When viewing addiction as an outsider, the misery and turmoil that addiction causes would make sobriety seem like the obvious choice. Watching someone choose to keep using while their life falls apart is sometimes unfathomable. Logically, even if you have first-hand experience of the work that goes into getting sober, it is nearly impossible to put yourself in another addict’s shoes. There are many reasons folks cling on to their drug of choice. For one, it is scary to think about what life will be like sober. Substances have allowed us to skirt around uncomfortable feelings. The loss of that line of defense can lead to experiencing the symptoms of grief. Some may bargain with themselves and the people pushing them to enter treatment. Anger and depression will be part of the process and imagining a life without our substance of choice feels impossible. Getting sober upends the life we’ve become accustomed to, similar to how addiction turned our lives upside down.
In the early stages of sobriety, it is common to experience what is referred to as the pink cloud. A euphoric sense of clarity and positivity about the choice to stop using. Your body is finally drug-free, you’re often surrounded by a supportive community, and you feel intense optimism about the things to come. The problem with this, though, is that this sense of bliss
doesn’t last forever. When the initial effervescence of sobriety wears off, we’re left to face the pain, relationship issues, and other consequences of our use. The life responsibilities and realities that we were avoiding in active addiction remain and now we must pick up the pieces without our go-to coping mechanism. In many settings, talking about the parts of our addiction that we miss would be taboo. We likely won’t miss the hangovers, legal issues, and fighting with people we care about, but there is also the comfort our drug of choice brought us in tough times. It is not uncommon to long for the days when we could enjoy drinks on the beach, the reward after a hard day’s work, or just a brief escape from life’s troubles.
For many of us, our drug of choice has shaped a lot about our lives, including the people we surround ourselves with. Letting go of the substance often requires making social changes as well. We may have lost friends along the way. Some have passed because of the effects of a drug and alcohol abuse lifestyle, and some may have had to distance themselves for their own sobriety. When we choose to get sober, it is recommended that we sever toxic relationships with the people we used with or anyone who may be a barrier to our own recovery. Though these relationships could have revolved around abusing drugs and alcohol, it doesn’t mean we don’t value the connections we’ve developed. For a long time, the relationships we had in active addiction have been our only support system as we had been slowly cut off from disapproving friends and family. Recognizing the importance of the loss of these relationships and grieving them will be an important step in maintaining our sobriety.
A friend of mine shared her experience with addiction and grief. Hannah (name changed), spoke about the debilitating regret she felt about missing out on her children’s lives. Not only did she spend years of her own life in a state of drug-induced crisis, but she also wasn’t able to be the present and involved parent she wished she could have been. Her kids were now young adults themselves and Hannah was overwhelmed with shame and guilt for their forgone childhood years. Facing this fact was one of Hannah’s most difficult hurdles to overcome on her journey to sobriety. She didn’t know if her kids would forgive her, or if they would be willing to have a relationship with her when she was clean. Grieving, and ultimately accepting the life she previously lived will be critical in creating a new future for herself.
When we are finally able to see through the fog of drug and alcohol abuse, we are forced to come to terms with the time, often years on end, we spent using. There is an overall sense of loss. Reflecting on the life we could have given ourselves and our families can be daunting. The energy put into obtaining our drugs of choice and the effort we put into defending our addiction could have been put toward something more fruitful and when we add up the money thrown at our addictions, we realize we could have afforded ourselves a life of luxury. The grief we feel for the time lost is notable. Working through these feelings and allowing ourselves to grieve what could have been is a difficult, but necessary, step toward healing.
Whatever the source of your grief, for some of us there can be many, the CHAN Project is here to support you through compassion, healing, awareness, and nurturing. Share your story, build connections, and treat yourself to wellness.
Katey is a former intern with the CHAN Project, who provided valuable time working with the team on our Grief Circles, content copy, and was part of our Media Design team. She has shared multiple stories with the team, to which we will be sharing along the way. Watch for more to come on Katey's Blog entries with the CHAN Project.