Monday, January 7, 2008

Grief and Loss: Learning To Sing In the Shower

When most people think about grief and loss it is usually associated with the death of a loved one, the breakup of a relationship, or the termination of a job. But living with alcoholism or addiction can also cause significant loss. Unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and the reality of who we are or who our loved one is can cause great sadness. A significant number of alcoholics or addicts also come from alcoholic homes, and we start grieving losses as small children, even though we may not be aware of it. Then, as adults, life becomes a continuous series of losses and disappointments, which we tend to minimize and accept as the norm.

This constant state of grief and loss is very real and never goes away. The disease of addiction deprives us of our confidence and self worth. It makes it difficult to anticipate anything good in life or to believe we have the right to be happy or feel proud of our accomplishments. In dealing with loss, alcoholics/addicts often use a great deal of energy to try to fix the pain and distance themselves from it. Some of us strive for perfection in all aspects of our lives or bury ourselves in work or keep buying the next thing that will make us happy. We aim to be joyous and free but are continuously frustrated in our attempts. For some the disappointment and sense of failure of those frustrated attempts can lead to relapse.

Because this type of grief is stressful and persistent, we need to be continuously taking care of ourselves. The HALT acronym can help us with this. Asking ourselves, am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, will give us a quick handle on what needs attention. Eating healthy meals and getting enough rest, as well as participating in a twelve step and/or other support group or professional counseling to share your feelings is crucial to accepting, surviving and ultimately overcoming the effects of grief and loss.

The twelve step programs have taught me that serenity is not the absence of pain; it is the acceptance of pain. It is necessary to accept our losses as real and not to minimize them or dramatize them. We need to learn to use our energy to embrace reality and not try to change it. The pain of our loss is real and sufficient and we are entitled to experience it. In so doing we will be free to enjoy the simple things in life, like singing in the shower.

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