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Go Ahead and Grieve During Drug Addiction Treatment

There is a whole range of emotions that you experience when you go into drug addiction treatment. Most people who realize they’ve become addicted to opiates face a desperate desire to quit using, combined with anger at themselves because they want to keep using, and frustration at the people around them who don’t understand the unique nature of their addiction.

We previously discussed how people who find themselves facing addiction feel the same gut punch as cancer patients, for example—the shock that your life has taken a sudden and disastrous turn that you never expected, and that you might not survive it. You go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, eventually acceptance. Hopefully you reach the point when you finally seek help at your local methadone program.

But there is another emotional aspect to your recovery. It puts a rock into your stomach as you go through the assessment and the drug screens and the doctor appointments. It’s the grief you feel for the person who has died. It’s the grief you feel for the lifestyle that is gone. It’s the grief you feel for your old self, the one who lived a life addicted to drugs. And it’s perfectly natural to grieve for the self, for the side of yourself, that’s gone. There’s even an official term for that overwhelming emotional sorrow: It’s called disenfranchised grief.

Disenfranchised grief refers to events that society feels are too paltry to acknowledge. Did you have to put your pet down? Well, it was just a dog, or a cat, someone says. You left your husband, who beat you. Good riddance to bad rubbish, your family and friends declare, not understanding the lonely nights you feel with an empty space beside you in the bed. Women who miscarry their unborn babies feel disenfranchised grief, because people fail to recognize that a real baby died. They utter false platitudes like, “It was Nature’s way.” Huh?

That’s the big problem with the grief you feel during your drug addiction treatment. People simply don’t recognize that you are saying goodbye to the person you once were and to the way you once lived your life. It might have come with many faults, but it was your life and you were that person.

Your old friends are dead to you, also. It might be easy for your drug addiction treatment counselor to tell you about avoiding the old people, places, and things. They can tell you to stay away from the people you’ve been hanging out with for years, but they can’t tell you how to accept that life still somehow goes on even when you’ve had to give up your best friend.

Understanding Why People Discount Your Grief

People don’t recognize the grief that you’re feeling. Your emotions are not sanctioned because of:

  • Social stigma. There’s a stigma associated with drug use, and all people can think about is how smart you were to finally get into drug addiction treatment. They don’t think about the embarrassment associated with your decision to get treatment, for example, or the secrets you’ve been keeping that you don’t know how to let out.
  • Economic problems. If you’re in a financial bind, people simply think it’s a good thing you’re in drug addiction treatment and not using opiates any more. They don’t realize that addiction treatment is also costly, and they don’t recognize that the big changes you’re undergoing make it more difficult to deal with mundane things like a daily budget.
  • Health issues. For the people who find out they have HIV or hepatitis, there is no sympathy. You brought it on yourself, people say.
  • Legal problems. Even if you aren’t facing charges, you might have other legal problems. Have you been living with a significant other who is still actively using? Now you want to separate yourself from that person, but you face real financial losses. If you’ve lost custody of your child, then you had that coming, too. Nobody cares.

Lacking comfort from the people who are important to you means that you cannot grieve properly, and you face a very real danger of falling into depression, anger, and guilt. You could even be tempted to relapse without the understanding that validates the emotional upheaval in your life. Researchers at the University of Indiana predict that people who cannot resolve disenfranchised grief may be prone to chronic grief reactions for years to come. Life will become stagnant, they say, and new emotional growth will never begin.

Be Nice to Yourself During Drug Addiction Treatment
  • Recognize that you are not alone, and that disenfranchised grief is common among people in opiate drug addiction treatment.
  • This is a very difficult time in your life. With or without disenfranchised grief, you are undergoing huge changes, both emotionally and physically. With the busy lives that we all lead, there are probably few people who are going to do nice things for you right now. That’s why it’s important for you to do those things for yourself. Buy yourself something nice, or go to a salon and get your hair done. You deserve it.
  • Talk to the people closest to you—choose one relative, and one friend. Tell them you realize they can’t understand the grief you’re feeling over the lifestyle you’ve given up—and you’re happy that you are no longer using drugs—but tell them that sometimes you miss the way things used to be. If they simply cannot understand or cannot generate any sympathy, then talk to your drug addiction treatment counselor about including them in family therapy counseling.
  • Share your emotions with people in group therapy or at 12-step meetings. Many of them have experienced the same emotions and they will understand. Even if they don’t have a personal investment in the situations that affect you, they can recognize the grief that you’re experiencing.
Allow Yourself to Grieve

Through all of this discussion, you might be wondering about the definition of the word disenfranchised. It refers to the fact that you are deprived of the right to something—in this case, you are deprived of the right to grieve.

Drug addiction treatment counselors recognize that disenfranchised grief is a legitimate part of opiate addiction recovery because society in general has little sympathy for opiate addicts. Accepting that fact and embracing your recovery are probably the two best things you can do to move past your grief. You can recognize your grief, mourn the person who is gone, and mourn the people you have had to set aside. But part of your recovery is welcoming the new and positive things that will come into your life through sobriety. Grieve for your losses, yes—but embrace your drug addiction treatment. Only then can you move forward into the brightness and comfort of recovery.

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