SOBRIETY and the STAGES of GRIEF

Alcohol-your best friend forever?  This best friend who helped you through those tricky teenage years and has been there for you ever since. She is with you when you socialise and the best Netflix companion when you’re alone. She helps you celebrate the highlights and numbs the pain when it’s all too much. Perhaps she’s been your life saver through the stresses and strains of marriage and parenthood. Sound familiar?

It’s a huge role she has played throughout your life which means it comes as quite a shock to discover this friend is false and toxic. The stats are piling up and the truth is hard not to see. But even so, choosing to let her go is not completely obvious, nor easy, and the reality is that most of us will experience some or all of the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief. These stages can occur in any order and often overlap backwards, forwards and sideways:

Denial: this can go on for years as you slowly become aware of the negative effects of this substance on your mental and physical health and the detrimental effect it has on your life in general.  You may try to moderate, put rules in place, stop on and off, compare your drinking to others and justify carrying on for any number of reasons. You may even be so determined not to be an “alcoholic” because you enjoy it too much to have to stop.

Anger: At yourself for not being able to moderate, for feeling weak willed and so often hung over. Angry at everyone else who doesn’t need to stop, and at friends who say you don’t have a problem. And angry when your partner suggests you do. Annoyed when there are no alcohol free alternatives at social occasions. Angry that you started drinking in the first place and for being so gullible to have bought into the brainwashing that drinking alcohol means a good time and annoyed at the space this thing takes up in your head. Also angry at all the time and money wasted in your lifetime numbing your brain, being destructive and not being true to yourself… the blurred memories and missed opportunities, knowing that you haven’t been the best you could have been. It’s possible in this stage to also feel judgemental towards others and especially critical of those close to us that continue to drink, oblivious of the dangers and ill effects that are now so clear in your own mind. And ironically this can be because they remind you of you.

Bargaining: After a period of abstinence the voices become more persistent. You are doing well now, proved that you are not in fact an alcoholic because you have managed to stop for a period of time. This means you can moderate, right? Starting with a drink or two when out with friends, then weekends, then more often. You have been so good you deserve just this one? Oh what’s the point, life is no fun without it, everyone else is drinking..? Knowing that this stage is to be expected means you can experience it with awareness and listen to that voice with a healthy dose of scepticism. You know deep down that going back to an abusive lover always has the same outcome..

Depression: After being alcohol free for a few months it seems it is quite common to experience a very flat period, almost an anti-climax after the excitement of discovering all the many benefits of being sober. This can be a danger time as it takes one back to the bargaining stage and the f***it why not?  Be prepared in whatever way is going to help you through this. Refer to your toolkit – connecting with friends, nature, counselling, anything creative, exercise, volunteer, yoga, meditation or hypnotherapy. 

Know that it takes 14 months for the dopamine system to normalise. Any psychologist will tell you that after divorce it takes up to 2-3years to feel completely yourself again which means patience is essential.  While your mind readjusts emotionally and psychologically there are a myriad of changes taking place on a cellular level, healing, regenerating and balancing of chemicals and neurotransmitters. This is why it takes time to lose weight and also for sugar cravings to subside. Cultivate the voice of an encouraging parent as you give yourself recognition for every small step in the direction that feels good for you! Feel grateful for how far you have come and remind yourself often of all that is right in your life.

Acceptance: Acceptance doesn’t mean instant happiness but rather that your powerful subconscious is finally in alignment with your conscious mind. It is a sense of relief and also the start of a new chapter, a new reality. Everyone’s journey is different which means your path to this stage will be taken in your own sweet time and your own direction. Your numerous alcohol free benefits start to become part of your reality which means you naturally choose to leave the toxic relationship behind. The new neural pathways are becoming stronger and stronger and everything becomes so much clearer and easier. Life starts to become more fulfilled and purposeful. There is much self- discovery and insight into what is important to you. And much excitement when contemplating all there is still to do with this gift of time and better health.

How can hypnotherapy enhance and ease this process? Feel free to contact me at belinda@riversidehypnosis.co.za for more information.

(Written for World Without Wine, for link click here)