Actress Jamie Lee Curtis recently opened up about her struggles with a Vicodin addiction early in her career. During the interview with Variety, Curtis discusses when she finally realized she was an addict and needed help but admits, “I was terrified of being a public figure and walking into recovery room.” She goes on to discuss her fear of the stigma surrounding recovery and how she almost didn’t attend a meeting without another friend in tow. Thanks to an old “famous” friend, she didn’t have to enter the space alone and has been sober ever since. Celebrities, famous public figures, athletes, and ordinary people who struggle with addiction often share the shame, guilt, and fear surrounding recovery – but what about the grief? The stigma of addiction is very real, but so is the grief that comes when finally quitting the substance.
You will often hear people say things like, “alcohol was my best friend, it got me through the happiest and toughest points of my life.” And just like any other relationship, when it ends, people feel a profound loss. Those in recovery even grieve the group rituals – such as “happy hour” associated with their substance use. Not to be confused with “romanticizing” alcohol or drug use, this kind of grief and feeling of isolation comes when the person realizes the life they had and the friends they once knew are now all gone. Allowing yourself to mourn this loss can be an essential step to healing and strengthening your sobriety. Undoing the relationship to drugs or alcohol to achieve recovery can be a devastating experience, not just due to detox and withdrawal, but also because of the genuine emotional attachment you developed using the substance.
Research suggests that, “Interpersonal attachment and drug addiction share many attributes across their behavioral and neurobiological domains, including how they grow and decay within a person’s life (National Institutes of Health, 2017).” Researchers further state that looking at “addiction recovery as a form of grieving could lead to more effective and integrative psychotherapy and medication strategies (NIH).” To get a better understanding of this method of grieving during sobriety, here are the five stages of grief created by Swiss-born psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and how to use them during the recovery process:
Addiction and denial go hand in hand. In denial, you are continually filling the cracks that addiction causes in your life and making excuses for the mess surrounding you and those you love. Denial is a sort of safety mechanism to protect you from the reality of addiction. You will go to the ends of the earth to deny your habit and will do whatever it takes to pretend, “you are fine.”
You’ve finally hit a point where you realize you have no control when it comes to your substance use, and this spurs angry outbursts. The drugs or alcohol that were once your safe haven and comfort have now turned on you. You may feel angry at all the years you’ve wasted doing drugs or how many friends or family members you’ve lost because of your drinking. Maybe you become mad at the people who were brave enough to confront you about your problem with substances in the first place. You will decide that it is the fault of a loved one, job, even your child that causes you to use, make poor financial decisions, or act out.
At this stage, a person will start to see there is a problem, but will still try to maintain control without any real change taking place. You will try to bargain your way out of stopping using drugs or alcohol permanently. Maybe you try to convince yourself you can cut down your drinking to only on the weekends. Or you start telling loved ones that you can quit oxycodone without rehab – but you tell yourself you will just reduce your dose, and everything will get better. Rather than fully surrendering to the addiction, the person tries to hold on to control by making up new excuses and false promises.
This stage is the beginning of true surrender to the scope of addiction. There is no more blame or fighting, but only real sadness and remorse for the people hurt, jobs lost, or the problems caused by drug or alcohol use. Now comes the struggle to fully grasp how addiction has damaged your life, your health, and harmed those you love. You start to think about the things you have done and feel intense shame about the lies, manipulation, and any bad behavior committed while in active addiction.
This stage occurs when you finally recognize and understand the true nature of your relationship with drugs or alcohol. Now you can begin to see a new life without substances. Healthy relationships, accountability, and support have started to replace addiction.
In the words of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, “Should you shield the valleys from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of their canyons.” Creating a healthy space for grieving is necessary to help protect against relapse as well as deal with the realities of recovery. At The Kimberly Center, we understand the process of recovery is incredibly difficult, and coming to terms with life in sobriety is a true act of courage and profound strength. To help you achieve a healthy life without drugs or alcohol, we offer programs to focus on restoring the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the client and their family. Please call us at 855-452- 3683 to find out if our programs are right for you.