Addiction is a very complicated condition rife with contradictions and misunderstandings. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than a recent piece published on the Psych Central website. The post was written by Addiction Recovery‘s Dr David Sack, and it deals with something that is very real: the sense of loss experienced by addicts in recovery.
Dr Sack explains that recovering addicts can experience a serious crisis of personal loss long after detox and rehabilitative therapy is complete. That sense of loss comes with the knowledge that the individual can no longer participate in certain activities that previously provided great comfort. That may sound strange on the surface, but it makes complete sense.
Take the chronic alcoholic, for example. Does he or she not drink to drown out the pressures of life? Does he or she not resort to alcohol as a means of hiding the pain and misery they are going through? Of course they do. Alcohol brings the individual comfort in the same way other activities comfort non-drinkers.
In that context, it becomes a bit clearer why recovery is so challenging for so many people. Now let us add another element: habitual behaviour. To help understand where we are going with this, just think about some of the habitual behaviours you engage in. Even if those habits are harmless, you do these things without thinking about them.
Habits are extremely difficult to break because they are rooted in the subconscious. The same thing applies to alcohol abuse or drug use. There comes a certain point in which the user’s behaviours become so deeply rooted in the subconscious that he or she often acts without thinking. This is the compulsive aspect of addiction. Combined with the sense of personal loss, habitual behaviour is very difficult to overcome.
In his piece, Dr Sack goes through all of the generally accepted stages of grief, including denial, anger, depression, etc. He applies them to the recovering addict who will experience each stage while progressing through recovery. Although he does not come right out and say it, the implication is that the recovering addict needs grief counselling in addition to all of the other treatments he or she is receiving.
Dr Sack goes on to explain that the sense of loss goes much deeper than just addictive substances. Recovering addicts also grieve the loss of:
- their friends (i.e., other drug users)
- the rituals of substance abuse
- their personal identities
- personal relationships with family members
- time they can never get back
- personal freedom (complete recovery requires strict accountability).
Perceived losses are compounded by the reality that the individual’s future will never be what he or she may have once hoped for. Unfortunately, the weight of all of this can be crushing to an individual whose mental and emotional state is already fragile. Once again, it becomes easy to see how challenging recovery truly is.
Stay the Course
The point of bringing this to your attention is not to say that recovery is hopeless. It is not. Tens of thousands of people around the world successfully recover from addiction every year. Rather, our only intent is to provide a clearer picture of how difficult recovery truly is. For one to prevail, one must be committed to staying the course no matter how dark the days become.
Addiction Helper encourages you to get treatment if you are struggling with drugs or alcohol. Your recovery will not be easy, but you can be successful if you are willing to stay the course. We are willing to help you if you are ready to get well.