Loss in and out of recovery is unfortunately an unavoidable part of life. Everyone experiences a range of significant losses over time, and as painful as it is, grieving is a necessary and healthy part of mourning those losses. However, for people with addiction, loss and the grief process that accompanies it have additional layers.
Loss is also a natural part of the process of recovery. There are sayings in twelve-step programs that recovery requires changing the “people, places, and things” associated with one’s active addiction. This can mean ending friendships, cutting ties with triggering or problem family members, leaving a lifestyle, giving up a job or career, and even relinquishing certain possessions that bring about triggers associated to using drugs and alcohol. Feelings of loss and subsequent grief occur with each “”sacrifice” of one of these things, that must be given up in order to achieve and maintain recovery. In addition to these significant losses, there is the most profound and recovery-specific loss of all: that of mind- and mood-altering substances themselves, and the immediate neurochemical reward or relief they provided.
“Feelings always find their path to expression, one way or another.”
Even when our efforts to avoid distressing emotions are temporarily successful, will never suffice as a long term plan. Using drugs and alcohol is one very common way to avoid feelings, even if feelings don’t simply disappear. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel all the natural human feelings, and when necessary, talk about them, they will remain present and unresolved. If we avoid or suppress these feelings for too long, they inevitably come out, and often in indirect forms of behavior. Imagine a pressure cooker overflowing, that is much what avoided and pent up feelings looks like seeping out of us. As pressure cookers are instruments of balance, opening the lid is required to keep the contents from spilling all over the place. Same as with our feelings, if we don’t release some of the pressure associated with stressful feelings, especially those of loss, we too will blow, and it is rarely a pretty sight.