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Loss in Recovery: A Personal Experience

Loss & Grief in Recovery

Loss overall is never an easy circumstance to navigate. This can come in many shapes and forms, mainly because what we define as loss is entirely subjective – it’s personal to us based on our experiences with, and the depths of, our feelings toward whatever it is we find ourselves lacking. Some of the most common losses are those of relationships, the death of a loved one or even the loss of self. In recovery especially, loss can be felt on so many levels and because we are no longer numb, that loss can hurt like none other.

The Road to Recovery

By the time I was beaten down enough to seek a different solution for my life, I certainly didn’t recognize myself. My physical appearance in regards to my health were on a fast-track to deterioration; I was sick, I looked sick and didn’t know how to get better. When it comes healing, I like to see it as a rebuilding process – the foundation of who we are is always there, even if it’s covered and buried by the debris of the wreckage of our pasts, it’s there. Getting back to bottom floor, carefully straightening up and working to rebuild again is a long and arduous process but it also teaches a vital lesson that we can carry forward to other facets of life; no matter how far we think we have fallen, what we think we have lost can, in most instances, be regained.

It’s when we take on each and every day with the notion of just simply doing the next right thing, not overwhelming ourselves, that small steps become large distances and there is hope again. Even as strange as it sounds, the loss of our drug of choice and/or alcohol is a HUGE loss, right up there with losing a relationship. There was a time that it worked and if you’re an addict anything like me, alcohol and drugs were the only thing I trusted to actually stand by me. Little did I know what lesson was going to come crashing my way in early sobriety.

The Heartbreaking News

One of the most difficult challenges, without a doubt, that I have ever faced in recovery was my Grandfather’s passing. In contrast to self-loss, I’ve always found it harder to deal with losing anyone or anything outside of myself, maybe because any kind of broken parts of me I figure were just collateral damage to a screwed up life that I thought I deserved. Regardless, I’ll never forget what I felt that day; I had only been in rehab about 30 days.

My therapist at the time had called me into her office. I knew my Grandfather had been sick but always believed he would get better, as he always did. When I walked in and heard my mother crying over the speaker phone, I literally hit my knees. I didn’t how to speak even if I wanted to, my breath left me for a time and my head immediately began spinning how I could now justify drinking or using to get through the pain. Pretty sick, right? The one thing he wanted me to stop doing was the first thing that came to mind when I found out he had passed.

Distraught on Side of the Road

Then, I ran. I didn’t know where I was running as I was in rehab with no knowledge of the surrounding area, money or even an ID…but I ran. I didn’t get very far though, before I sat down on the side of a road, defeated and just sat in disbelief. By that time, my therapist and one of the resident managers who worked at the treatment center found me. They walked to the side of the road as well, my therapist taking off her cardigan and setting it over the grass before sitting and the RM, Sam, sitting on the other side of me.

Coping & Understanding

No one really said much of anything as we all sat there, except for some small talk of encouragement that I would get through this. I didn’t believe them, of course, and more than anything I just wanted them to go away so I could be alone. However, I’ve come to realize that wasn’t exactly true. I didn’t want to be alone and I didn’t want them to leave…I just didn’t know how to ask anyone to stay. But, they did – they just kind of knew. They sat with me through my first real lesson of feeling my feelings; they felt those feelings with me. They taught me the benefit of not facing those kinds of situations alone because honestly, looking back at that pivotal moment, I couldn’t have gotten through all the rest without learning that lesson with them.

See, sometimes we feel the sting of loss and automatically try to avoid feeling it at all. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic because life is full of loss…and victory – failure and success. I didn’t know it at the time, but what Sam and my therapist showed me was that even though it hurt, it sucked, I hated it, and felt every other possible negative way about it…it didn’t kill me.

Just because I was craving that instant gratification to take the pain away didn’t mean I had to do it. And you know what? I got through that moment sober. Not quite as gracefully as I could have, it was still a dark time, but I didn’t use over it. I just kept waking up each day and resolved to stay sober for that day alone, then laid down at night, still not using and started again the next day. Slowly and little by little, time went on. I still missed, and miss, my Grandfather every day, but drugs and alcohol aren’t any kind of a vital solution to my perceived pain – they won’t actually do anything but make me feel worse and create a plethora of other problems. Sam and my therapist couldn’t walk through that battle for me, but they did walk through it with me and I can say honestly that I will always hold gratitude in my heart for the two of them for not just being there but for teaching me in that most vulnerable moment.

Feelings Are Not Facts!

It’s said often in the rooms of 12 step meetings and treatment centers alike that feelings are not facts. Just because I feel some kind of way, doesn’t mean I have to act on it. Impulsivity is the enemy of recovery and the more we can practice stopping, taking a breath, and thinking before we act, the better off we will be in not only making wiser decisions, but the simpler recovery becomes for us. Pain and loss will happen – it’s an unfortunately unavoidable truth of life. But today, we don’t have to use over it. Really, I don’t think even if I had drank or used the day I found out about my Grandfather that I would have found any relief anyway; I’m not so sure there was anything that would even come close to touching that kind of pain. I know that he would be proud of me today and that feeling is so much more fulfilling than any kind of pill, bottle, or substance. It’s the real deal – the true sensation of what we seek through our addictions.

Though our hearts may ache in indescribable ways, we carry on. Pain is temporary, even as immensely as we may feel it. Fortunately, recovery teaches us how to process those moments and get through without setting the rest of the world on fire, and 12 step programs breakdown how to continue living on in healthy ways. At the end of the day, we’re worth being sober. We’re worth living in sustained happiness, making memories, loving and growing.

That day, almost a year ago, when Sam and my therapist sat with me, they taught me that I am worth sitting with, walking with. In the most adverse of times is when we can find the greatest strength and as we recover, we can pass on that lesson to others as well because we’re all worth it. There’s nothing today that a drink or hit will actually fix in my life and thanks to people like Sam and my therapist, I now know just what I’m made of and how strong I actually am. Thank you to my therapist, to Sam, and all other treatment workers that have not only walked with me, but also through the lives of so many others. We’ve got this.

Clarissa O'Neill
Clarissa O'Neill
Clarissa O'Neill is a recovering addict/alcoholic that seeks to use her writing and experiences to break down mental health stigmas. After struggling with mental health issues since her early teenage years, Clarissa has overcome trauma, addictions and battles with severe depression/anxiety. Her greatest standing ambition is to start the necessary conversations in order to shed light on the importance of mental health and the resources available to those struggling. A US Army Veteran, Clarissa is also mother to a son, who greatly inspires her to keep pressing through any hardships and look ahead always to brighter days.