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.