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When grief strikes in recovery

When addicts get sober, they are rarely prepared to be hit by grief. This may be especially true as grief may come during a time when the recovering addict is feeling particularly raw and vulnerable. It may also just be an emotion that they were not expecting to feel. Why feel grief? Isn’t this supposed to be a joyous moment in my life, finally kicking my addiction?

The truth is that grief is a natural and necessary component of recovery. Even if the addict’s life before was filled with remorse and servitude to the substance of choice, it was comfortable. Also, in the addict’s old life, they could use their substance of choice to escape uncomfortable feelings. Now, they have to feel everything, and they will never again “enjoy” that easy escape.


Grief comes in many different forms, and addicts may or may not go through the usual stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. That doesn’t mean the grief isn’t real. The person is grieving a sense of self that doesn’t exist anymore. They’ve likely lost what feels like all or most of their friends, and may be thinking they’ll never have fun again.


Then there is the grieving for the years lost to addiction. The spouses and children disappointed, angry and bereft from losing their loved one, the careers ruined, the financial loss. And more than that, simply the years spent in a blur, having lost a portion of one’s life to the substance fog. The lost dreams, things that may or may not still be possible to achieve. A sense of self that had any dignity to it, that felt “strong” enough not to fall prey to an addiction.


The first step here is to recognize that the grief is normal and healthy. The affected person should not try to hurry through it or pretend everything is fine. They can talk about it with their counselor, sponsor or 12-step group. Then, the trick is not to get lost in one's grief. Remember that one's post-addiction life has the potential to be fulfilling beyond anything the substance could have brought. Grieve, process the loss, and then move forward.


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