Grief And Addiction Recovery: What You Need To Know
Addicts and family members in early recovery may be unaware of the significant role that the mourning process plays in their experience.
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There are apparent moments when we see sadness as a natural reaction to life circumstances, such as when someone dies or moves away, or when an essential job or asset is lost.
However, the feeling of sorrow is triggered not just by the loss of loved ones or belongings; it is also triggered when someone loses a way of life or a way of looking at oneself that has been a way of life.
Table of Contents
Grief And Addiction Recovery
Loss Of The Addiction Itself (Substance Or Behavior)
Regardless of how much chaos or suffering the addict’s drug/alcohol usage or other addictive behaviors caused themselves and loved ones, or how glad they or others may be that the user or acting-out has ceased — the addict will miss their substance.
They will miss the distraction, relaxation, intensity, and high provided by the behavior or drug.
The addict will miss their “easy” means of escaping tough sensations and situations and will be overwhelmed at times by what they are suddenly forced to endure without a buffer.
Addicts begin to miss the routines associated with their acting-out behaviors.
The settings, behaviors, and hidden activities of their drug or behavior addiction have become as ingrained in their lives as a job or a home, and quitting them is difficult and sometimes painful.
Relationships with Addicts
The addict frequently loses ties with others who were engaged in their acting out or using.
For some, whole social groups and specific activities such as “happy hour,” “being online,” or “sensual massages” must be avoided in order to prevent relapse into the addiction.
Living an addicted life entails avoiding accountability and obligation to people and activities that may interfere with the freedom to use substances or engage in risky behaviors such as sex, gambling, and so on.
A recovered person’s life entails a tremendous lot of accountability, double-checking decisions and actions with others, and honoring all promises and duties.
The spouse, like the addict, will suffer losses as the transitions and challenges of addiction treatment take place.
Despite the partner’s wish for the addict to quit using or acting out, there are still unpleasant problems that arise in the process of transformation, even when the addict achieves recovery.
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Examples Of Partner/Spouse Losses
- Relationship Function
Certain ways of connecting become ingrained in relationships, particularly when addiction is prevalent.
A partner who has been in the caretaking role for an addicted person, i.e. covering up their problems, smoothing over problems, making up for the addict’s shortcomings (parenting, financial, etc.), will find it difficult to retake control of their own lives and trust the addicted person to now be more responsible.
Being unneeded may be a challenging issue for addicts’ relationships.
- Predictability decline
As tough as being in a relationship with an addict might be, once the patterns of the addiction are established, there is some emotional and situational predictability.
Addicts in recovery might be more temperamental, loud about their needs and desires, and forceful than those who are still ashamed of their addiction.
These can be challenging adjustments for a relationship to accept and understand.
Surprisingly, a lonely, unhappy spouse who has been continuously abandoned, rejected, or let down in their relationship with an active addict might become at ease in their sorrow.
Having a specific person or situation to blame for one’s misery alleviates the weight of self-examination and self-understanding.
When a partner is in a relationship with a more functioning, responsible, and connected recovering person, he or she must examine himself or herself more deeply when they are dissatisfied, disappointed, or unsatisfied.
- The Recovery Process Consumes Time
As the recovered individual becomes more committed to their 12-step program, treatment, and self-care, they may become less accessible for interacting and spending time than they were during their addiction.
Couples who were once kept apart by substance abuse and acting out may now be kept apart by support groups, sponsors, and time spent in the recovery process.
This might be a major letdown for the spouse who expected to spend a lot of time together after the addict’s return to normal life.
Stages of Grieving
The grieving process itself follows a pretty predictable pattern, which was initially articulated in a seminal 1970s book called On Death and Dying by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
Dr. Kubler-Ross was able to define and classify the phases a person goes through when grieving a loss in her book. We now know that not everyone goes through each step and that these stages do not follow a predictable pattern.
Nonetheless, the sensations and experiences that people experience during the healing process might be related to these ideas.
These stages exist largely to protect the bereaved individual from becoming overwhelmed by their feelings and experiences.
Grief is a process that requires time, support, and self-acceptance to go through.
- Stage One: Denial
This is the first stage of the grieving process, and it happens when a person has not fully grasped or been able to absorb the magnitude of the change in their lives.
When confronted with a big loss, a person in denial would typically say things like “No, this can’t be true” or “It must be someone else, not me or my loved one.”
Denial is a type of shock that serves as a protective strategy against being overwhelmed by one’s sensations.
Addicts employ denial to avoid accepting responsibility for their substance abuse or behavioral outbursts.
They will be unable or unwilling to relate the effects of their addictions to the acts themselves.
Denial addicts will blame other individuals and circumstances for their difficulties while denying any responsibility.
