Recently I’ve had the privilege of helping out a friend who is trying to get sober. It’s been a while since I’ve been in those early days, and as I’ve helped her and listened to her fears about sobriety, I remember.
And something struck me—something I’ve never thought of before. The grief process many of us go through, as we get sober.
They say in recovery, it works until it doesn’t. When I got sober in 2011 I came to a point when drinking just wasn’t working anymore. And I so, so wanted it to. I tried to make it work exactly like I would in a relationship with a lover. The one you have that intense connection with. So much history. But, you know you’re not good for each other. You know in your heart the relationship should end. But, you can’t even for one minute image your life without that person. It’s too painful to even think about. So you spend day after day with that person. Trying to make it work. Trying to make it fun again. Trying go back to the way it used to be. Reminiscing about old times when things were so good. So desperate for it to work again.
And it never does.
That’s what drinking alcoholically feels like.
And when we finally make that decision to get sober, at least for me, it absolutely felt like I was leaving a relationship. One that had protected me from all my fears in the world. Or so I thought. In the end of these relationships that are falling apart we do everything in our power to paint a picture of love. But, in reality it’s far from it. The relationship is causing us more sadness and anxiety that we can bear, so we hold on tighter to try to make it better. And the cycle starts all over again.
And I know because I’ve been in that intimate relationship with that real-life person when it fell apart and we split up. We were together for 13 years, had so much history and were bonded intensely. The grief I experienced was unlike any other. I was lost without him. I didn’t know who I was without him in my life. It was as if I had to learn how to “be”. The fear and grief were at times unbearable.
And after more than 2 years of sobriety I’ve suddenly realized getting sober feels like same thing.
Heartbreak. Grief. And fear.
I grieved and was heartbroken over the loss of alcohol. I grieved the loss of who I was when drinking actually did work. I grieved the fact that I now identified with a group of people that at one time I judged—at one time I swore I wasn’t one of them. I grieved that I would have to work hard at recovery—because just abstaining from alcohol wasn’t going to be enough for me. I grieved the loss of a part of me.
I feared facing my life without a means to numb and hide from the hard times. I feared that alcoholism really was something that was out of my control. I feared that for me, there would be no turning back once I knew for sure and admitted that I was a true alcoholic.
All of this isn’t to say that there isn’t so much to be gained from sobriety. I have a beautiful, sober life now. But, I write this post for anyone who might think that their feelings of grief and sadness are wrong. You need to feel what you feel. And if you feel grief about getting sober that’s okay. I’ve been one to over-think almost everything and this is one of them. I’ve made up that it has to mean something if I feel sad about it all. Am I headed for relapse? Shouldn’t I always feel happy now that I’m sober? Fear and grief are real feelings that we all feel. In my experience, having a spiritual connection has greatly reduced these feelings and I still turn to that connection every time I feel fear and grief come up. But, I remember in early sobriety, they were quite common feelings.
So if you’re in those early days please believe me that all of your feelings are normal.
And that it does get better.