Grief and Loss in Recovery
Though life gets progressively better for those who practice recovery, that is not to say that s*** doesnâ€™t happen. It does. Life happens. In all itâ€™s glory, in all itâ€™s mundane moments, in all itâ€™s snags and surprises, and in all itâ€™s inevitable pain, life lays itself out before us to either walk through, or maneuver around.
Loss is painful, and those of us in recovery no longer have the option of checking out into the numbing obliteration our disease offered. Losing a loved one to death brings sadness and reflection. Losing someone you love to this disease, through relapse, is that and more. Death is final. Relapse can be fatal, but it doesnâ€™t need to be. Relapse brings the return of that clinging, desperate helplessness and fear to the addictâ€™s loved ones, even if itâ€™s just fleetingly. The absolute truth is that the addict needs to help himself while loved ones do their best to not enable the addict to continue killing himself.
Easy to say. Tough to do.
This week loss touched my life profoundly. A wonderful person I knew died at age 58 of liver failure brought about by his alcoholism. And his best friend, trying the hard way to remain abstinent, jumped off the deep end back into her disease. Refusing any type of help, my friend is lost to her disease, which makes her lost those who love her until she becomes ready to help herself.
Many of us have felt the pain of losing someone we cared about to this disease. Because we were able to embrace a program of recovery as an adjunct to our abstinence, we have learned to accept loss and whatever else life throws at us. We process it. We feel our grief and anger, and slowly move past it, often with the help of our sponsors, support group or loved ones.
It may be a knee-jerk, split-second thought for anyone in recovery to retreat back into escapism and numbness. Thatâ€™s because we have bodies and minds that will always remember a sure-fire way to escape pain. We have a little â€œentitlement voiceâ€ from back in the day that surfaces when the going gets tough, reminding us that we can escape any time we want to by picking up our substance of choice. I thank the powers that be that I have enough recovery to recognize, then dismiss, the niggling of my disease. I know the price would be steep. Iâ€™ve been looking at it all week.
The price was steep for my friend who died. He had to use a cane to support his frail body. His choices about what he did with his days dwindled down to feeding his disease and spending what time he could be coherent with his family and friends. He could no longer work or get out much past his local watering hole. No more happy days filled with playing music and savoring what life had to offer. Instead, he was locked into the finality that death would come soon; he was in his last days. There was no longer even the option of sobriety. At his late stage of alcoholism, the withdrawals would have killed him. His liver was too cirrhotic to be healed. There was nothing more to be done. Iâ€™m grateful he was spared the dementia – in the old days called wet brain – that some late-stagers get. He was able to pass at home, instead of in a hospital or nursing home.
His best friend, and my friend, couldnâ€™t grasp the disease concept, and would move into chastisement and blaming. â€œWhy would he get that wasted every day? â€¦ why canâ€™t he keep it together to play at the jam night?â€¦ why would he go to the bar, when he knows that is whatâ€™s killing him?â€
I would counter by reminding her that an alcoholic has little choice when in the late stage of the disease. I would tell her he was sick, not bad. I would remind her that once your liver is compromised to a certain degree, it takes a fraction of what it once did to inebriate him.
Then he died and she relapsed. Iâ€™m not sure which loss cuts deepest. The loss of one talented, kind man whose life was abbreviated by his disease, or the loss of our other friend, who has dealt with his death by laying in bed, numbing herself into oblivion with drugs and alcohol. She couldnâ€™t even attend his funeral. I cannot do anything about either loss. My friend in her disease must hit bottom anew, while I stand at the sidelines trying desperately to not to become another enabler. Trying not to fall prey to the pleadings and manipulations. Trying to hold fast to my boundary of refusing to support her dysfunction. Trying to move through my own grieving process.
Life can be hard, but through tragedy my commitment to recovery is reinforced. I have my support group and friends to walk with me when the â€œtrudge to happy destinyâ€ is pretty mucked up. Iâ€™ve developed a spiritual lifestyle that ensures I am never really alone and no problem is insurmountable. Over the years I have learned coping skills that keep me from sinking into the kind of despair that held my life captive for decades. The kind of despair my friend must be feeling.
There is a solution. I hope she chooses the positive one over the inevitable one. Addiction is a fatal disease, and I know that now more than ever. My hand is outstretched when she is ready to choose life over a slow, tortuous paring of all that she holds dear. Iâ€™m grateful I was spared, and I pray she will be too.
I know that â€œthis, too, shall pass.â€