by Michele O. Webb — BSW, CAP, CMHP
Grieving is not an orderly process. in general, someone grieving loss will go through the following stages, but may skip one or slip back and forth between them. The stages may not occur in order. Any way an individual grieves is the right way. The important thing is to acknowledge our grief and allow ourselves to feel it. Time, by itself, does not heal our wounds. We must allow ourselves the healing process of grieving.
People grieve for many reasons: the loss of someone through death, loss of a relationship, loss of a function through age, injury or illness, loss of body parts, loss of innocence, beliefs or faith, loss of a pet, loss of a chance for closure with a loved one or other significant person, loss of an expectation or a dream, loss of sobriety, loss of the ability to use our drug of choice. There are many reason that we grieve, and all are valid.
Symptoms of grief may include emotional turmoil and pain, numbness, feelings of hurt, hopelessness, rage, sadness, loneliness, abandonment, restlessness, resentment and others. None of these feelings are wrong. They are just feelings. People in grief may feel confused and disorganized, may want to isolate, may feel tense and anxious or exhausted, empty or heavy. There may be physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, inability to ear or sleep, and others. A recovering person may feel desperate enough to consider a drink or other drug to relieve the pain—but that will only prolong the grief by blocking our ability to work through and past it.
The Five Stages of Grief
Denial: A period of shock that buffers against the overwhelming reality of a loss, then gradually gives way to less radical defenses. “There must be some mistake!”
Anger: The anger may be directed at God, self, other people, groups of people, or the situation. It may switch back and forth. “Why me?” or “I wouldn’t have relapsed if she wasn’t so impossible to get along with!”
Bargaining: Pleas are made to God, individuals or organizations in an attempt to avoid the loss or to avoid grieving the loss. “Please let this be a dream! I’ll never drive drunk again!” “Please, Honey, don’t leave me. I’ll never hit you again! I’ll do anything you want!”
Depression: Sorrow. Despair. The reality of loss hits us. It’s important to feel this sadness, but also to know that it will end.
Acceptance: The struggle is done. We put the burden down and are left with the sweetness of memory and with the goodness of today’s reality.
Guilt: Not a stage of grief, guilt is nevertheless an emotion, and it is sometimes present during the grief process. Often we feel guilty because we believe we could have prevented something from happening, thereby avoiding the loss. Some examples of things we regret and feel guilty over could include someone’s suicide, which we think (unrealistically) that we could have prevented, or our inability to control our drinking or drugging—something over which we are powerless.
Feelings of guilt may also stem from something for which we are responsible, such as stealing from Granny when she was dying, or refusing to speak to Uncle Joe because he told us that we need to go to AA—then Uncle Joe dies. In the case of wrongdoing on our part, along with our loss we need to acknowledge and grieve our hurtful behavior. Ignored guild just weighs us down.
Guilt is significant, too, because it can block the desire to complete the grieving process. Sometimes we may feel that letting go of that heavy, sold stone in our heart will mean that we are also letting go of our connection to the person or thing we have loved and lost. The grief process is not about letting go of those things, but about the transformation of the relationship into something meaningful for today.