No matter how hard you work on your recovery from alcoholism, there are days when you experience a gloomy sadness, a feeling that you have lost someone or something that you really cared about. That lost person is you, the person whose alcohol addiction has caused so many problems. There is a term to describe the grief you feel that nobody else acknowledges: It’s called disenfranchised grief.
Disenfranchised grief refers to the emotional difficulties people feel for events that nobody else mourns. For example, a woman leaves her abusive husband. Everybody breathes a sigh of relief, because it was dangerous for her to stay in a relationship with someone who used her as a punching bag. Yet on dark, quiet nights, she feels the emptiness beside her in the bed. She misses the times that she and her partner could talk about everyday life. She mourns the loss of her partner, no matter how unreasonable that grief seems to others.
The term might also apply when someone’s pet dies. To them it’s the loss of a family member; to other’s it’s just a dog or cat.
Disenfranchised grief also affects people during recovery from alcoholism. How many times did people ask you, at the height of your alcohol abuse, why you didn’t just stop drinking? They couldn’t understand the difficult nature of the struggle for recovery from alcoholism. And they cannot at this time understand the range of feelings you may be experiencing during your recovery.
Consider that before your drinking got out of control, you enjoyed it. You liked going to parties with your friends and you felt good when the alcohol got into your system. Maybe you believed you were funnier or sexier when you were drinking. And now, even though you’ve learned so much about recovery at 12-step meetings, a part of you sometimes misses those days.
Most of the time alcoholism graduates into isolated drinking. This type of drinking is not used as a social lubricant, but more to numb the pain of whatever you have trouble dealing with head on. It is still, at this time, your best friend, and even though it has now turned into your worst enemy, you grieve the loss over a habit, a way of life, a coping mechanism.
If you told your spouse or your closest sibling that sometimes you miss your old self, they would say incredulously, “What, are you crazy?” They have no understanding and no sympathy. You are mourning the loss of your former self, and it is hard for loved ones to fully understand that from your perspective.
Recovery From Alcoholism Brings Change
The social stigma attached to addiction prevents people from recognizing the grief you feel for the lifestyle that’s gone. Researchers at the University of Indiana suggest proactive interventions to help you deal with your emotions so you can avoid ending up with exaggerated grief over other events or with physical symptoms stemming from the emotional struggle. Symptoms could include migraine, temporomandibular joint syndrome, digestive difficulties, hives, and other ailments.
But now that you know there is a real term that explains your grief, you can process your feelings with your counselor at your local addiction treatment center. As with many emotions that you explore during your recovery from alcoholism, you have to recognize what you cannot change and move forward.
Recognize that you are a worthwhile person, and if you feel grief then it is a genuine and valid emotion. Discuss your feelings with someone like your sponsor. Ask the counselor who is guiding you through your recovery from alcoholism to set up a family meeting so you can talk about your feelings and help channel family responses. Give yourself some time to grieve, say goodbye to your former self, and then celebrate your recovery from alcoholism—because only then can you joyfully embrace your new life.