How to Cope with Loss in Recovery

Pain and loss often accompany addiction recovery 

At first, recovery from addiction may promise that all trials are behind us. 

The gift of recovery appears to bring all the things we want. Not everyone has this pink cloud experience early in recovery. But during the first few years, there are not many of us who don’t, at some time, have the feeling that we may have “turned the corner.” We begin to suspect that life is going to unfold smoothly for us. However, after some time in recovery, all of us realize that although recovery is our greatest gift and the promises of the program are true, we continue to face the reality of life – and the pain of loss and failure in our lives.

These times are crucial for us. We learn that hope is not simply an optimism that denies the pain of living. We understand, too, that our recovery is not fragile. Recovery does not depend on things going our way, nor does it rest on a foundation of continual success. We discover that sobriety is not grounded in ourselves but rather in a Power greater than ourselves that we allow working in our lives. In times of distress, we come to a more profound realization of our need for others to support our recovery from addiction. We learn not to run away from pain or numb it with substances or addictive behaviour. Instead, we begin to face the pain of loss or failure.

Among the more severe pains, we may face the loss of a loved one through death or the loss of a relationship through divorce or separation. As we get clean and sober, we also face the loss we have suffered in missed opportunities, time, reputation and friends while in active addiction. 

We need to be aware that the pain of such losses is not incompatible with the life process. The pain is real, and we need to grieve the loss. A great deal has been written about the phenomenon of grief. Grieving over actual losses in our lives is a complex process accompanied by many intense feelings. Sometimes we may experience an authentic sense of guilt. We may have sudden rushes of anger toward the other person, God, or ourselves. We may wonder why such a loss should happen to us. We may at times wonder if having worked so hard was worth it.

Acceptance and Hope 

At such times, we need to reinforce hope and acceptance. Hope is the confident expectation of good. It enables us to go through the grieving process abstinent and fully accept our loss. Hope reminds us that although the loss of a loved one will affect our lives, the intensity of the emotion will pass. Hope encourages us to reach out to others for help – Twelve Step members or our addiction therapist. From them, we get the strength to accept our feelings realising that no matter how powerful they may be, they do not have the power to destroy us.

Acceptance and hope also help us see the importance of mourning and coming to a full acceptance of the loss to achieve our potential for joy. If we try to bypass this grieving process by pretending nothing has happened, or if we allow ourselves to become caught in the anger that accompanies grief, we short-circuit our capacity to live a whole life in recovery, free from dependencies.

To grieve the loss of a friend or a loved one Is not contrary to hope. If a person has indeed been a gift in our lives and we experience the loss of the person, a certain sadness is bound to follow. But mourning loss need not go on forever. As we grieve the loss and fully accept it, another horizon begins to emerge. This hope lets us look forward in life with a calm and confident expectation of good.

Failing does not mean we are failures

The pains of loss and failure are frequently interrelated and difficult to distinguish. However, we can separate them. We are frequently not responsible for a loss. Failure seems to imply a sense of, “It could have been different if only I had…” In ongoing recovery, we continue to learn to deal with failure in a healthy and hopeful way. The principles of recovery teach us that no failure is final until we resolve it. The pain of not achieving a cherished goal may be real. Hope and acceptance allow us to realize that it does not mean we are failures. In this instance, hope enables us to look for the good in the experience and ourselves. Hope and acceptance encourage us to acknowledge but not dwell on the past.

Many of us have gone through significant losses in our addictive and compulsive careers. In recovery, we have learned t look back on those and accept them as stepping stones. We see that they need not inflict permanent damage on our lives. 

In recovery, as we face the reality of the pain of loss and failure, we realize we have resources to draw upon through our recovery program and our therapist. Hope does not do away with pain, but it allows us to accept it and live with a certain grace.

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