Having spent time in the worlds of addictions and of dying and death I have recognized they have something in common – something died! And yes there is a difference. One is the end of a loved one’s life – the other is the end of a comfortable friend-like habit. They both once existed and then they didn’t.
Well, most addicts will tell you their addiction was their best friend in a way, so when the addiction ‘dies’ it is much like losing a best friend. In fact it can feel like a type of death, a profound loss, emptiness, an ache – Similar, yet different to the death of a loved one. The letting go process and the walk with grief is common.
There are many reasons for relapse for sure, yet one we generally do not look at is the lack of ‘burial’ of the addiction. We do not often create a good-bye ritual for the addicts ‘best friend’. Along with this missing step is the lack of recognition that they may be grieving of the loss. Others especially family, friends, recovery workers, and therapists see it as a good thing, and miss the fact the addict has suffered a loss. We see the ‘death’ of the addiction as a positive step forward for our family member or friend and fail to equate it as a loss for the one in recovery.
When you get into the being-ness of the addict you will discovery there are multiple losses when they stop practicing their addiction. The act of drinking or drugging, their favorite place to drink or fix, the friends they used with, the memories both good and bad all of these are losses, and there are many more. Then there is time – the time they spent with their habit. That space is now empty and ‘dying’ to be filled.
Without formal acknowledgement of the ‘death’ the grief process will be suspended and even more unexpressed emotions will be added to the already large store of latent emotions most addicts are carrying. These very emotions are often the trigger for relapse – self-medication, and adding more to the stockpile brings about the urge to use again – To escape from the unrelenting press of these disturbing feelings
We could do it differently!
We could acknowledge the end of the habit, the broken addiction the ‘death’ of it. We could create a ritual or ceremony that would in the manifest world demonstrate the ‘death’ by a burial or a burning of some sort. We could help the one letting go of the addiction fully grieve the loss and say good-bye well. Then the celebration of one month clean, one year clean and then a decade.
Adding an intentional death ritual to the process of recovery from an addiction would be a wise thing to do.