I went to my hometown when I was about 2 years into my recovery to do a thorough and honest step 9 with as many people as I harmed, which actually was not that many. Met with some of my past friends who I drank with but was not the same. Left my hometown with depressed feeling. Half way through the 12 hour drive I thought to myself do I really want the same relationship I used to have with them because that would mean I would be drinking? Then I thought ‘no’ I would not want it to be the same so that is when I realized I had to grieve the loss of my addiction.
I needed to come full face with the reality that the addicted person I once were is dead, that the old person I once were is gone and will not return. Acceptance the reality of this loss is to come to the belief that reunion with my addiction is impossible. I cannot be in recovery while using drugs or drinking alcohol. At the beginning of my recovery I went through a loss and grief period of my old addictive lifestyle and I called out for this loss in various ways. This will happen and we will misidentify our calling out in our new environment. We may be walking down a street where we once used, we may catch a glimpse of someone who reminds us of our addiction and then have to remind ourselves, “No, I can never safely return to my addiction, my addiction is dead.” Like they say if we want to avoid a slip we need to stay away from slippery places.
The opposite of not accepting the reality of the loss is not believing through some type of denial. Some people refuse to believe that the loss is real and get stuck in the grieving process. Denial can be practiced on several levels and can take various forms, but it most often involves either the facts of the loss, the meaning of the loss or the irreversibility of the loss of our addiction.
Denying the facts of the loss can vary in degree from a slight distortion to a full-blown delusion. Denial through delusion is when people keep drug paraphernalia around as some type of reminder that they gave up their drug addiction and tell themselves that they can now control their use.
We may keep these items in the hopes that someday we can safely return to the addiction. Sometimes we keep visiting the locations in which we were actively using and not change anything in this environment. This leads to a distortion of thinking which buffers the intensity of our loss, but we seldom obtain satisfaction from visiting the environment and hinders our progress in our recovery. It is not satisfying when we visit this environment and if we keep visiting more often then it leads back to our old habits because the only thing that has changed in the environment is us using or drinking.
Sometimes we deny the meaning of the loss of our addiction. In this way we can see the loss of addiction as less significant than it actually is. We can often hear statements like “I never really liked drinking or using drugs anyway.” Or “All my problems are related to addiction, all I need to do is just give up my addiction and I will be fine.” Or “I can give it up or leave it alone anytime I choose.” Or “I do not miss drinking at all.” Sometimes people immediately flush everything down the toilet or throw all their drug paraphernalia out which reminds them of their old lifestyle. Removing these items can minimize the loss of the addiction. It is kind of like our recovery self is protecting ourselves through the absence of any paraphernalia that would bring us face to face with the reality of the loss of our addiction.
Another way to deny the full meaning of the loss is to practice “selective forgetting.” As an example, someone gives up their addiction at a certain age. Then from that point forward we block all the reality of our addiction from our mind, including even a literal visual image. Then when we go to counselling we are unable to bring to mind the memory of what our addiction was like. This may take some time and various health and wellness approaches before we are able to fully remember what our addictions was really like and truly sense what our addiction was really like.
Sometimes we hinder our progression by denying that the loss of our addiction as irreversible. A good example of this is after we have given up our addiction we say to ourselves that I hate recovery, or that we really miss our addiction, we had more fun in addiction than recovery, or that it was not really that bad. We need to face the fact that once we are in recovery we can never safely return to our addiction.
Coming to the acceptance of the reality of the loss takes time since it involves not only an intellectual acceptance but also an emotional one. It had taken me a few years to get over the fact that I cannot safely drink alcohol anymore. Many counsellors will overlook this and only focus on the intellectual loss while overlooking the emotional loss. We may know about the loss intellectually very easily long before the emotions allow full acceptance of the information as being true.
It is easy to believe that our friend the addiction is away and is just taking a break for the moment. Even health resources and places become part of the addictive lifecycle. We get used to going to counselling, detox, treatment, recovery houses, etc and this becomes part of our cycle. We stop our addiction, go to counselling who refers us to detox and once we return to counselling we get sent to treatment centers, get back to our home base, something bad happens and we return back to our addition only to go to counselling once again. So when we try to get back into recovery we know this will be the cycle we take because we could have done this cycle for numerous years.
What makes this whole cycle worse is that when we try to live life on life’s terms and find the harsh realities of lateral violence within our communities we can no longer return to our drug of choice. We cannot pick up the phone and get instant relief as we once did when we called our dealer or when we went to the local bar, liquor store or cold beer store.. Our addiction is no longer at the other end of the line. When I first got into recovery all I could say was that I was an alcoholic and that I would prefer to listen. I was not able to say anything past that and consequently I relapsed for 9 months. Sometimes it will take a very long time for us to share our story or honestly state our true feelings as they arise. It takes a long time for the reality of losing our addiction to sink in.
Some days we seem to have it all together that we can never safely use, at other times our whole recovery world comes crashing down around us and we feel like giving up on recovery believing this will never work out for me, what was I thinking. This then leads to anger directed to our addiction, to ourselves, to others who we believe was the cause of our addiction, and anger toward our families and loved ones and even to those who truly want to help us out. Overcoming all of our anger is what I think is one of the first steps of recovery. I know I was real angry and it took time to achieve balance.
Although this stages takes time we can perform various letting go ceremonies including writing our step 4 on a paper and after we complete step 5 we can then burn the papers in a ceremony. This will help us move closer toward accepting the reality of the loss. Sometimes if we need to really stop abruptly because we do not physically see ourselves giving up our addiction because it happens so fast, like when we are in an accident or cause an accident which was the result of our addiction. This is also made worse when we have dreams of our addiction, which is quite inevitable and is made even worse if our dream was about our past addicted lives. Maybe when we dream we are not wishing that we could drink of use drugs like we once did, maybe it is more of our mind validating the reality of our loss, which we can only tell after we have woken up from the dream.
This is the first task before moving onto the second task of accepting the loss of our addiction.