Quitting alcohol is often likened to a type of bereavement. We have, after all, lost one of our closest friends. The one we turned to whenever we were celebrating, commiserating, stressed, lonely or scared (or coping with any other emotion you can think of). Suddenly life stretches ahead of us with a massive gaping void at its centre.
With this in mind, I looked up the 5 stages of grief (the Kubler-Ross model). They go like this:
1. Denial wherein the survivor imagines a false, preferable reality.
Well, we've all been there, haven't we? Oh no, I'm not a proper alcoholic! I didn't drink every day/drink in the mornings/have blackouts/get the shakes (delete as appropriate). I'm just going through a bit of a rough patch. Anyhow, all my friends drink, and I don't drink half as much as X (insert name).
2. Anger...why me? It's not fair! How can this happen to me?
Bingo again. Hands up if you've secretly wanted to murder the 'moderate drinker' sipping oh so slowly on that damn glass of wine and making it last all night.
3. Bargaining - the third stage involves the hope that the individual cam avoid a cause of grief.
Been there, done that. I'll give up completely for a month, and then only drink on really special occasions. I'll never touch wine again - only beer (which I hate). I'll only drink at parties. Etcetera ad infinitum.
4. Depression. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.
We've been through bouts of this too, right? What's the point in going out if I can't let my hair down a little? Life's never going to be fun again. All my friends will abandon me. Boo hoo.
5. Acceptance. That's what we're aiming for folks!
What got me thinking about this today was a radio programme about the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva (I've always had a secret yearning to be Jewish. At school I used to skip Sunday chapel and go and hang out with the Rabbi and the Jewish girls instead).
When a Jewish person dies, their immediate family 'sit shiva' for a week. They stay home and receive guests so they can mourn, reminisce and pray together.
It seemed to me that really indulging your grief like this is far more helpful, and healthier, than the 'stiff upper lip' approach.
I'm sure that part of the reason I've made it this far not drinking is that I allowed myself, especially in the early days, to wallow in my grief and obsession. I spent hours each day reading, blogging, researching. I discussed the subject endlessly - not face to face, but with my new, virtual friends.
AA recommend that newbies aim for 90 in 90 - ninety meetings in ninety days: a similar principle.
So if you're reading this having only just stepped onto the sobercoaster, then make sure you give yourself some time to obsess - however you want to do it. Just make sure you don't do it alone. Find friends - real, virtual, AA - or all three!
And then, when you finally get to stage 5 - acceptance - you realise the big difference between quitting alcohol and bereavement:
Bereavement is an ending. But you are just at the beginning. There's a whole new life ahead of you...
Love SM x