When most of us think of grieving, we also think of death. There are, however, many things we grieve that have nothing to do with losing a loved one. As someone who has struggled with drugs or alcohol for a while, you may have felt grief from the loss of relationships, career, and even self as a result of your addiction. In my active drinking, I most certainly had times when I was sad about the loss of the person I once was. Did you know, though, that you can also struggle with grieving alcohol?

Are You Grieving Alcohol?

If you are thinking about quitting alcohol or are newly sober, you may find yourself faced with grieving alcohol. And it’s no wonder. With that loss also comes the loss of relationships with friends who still drink and your own drinking rituals. Your life will change dramatically, and that can be difficult, especially if you don’t like change.

The fact is, grieving and change have strong ties. The loss of a loved one means you will have to learn to trust new people. The loss of a job disrupts your normal routine. Even the loss of an aged movie star induces grief for some because it also means that they must accept that they too are growing older and changing.

Unfortunately, because for many of us our usual way of dealing with grief includes drugs and alcohol, this part of recovery can present a challenge. As you feel the loss, your desire to return to alcohol or drugs returns frequently.

For those of us who drink, everything must change from the way we deal with our emotions to the friends we spend time with. In that loss, we experience the main negative emotions that make us want to drink such as sadness, anger, and fear. How do we avoid alcohol while grieving alcohol?

The 5 Stages of Grieving Alcohol

Understanding the problem is the first step to managing it. In order to understand the feelings involved with the loss of alcohol, let’s get to know the 5 stages of grief as they are the same whether you are grieving alcohol or death. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Grieving Alcohol

Every person goes through the stages of grief in their own way and in their own time. Some even skip a few of the stages. Furthermore, many people bounce back and forth between the stages. Finally, just when they think they’ve stopped grieving alcohol, something triggers them, and they find themselves revisiting a stage even if for only a few hours.

Personally, I was so broken when I decided to stop drinking that I went almost immediately into acceptance and only felt anger and depression later in brief situations where I was faced with opportunities to drink.

Your body, emotions, and reactions will tell you what stage you are in and when you are in it. Your job is to recognize the stage and feel your way through it. 

Denial

While denial may revisit you after you have decided to quit drugs and alcohol, it definitely exists before you have made that decision. It appears in the form of attempting to manage your addiction while still drinking in hopes that you can continue enjoying alcohol without the negative repercussions. 

For some, quitting while still in denial happens when they attempt to appease a loved one or the justice system. They may manage to stay sober, but that is usually short-lived because they still think they can drink.

In the denial stage, many people think that as soon as they prove that alcohol isn’t a problem, their drinking ability will go back to normal. They even think moderating their drug or alcohol use will be easier after a period of time without it. Unfortunately, the body remembers and within a very short time, the person in denial often returns to their normal drinking patterns. The quicker you can get out of this stage, the faster you can get to recovery. 

Anger

After you have decided to quit drinking, you may experience anger. Some people direct anger outwards by blaming others. They get angry at people who have set ultimatums against their drinking. For example, your children may demand that you can no longer spend time with the grandchildren while you drink, or the courts may threaten to take away your freedom.

You may also direct your anger at people who can drink normally. On the other hand, you may get angry at people who drank with you because you rationalize that they encouraged you to drink. For example, I once ended a relationship because I thought that by trying to keep up with his drinking, my drinking increased. Blaming him made my anger easier to deal with. More importantly, however, was that I was still in the denial stage.

You may also direct your anger inward with self-blame thinking, “I was stupid for letting it get so bad?” Directing your anger inward is a great sign. It means you are willing to take responsibility for your substance use. With responsibility comes the power to change.

However, don’t stay in self-blame. Dwelling on it for too long will not do you any good. Self-blame can make you feel worse when you are grieving alcohol. You need all the good feelings you can muster. When you find that you feel angry with yourself, sit with it for a moment. Then use that anger as strength to propel you towards change, so you no longer do the things that made you angry in the first place.

Bargaining

When my son died, I did a lot of bargaining. I understood that my son couldn’t be brought back. Instead, I bargained to be taken to him if only I drank more. Every possibility of death became a bargaining chip that I used because I felt desperate. In this stage, you may also feel desperation. Be very careful with this stage while grieving alcohol as it can lead to relapse.

Repeatedly, I hear stories about how someone thought they could just have one. Then they would wake up the next day not knowing how many they really had. Heroine users bargain for one last high before they go into recovery. Many of them overdose before they get there.

If you find yourself in the bargaining stage, try listening to stories of relapse. They almost always include some type of bargaining and can remind you that it doesn’t work. You can hear two of these stories on our podcast. Check out Mary Katherine’s and Chase Water’s story here.

Depression

The depression stage can last longer than expected when it comes to quitting alcohol. In fact, one person told me that she still found herself grieving alcohol three years after her last drink. Additionally, the temptation to relieve sadness with drugs and alcohol is increased because we’ve already built a habit of managing our pain that way. During this stage, many people end up feeling sorry for themselves. These are normal feelings, but they make a person feel stuck. The person may even think, “if this is all there is to sobriety, I don’t want it.”

Like any other emotion, you need to feel it to get through it. I love how Vince deals with depression when he hears it knocking. He welcomes it in. He doesn’t offer it coffee or a sandwich or ask it to stick around. Rather, he simply says, “tell me what you need to tell me, and there’s the back door.” In other words, listen to your depression. It may be saying that you need to do something different.

Maybe you’ve been isolated and need to make some friends. If you are feeling that sobriety isn’t giving you enough excitement, get out and do something different. In truth, your depression over not drinking may be telling you the same thing that your original desire to drink was also trying to tell you. It may be saying that your life is missing something. You need to go out and find it.

Acceptance

Finally, we get to acceptance. This stage will set you free. I’m not suggesting that the other stages won’t return from time to time. Rather, I am suggesting that once you fully reach this stage, the other stages won’t plague you nearly as much.

In this stage, you realize that alcohol is no longer an option you can use to cope with unwanted emotions. Instead, you look for other solutions. If you let it, acceptance can put you in a position of power over your own life. Your focus turns away from what you can’t have and toward what you can. You no longer spend most of your time grieving alcohol.

The only way to get to acceptance is to come to terms with the fact that alcohol or drugs weren’t working for you as a solution to your problems. In fact, it never will. Instead, you begin searching for more lasting solutions.

Let Nature Take Its Course

Just knowing these stages won’t solve your drinking or drugging problems. You can’t schedule them by only allowing yourself so many months for each stage. Nor can you predict when they may arrive or how long they will take to get through. In fact, you may have already experienced some of them without even knowing.

You can, however, help them along by allowing yourself to go through them. Grieving alcohol and drugs is real. Getting through it takes time, but some of the suggestions offered in this article may help.

If You Are Grieving Alcohol, Let Us Help

To get more help with your recovery, contact us. I would love to chat with you to see if we can identify some ways you can get through the difficult transition from struggling to thriving.

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