Have you ever lost someone? A friendship? A pet? Were these losses the result of a death or a break-up? As it turns out…loss is loss. Grieving can come after many types of loss…not just death. Loss of a job, relationship, or even loss of an addiction is enough to trigger the stages of grieving. And, each new loss can pile onto the pain from the loss before it. I learned all sorts of things like this each time I’ve been Sober and Grieving.
I would have to say my first major loss in my sobriety was alcohol. It had been there when no one and nothing else had been. It even took the place of food! I depended on alcohol to make me feel confident, social, sexy, and relaxed. It was my best friend when (I believed) no one around me could be trusted. Sure, it let me down a few times…but I didn’t expect perfection! At least, that’s what I believed…until I hit my bottom. When I realized that alcohol couldn’t be the “friend” I needed anymore. This made me very seriously depressed. I couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t be able to trust it anymore. How was I going to survive without alcohol!?! It had been there for me since I was a kid.
Other major losses I’ve grieved in my sobriety include the death of my brother (which I touched on in my post Sober Day); getting fired from my last job (Sober and Fired, Part 2); the sudden and horrific loss of our Bernese Mountain Dog (Ben) to bloat; the end of several friendships from my drinking days when I decided to get sober; the natural deaths of 1 dog and 2 cats; the relapsing deaths of people I have known in recovery; severed relationships with family members when I came forward about my mother/abuser; and – recently – a sober friendship of 20 years with a woman I never thought I would lose. (I still don’t know why I lost her).
Very well-intentioned people immediately wanted to say and do all the right things to make my grieving better/go away. I had more books, prayers, and advice given to me than I could ever mention here. I am eternally grateful for this outpouring of Love and support. It has kept me sober and alive.
In the midst of all that giving, I was taught about The 5 stages of Grieving (by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) They are as follows:
At least for me, these Stages did not happen in such a linear fashion. These emotions/reactions (Stages) would sometimes all happen at the same time or would come and go within the same day. Just like with my recovery from addictions, the grieving process is…messy.
I have always wanted to add a couple more Stages, as well. For example:
- I believe there needs to be an “Malnutrition” Stage. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t starve or eat their way through horrific periods of their life (to some extent). At least if this Stage were added, people wouldn’t feel like there was something wrong with them when their eating habits go completely out of whack with everything else. The guilt I felt over losing or gaining 20 pounds when I was in the worst of my grieving did NOT help me feel any better. Guilt sucks.
- I also think an “Insomnia” Stage would be helpful. This would let people know that if their sleep isn’t “normal” it’s okay. Nightmares, night sweats, night terrors, being up all night, sleeping for 13 hours straight, and midnight snacks (which leads me back to the “Malnutrition” Stage) are all to be expected when someone is grieving.
Here are some of the other reactions that I have had when I was Sober and Grieving:
- I doubted my faith. With the REALLY HUGE losses I questioned everything I once believed in or thought I knew. In some cases, it took me many months to gain any semblance of faith back.
- I cried and cried and cried at meetings, in my car, or at the drop of a hat. I never knew when the tears were going to come on. Except at work. I couldn’t cry at work. I had to be around children all day. That wouldn’t have been cool. So, I managed to hold it together until I got in my car.
- I screamed in my sleep.
- I obsessively told the story over and over and over of how my brother and dog died. It’s like I couldn’t get the horrible details out of my head and if I told these stories enough, to enough people, I would get the details out. It didn’t work. I was very grateful to all those people for listening though.
- I seemed to be tired when it wasn’t night time and then at night I was anxious and awake. Such a pain in the ass!
- I was either not hungry at all, or I was starving. No in-between. And, the window was brief. If I didn’t get food right away, the hunger would sometimes not return again for another day or two.
- I would sit and stare at nothing for what felt like hours. Sometimes I would start doing this while people were talking, or while I was watching T.V. …pretty much any time at all. I got so good at it, I could have won a medal.
- Along those same lines, I would forget what I was talking about WHILE I WAS TALKING! Right in the middle of a sentence I would go MUTE! I couldn’t remember what I asked people, where I was going, what I was doing, what I was supposed to be doing, what day I was supposed to be doing something! Shit, if I didn’t write it down, it wasn’t happening! (Damn…that’s how I feel now…in menopause… Well fuck.)
- My hair got grayer…everywhere.
- Constipation and diarrhea. Goes hand in hand with starving and pigging out. Good times.
- Moody. Gee…I wonder why.
- Anything that wasn’t a “HAVE TO” was abandoned. Mowing the lawn, paying the bills, doing the dishes… All of these routine tasks went out the window for awhile. I paid what I could when I could and did what I could when I could. My friends and family were very kind and helpful with these tasks. I called my bill collectors to let them know or to work out a payment plan if things got too behind. Speaking to them with kindness – NOT ASKING FOR PITY – truly garnered kindness in return.
- I learned what EVERY SINGLE SAD SONG IN THE WORLD WAS FOR!
I don’t know about you, but these behaviors are ALL indicative of someone new to recovery as well. So, it makes sense that someone in new sobriety could actually be compared to someone who is grieving. Only in early recovery we were grieving the loss of our drink, drug, food, lifestyle, etc. that contributed to our illness.
Just today, I received a call from one of my “sober sisters” who told me that her dog – whom my husband and I watched/fell in love with while our friend was in treatment many years ago and have continued to love ever since – died suddenly. I cried with my friend and cried when I hung up the phone. Then, I decided to finish this blog post, that I’ve been putting off for months.
It’s helped me to write this and remember that all of these feelings are important TO FEEL. Belittling them because they are about a dog isn’t going to make them go away. They’ll just go inside and fester. When my feelings fester for too long, they have a way of coming out later in all sorts of negative behaviors/bad choices.
It’s best to just go through the feelings now instead of “using” over them later.
There’s one more thing I’d like to say about being Sober and Grieving…
If I were using during all of these losses, I may not have felt the pain during or immediately after each loss, but, I would have eventually… THAT is for sure. Even more important is knowing that I would have missed all the LOVE coming to me, if I were using. Yes…that’s right…the LOVE. That’s because, for me, each one of these losses came with all of those very well-intentioned people and their books, prayers, advice, food, and support.
The worst of times can bring out the very best in others; show us who our true friends and family are; and teach us what LOVE is.
So, when you go through your first loss in recovery – which includes your drug of choice – I hope I can offer you this small nugget of hope: Through your pain, past the tears in your eyes, please reach out to the hands that are there to pull you out of your grieving. Then, you will find what I have come to learn…Loss does not have to end you or your sobriety, and Love will heal you in time.