Art therapy is often used to reveal the the aspects of addiction that (albeit deceivingly) filled a void in the addict’s life. Ultimately, progress lies in seeing the problem in a realistic light and embracing healthier relationships marked by respect and love.
While we often associate the grief process with experiences like death or a major change in lifestyle. It can also creep up during recovery from addiction. During this trying time of adjustment and growth for both individuals and families battling addiction, coming to terms with emotions associated with loss is key in making significant progress on the road to recovery. Instead of avoiding feelings such as guilt or disappointment over their prior choices, those recovering must use them productively. Acknowledging that they did what was necessary at one point, may help get through difficult moments now filled by hope instead of regret.
Even when the consequences of addiction are grave and loved ones grateful that it's ended, an addict will likely experience a sense of loss as they come to terms with no longer having their substance or behavior. Escaping difficult feelings may have been easy before - now those experiences must be faced without any kind of buffer. The rituals associated with this addictive lifestyle can also become comforting in a way, making the change even more challenging to adjust too and miss once gone.
While trying to stay accountable and responsible in recovery, an addict must drastically shift their life. This means cutting ties with social groups they were involved with while using as well as activities like "happy hour," being online", or anything that may trigger them back into a destructive cycle. While this newfound freedom of sobriety can bring immense joy, it also brings about losses for the partner left behind who will struggle through many transitions together during this process.
It is common for those in relationships with individuals struggling from addiction to fall into the predictable patterns of caretaking. Emotionally and situationally, such roles give some sense of security as issues become familiar over time. But when it comes time for an addicted person to take responsibility, their partner can face difficult transitions since they are no longer needed - leaving them without predictability or a role model.
While the road to recovery may be a long and winding one, it is crucial that partners of active addicts take this solo time as an opportunity for self-reflection. Unhappiness in relationships can often stem from unaddressed feelings within ourselves - when partnered with someone who has limited resources due to addiction, we are thus granted a moment of pause; an invitation during which we turn inwardly rather than outwardly towards our partner's addictive behaviors. This period enables us to identify areas requiring attention so that one day both parties can engage on equal footing through increased understanding and emotional connection.
Inactive addiction often brings a false sense of security, when in reality the road to recovery is long and arduous. You may face difficult emotional or circumstantial realities you haven't had to confront yet; but there's hope! 12 step programs offer comforting words that can help soothe your worries as you transition into sobriety and start putting the pieces back together.
Every day of recovery is a reason to celebrate! 12 Step meetings are the perfect opportunity for individuals in various stages along their journey. Those with more experience walking alongside those who have recently begun can be especially helpful and encouraging, proving that cultivating a spiritual life truly impacts change.