Community issues: The stages of grief
February 12, 2013
Grief is an emotion that comes in stages; each can be adaptive to help us move through loss, including the loss of an addictive substance. The El Dorado County Jail currently is 26.4 percent occupied by those convicted of illegal possession or handling of either illegal substances or alcohol. For most, it starts with denial of a loss, the loss of a friend, relative, different substances, etc. The preceding stage is depression or sadness; the intensity of the stage can be light to very strong. Next is anger and bargaining, if the person’s emotional health is good, then acceptance of the loss comes and people are able to go on with life.
South Lake Tahoe is a community where more than 220 children are removed from their homes every year due to substance abuse/addiction as well as child abuse/neglect. When it comes to drugs and alcohol addiction, the process of grief applies when an addict is trying to quit the substance for themselves and for their families. Denial is the most common stage that an addict deals with, and the strongest; denial protects a person from experiencing too much pain all at once. Sticking in this stage too long can keep addicts from seeing the reality of the situation. You hear statements such as “it’s not that bad.” The addict believes these statements as if they are true. When someone is in denial, you often see blame. The worst thing anyone can do for a suffering addict is to accept the blame for his or her use.
If an addict stops using for a few days, depression and sadness set in. Depression can be used as a time to allow the body to physically heal, search for self-awareness and contemplation. However, the isolation and attacking at the core self will create a more chronic problem. This type of feeling is often too much for most addicts and they go back to using.
As the sadness lessens, anger starts to appear, typically followed by blame. The smallest thing agitates the addict and at times come out in a rage. If anger is not addressed in some type of recovery process then relapse is most surely to happen. When the addict stays in anger, it can lead to resentment. It’s the process of reliving old hurts and slights that the addict has experienced. Living in that negativity will surely lead to a relapse.
Bargaining is a tool that the addict uses to look for different solutions to problems, thinking “I can use just a little at a time,” or, “If I stay clean and sober for 30 days, I can go back to using again.” A person without a drug or alcohol problem doesn’t think like this and this is easy to point out. It’s a process referred to as “abnormal thinking.” The good news is if the addict reaches this stage they may relapse and realize that are truly an addict/alcoholic. Then this is followed by “acceptance,” which starts the real recovery process.
– For more information, contact Tahoe Turning Point at 530-541-4594.