“I’m no alcoholic, those folks live in the gutter and drink cheap wine, I simply have a cocktail now and then” or “It obviously wasn’t my being high that got me stopped by that cop, it was the nasty attitude the guy had.”
- Stage Two: Anger
The rage stage of sorrow exists to divert attention away from the genuine underlying addicted problem.
Addicts and loved ones might appear to fling about responsibility for personal, familial, financial, legal, and other issues by utilizing anger, accusing, nagging, and shaming without identifying and addressing the addiction problem itself.
The addict will infer that it is their partner’s, job’s, or children’s fault that they use or behave out. They will choose arguments or create unfavorable circumstances unknowingly but actively in order to justify their obsessive behavior.
The wrath stage of grief exists to shift attention away from the true underlying hooked condition.
Addicts and loved ones may appear to shift blame for personal, familial, financial, legal, and other concerns by employing anger, blaming, nagging, and shaming without identifying and treating the addiction problem itself.
The addict will believe that it is their partner’s, job’s, or children’s fault that they use or behave inappropriately.
They will select justifications or purposefully manufacture unpleasant conditions to justify their compulsive conduct.
- Stage Three: Bargaining
In the bargaining stage of mourning, the individual is beginning to recognize that there is or maybe a problem, but they are striving hard to avoid completely confronting the solution or reality of their circumstances.
To negotiate is to strive to keep control and continue living without genuine change.
This is the moment for addicts to say things like, “Just give me one more opportunity and I swear I will never…” Rather than truly surrendering to the situation, the addict is seeking to maintain control by inventing fresh reasons and promises to avoid the inevitable.
Bargaining is a last-ditch effort for partners to maintain the status quo
Partners may accept promises they know will not be honored or try to make changes to make life easier for the addict in the belief that they will cease their addictive behavior in order to avoid the danger of confronting the true problem.
- Stage Four: Depression
This stage indicates the beginning of full surrender to the magnitude and significance of the addiction condition.
Addicts begin to dive into the pain and dread of not knowing oneself as well as they thought they did when they are no longer attempting to assign blame or find a way out.
Addicts struggle to understand the significance of their history of addictive behaviors and the consequences these problems have incurred for them personally and in relation to people they care about.
Addicts may feel humiliated and bewildered in this early period of recovery, and they may be unable to imagine a life without their acting-out behaviors or substance use.
Unacquainted with a world outside their addiction, the addict despairs of ever feeling at ease or “in control,” as they have known it.
For spouses, the depressed period is one of coming to terms with the magnitude of the losses and hardships caused by addiction.
Partners may lose faith that their relationships will ever be right if they do not completely understand how addiction works and the promise for recovery.
As the addict attends 12-step groups and phones other addicts and sponsors, the spouse may feel left out of the process and scared of the new obstacles that appear to encourage separation rather than support and connection.
- Stage Five: Acceptance
This stage is unavoidable if addicts remain in recovery and partners begin to participate in the process.
At this point, the addict may see that there is a road mapped out for their recovery that others have successfully followed. They might begin to contemplate a fresh image of how their life would be spent in the absence of active addiction.
Isolation and falsehoods have been replaced by new healthy recovery connections and support.
The addict has been recovered long enough to start developing new methods of coping and managing their life situations, frequently harnessing latent creativity and resourcefulness that was previously lost to their addiction.
Partners who have reached the acceptance stage can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
They are beginning to rethink their position to their addicted spouse, their family, and themselves after becoming aware and active in recovery through their own support groups, treatment, and self-education.
The next paragraphs explain the distinctions between a grieving reaction and a depressive episode.
Because the symptoms of sorrow and depression are similar and frequently differ only in degree, it is important to seek the assistance of a professional counselor or priest to help clarify and work through these concerns.
A Message of Hope
One prevalent fallacy about quitting active addiction and entering treatment is that there would be quick relief and great outcomes for everyone.
In reality, healing is a long process that frequently brings up unpleasant emotional and situational realities in the early stages before the more reassuring and feel-good advantages kick in.
Allowing long-hidden truths to be revealed, as well as long-buried disappointments and anxieties is part of the healing process.
How Do You Deal With Grief In Recovery?
Here are some suggestions that may be useful: Take proper care of yourself. Even if you don't feel like it, reach out to friends and family. Avoid any triggers that could lead to a relapse. Keep key dates in mind, especially throughout the first couple of years. Keep a journal to record your emotions. Get your feet moving. Try to give something back to people.
Can Grief Become An Addiction?
How Do Alcoholics Deal With Grief?
Drinking may briefly dull the pain, but the impact is always fleeting. There is no way to properly alleviate the grief of loss by self-medicating with narcotics. Alcohol, in fact, serves as a depressive in the body, amplifying negative emotions such as shame or melancholy.
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