We all have lost someone we have loved. We all have experienced grief. We have all gone through “the stages” and were viewed as getting along “as expected”. People tend to be more understanding when they know you are grieving the loss of a loved one. People tend to bend the rules for you. People usually show you the kinder side of humanity during this terrible time in your life. This is because mourning the death of a loved one is something everyone has to go through. Even though it is a cliché to even call this a cliché, it is just a part of life.
What do you do if you are grieving the loss of a life of someone who isn’t dead nor dying?
This person doesn’t have cancer. This person isn’t in the hospital with a fatal physical illness. This person is very much with us but they are struggling from a disease that not everyone has accepted as a disease, that’s right…the addict. What do we do when we are grieving the life this person could have had had they not turned to drugs or alcohol? We aren’t shown as much understanding from the community in this sense. We aren’t always shown the kinder side of humanity either. I hope this post will enlighten those who continue to stigmatize addiction.
Before I continue, let me make this clear. I understand that watching someone struggling with addiction is not comparable to a loved one dying. What I am saying is that there is a type of grieving we do when we realize the life our loved one could have led has died.
My mom. Oh my mom. She is beautiful. She was actually asked to MY high school prom before I was. She was a talented collegiate athlete. She was on a full scholarship in school for her sport. She is smart. She helped my dad with his papers in college and tutored other athletes. She is funny. She is surprisingly crass and witty when it is completely unexpected. She is kind. She literally has to keep my dad from knowing all of the things she does for others because he worries people take advantage of her generosity. A person like this should lead a fulfilling and beautiful life. The opportunities are endless for someone with such wonderful characteristics.
Unfortunately, she is also an alcoholic. Her DUIs have lost her jobs. Her showing up drunk to work has prevented her from getting any references. Her kindness is looked as a way to make up for all of the chaos she has caused her family. Her humor is overlooked because people think she is using it as a defense mechanism. Everything that she has accomplished is overshadowed by this terrible disease.
My mom is no saint and she does need to be held accountable for the poor decisions she has made. BUT can you imagine her potential if she wasn’t an alcoholic? Someone so smart, charming, beautiful, and kind could be anything they wanted. Maybe that scared her when she was younger. I couldn’t tell you how she got on this path but I know where she is now.
It makes me sad for my mom. I hope one day that when I look back on my life and all I have or have not accomplished, I will be proud of myself. When my mom looks back on her life, she shares a lot of regrets and embarrassment. Her life, my life, and everyone in my family’s life would be drastically different had she not been an alcoholic. This is when grieving comes into play. I used to grieve the life I could have had. I think about the memories we could have shared during the holidays. I imagine the vacations we could have taken as a family. I picture the neighbors sharing funny light-hearted stories about their goofy loving neighbors (us).
This isn’t something I do often. There is nothing I can do to change it so why take up a lot of time mourning? Well, because it’s natural. I did lose a life. I lost a life I could have had. My mom lost the life she could have led. When the holidays are rough or a family visit goes awry, I grieve. I think about what could have been. I even go through the stages.
At first, I may be in denial that anything is wrong. That can only last so long because the truth is staring at me in the face…usually with an empty bottle of vodka nearby. I then become angry. I want to blame anyone and everyone and I explode with fiery emotions. I begin to bargain. I seek in vain for a way out of this cycle of grief. I become depressed when it finally sinks in that this is inevitable and a part of my life. I then hit acceptance and I am usually exhausted but at peace.
These emotions may all play out over a few weeks, a few days, or even a few hours depending on the circumstances. I felt dramatic at first when I realized what I was doing was grieving. Then I felt incredibly empowered. I have the right to grieve. No one can take that away from me. It isn’t selfish and as long as I progress through the stages without ruining important aspects of my life, I will continue to grieve as needed.
My mom has made and continues to make bad decisions that affect everyone. I pray that these decisions don’t lead to me having to grieve the loss of her completely but that is a reality we have to face when loving someone struggling with addiction.
I wrote all this to say that if you feel the need to grieve the loss of what your loved one’s life could have been (or what your life could have been), don’t feel guilty. This doesn’t mean you can’t help them. This doesn’t mean they won’t get better. This doesn’t mean you have given up hope. This isn’t a pity party. This is a human reaction to loss. Process your grief, know what you’re doing, and come out the other side stronger. You are worth it.
Thanks for all the kind messages and words of support. I hope these posts will spread awareness of what it is like to love someone struggling with the addiction. I want to continue to fight the stigma associated with addiction so please share this post if you think it would help someone understand. Thanks for reading and subscribe if you’d like to read more!