Leading a monthly grief support group affords me the opportunity to witness the many different losses one can suffer from, while being a part of a weekly addiction and recovery group affords me the opportunity to see how the two, grief and addiction, go hand in hand. There’s the loss event that often leads to substance abuse and then at recovery, the loss of the substance.
“Addiction recovery is best understood as a grief process”, says Ned Presnall, a social worker and Executive Director of Clayton Behavioral. Addiction is a type of relationship and much like the grief of reaching for a person who has always been there for you only to find them no longer there, so is the grief of reaching for substances. And the longer these have been a part of your life, the stronger the attachment becomes. “Alcohol was my best friend for years,” Emily says. “I actively sought out that relationship to the exclusion of relationships with actual people. That’s how important it was to me.”
Because of the emotional attachment that often develops in using, it’s often very difficult to “break-up” in the relationship. “Like our ‘first love’, the use is thrilling. There’s the high, the intimacy, the butterflies that come from anticipation of time spent together,” says Lindsay Kramer, a therapist specializing in addiction treatment. Along with other emotions, the “break-up” can often lead to anger and depression such as when a death has occurred. Sometimes making it tougher for recovery.
As in grieving the loss of a loved one, it’s in the steps we take – the grief work – to say “Goodbye”, to become complete with it, we are able to recover and move forward.