Stages of Grief

I first learned about the stages of grief when I was in graduate school studying counseling psychology. The next time I heard about this model was when I was quitting smoking and perusing resources on the Internet, mainly at the website WhyQuit.com. The five stages of grief, according to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

When someone dies, or you lose something important to you, such as an addictive substance that kept you company for a long time, you go through these stages of grief. They don’t always happen in order, and it is totally normal to cycle back through them a number of times until you have fully processed your feelings about the person/object/substance that you are grieving the loss of.

So why am I boring you to tears talking about models of grief? Well, because it really feels like this model applies to me lately. I have been cycling around the anger, bargaining, and depression stages a lot, wishing that I could just be normal in regards to drinking. Since I know for a fact that I can’t be normal, I want to be sitting pretty at the acceptance stage, happily going about my life without thinking about drinking at all anymore. I am SO not there yet, and am realizing more and more that I do not have the power to get there before I am truly ready.

Acceptance sounds so wonderful, peaceful, zen. It is where the cool kids of sobriety hang out… the ones that I aspire to be like someday. In reality, I am in the middle school stage of sobriety… awkward, dorky, and uncomfortable, with a side of anger. I am angry because I want to be a normal drinker and fit in. I am angry at my parents for being shitty drinking role models and for passing along alcoholic genes. I am angry when people drink in front of me and angry when they don’t, because it makes me feel weird. I am angry that I can’t handle my booze, or going out at night sober, or doing social things outside of my house. Sigh. My anger does not feel rational or logical.

I dislike being angry because it is exhausting and I don’t know how or where to express it, so I try to bargain it away by making deals with myself. That doesn’t work because I am no longer in denial about my drinking, so I end up depressed. It is a big clusterf**k of thoughts that are not very much fun. In the past I would just drink these thoughts away, create drama to avoid them, or be too tired/hungover/guilty/anxious to care. I am happy not to be drinking, but I don’t know what to do now. I am throwing myself a pity party and you are all invited.

I have decided to try to embrace these earlier stages and just go with the flow as much as I can. If I keep living sober, and working on true change in my life, I will reach the acceptance stage one day. I have faith that this will happen. Maybe the journey to acceptance will be more enjoyable if I stop fighting it so much and try to be, just BE, exactly where I am each and every day. Even if that means feeling angry or depressed or generally uncomfortable. Feeling my so-called bad feelings is so much better than drowning them in a substance that would likely kill me one day. I am alive, awake, and aware, which are good things to be.

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8 thoughts on “Stages of Grief

  1. Yeah…it sucks that you can’t rush it. But you can’t. You’re lucky…I didn’t even realize I need to pass through these phases at first. Hell…I didn’t even realize I was grieving!

    Part of the problem with us drunks is that we numb our feelings with alcohol. The key here is to pass through these phases and really FEEL them. Give yourself permission to feel any dang way you want to feel until you don’t anymore. I promise it will help.

    Sherry

    • I am going to work on that (truly feeling my feelings). I used alcohol for my entire adult life so I don’t have much practice! I know it will be worth it thanks to people like you! Thank you for reading and commenting. 🙂

  2. I laughed at your middle school analogy. If you’re in the middle school stage of sobriety, then I am hanging with the fifth graders! But seriously, it’s not much fun hanging out with your emotions, especially when they are all over the place. I tell myself that life is not happy all the time, whether or not you have a drinking problem. Normal drinkers get down in the dumps, angry, bored, restless, anxious, too. I am just trying to accept those feelings myself without resorting to booze. Of course, this wisdom is coming from someone who has been sober all of 15 days! 🙂 Anyway, look forward to reading your blog!

    • Thanks! I just found your blog, too! Everyone has a whole range of emotions- this is true. Sometimes they are affected by hormones or changes in seasons or other weird stuff, too. Hopefully we can grow in wisdom on ways to handle them as our sobriety grows longer and we gain more tools for handling them. Congrats on 15 days!

  3. I feel your pain! We were dealt a crappy hand that makes us not “normal”. I have longed for an ability to moderate my drinking. I have tried it all. I put a cap on my spending, limited the days of the week I could drink, convinced myself red wine is good for me, and promised myself I could stop at two glasses. I think the realization that moderation was a fantasy was the hardest pill to swallow. It makes you want to stomp your feet and whine, but everyone does it! Why can’t I? The one thing that helps me is reading testaments of life being better long after being sober. I have read comments that life is better than they ever dreamed it could be. I want that! I want to beleive their stories are real and promising. I guess that is what I am hoping to find out of this journey. Best wishes- Heather

    • Ha! I have done most of those things to help me try to moderate, too. It never works. I am horrible at moderation when it comes to addictive substances. I can stop at one or two, but I hate it and end up drinking or smoking more in a few days. I agree…the hope that things will be better in the future is the best motivation. I am feeling pretty good now after spending some time feeling sad and sorry for myself. Best wishes to you, too! 🙂

  4. It’s interesting i happened on this post. For the past couple of months I’ve been thinking about how only addicts seem to realize that getting clean is a loss and involves a grieving process. People I’ve talked to in recovery have said they do feel that way, too, just as I do. It’s losing a best friend (or only friend), favorite place and hobby, full-time job and schedule, and the rhythm of a lifestyle. Like any grieving process, it never completely ends.

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