Dimension of Recovery - Part Three
The Role of Grief
are both victims and victimizers.
Anyone who is addicted to drugs and
alcohol leaves behind them a trail of destruction. This could
include everything from harm done to loved ones - both physically
and emotionally, as well as violence and criminal activity of all
sorts in which many become involved.
On the other hand, we need to recognize that the majority of
addicts have, themselves, grown up in painful, dysfunctional
families. In homes where one or both of the adults are out of
control because of addiction or other life-consuming problem, they
we subjected to a daily diet of physical and emotional trauma.
Effective rescue mission recovery programs recognize the
importance of helping addicts to repent of their sin and become
responsible the wrong they have done. Steps 4 & 5 used with
Steps 8 & 9 are practical guides for helping recovery addicts
to gain a clear conscience and to take the extra step of restoring
broken relationships and acknowledging to other the hurt they have
caused them. This is dealing with the "victimizer."
We must also be careful to also deal with the "victim."
Some Christian workers have tended to shy away from this, though,
for fear of sending the message that we are excusing the
destructive behavior of the addict. But, if we do not deal with
this aspect of recovery, our program participants will have great
difficulties in coming into genuine emotional freedom.
Impact of Childhood Messages
The single most common message experienced
in dysfunctional families is, "you're not allowed to
feel." When someone is told that their feelings are no good,
they hear, "I'm no good." As we've mentioned in earlier
installments of this series, the only way to survive in such an
environment survival is to "shut down" emotionally. The
truth is, emotions cannot be split off in one area without
affecting the total emotional life. I make it so I am not able to
experience pain; I am not going to experience joy, either. If I
can't be sad, I can't be happy. I am out of touch with my own
feelings; I can't ever connect with yours, either. I am living
life from the neck up, you might say.
Is it any wonder these people become addicted to alcohol and
drugs? There is no more effective way to manage one's emotions
than mind-altering chemicals. So, whatever happened emotionally in
childhood is made all the worse by pouring chemicals on top of all
the shame, hurt, and resentment.
Emotional Re-connection: Recovery's Gift
One of the greatest gifts that God ever gives
people when they begin down the tough road of recovery is the ability,
the freedom, and the permission to feel again. In recovery, we learn
that everyone has emotions, that feeling are neither "good or
"bad", and that feelings are not to be feared or rejected.
Instead of being disconnected from them, in recovery we learn to be
unaware of them, to connect with them, and to experience them. Instead
of feeling numb most of the time, recovery means experiencing - both
intellectually and emotionally - the joy and peace and that are an
essential part of this Christian life.
Grief, one of the first feelings to return
A sure sign that a person is beginning
the process of genuine recovery is the return of the emotional life.
They begin feeling again, and much of what they feel is pain and grief.
With a clear mind they begin to experience reality, often for the first
time in years. And, the reality they find themselves in is usually
terrible. By the time they reach out for help, most addicts have lost
all that is dear to them - family, career, and self-respect. After
drowning their feelings with drugs and/or alcohol for so long, they can
experience feelings very intensely. The feelings of grief and loss can
be profound. They may find themselves grieving the death of a loved one
or some other loss that occurred years ago. In these cases, their
grieving process has been cut short through use of mood altering
chemical (which includes alcohol).
Adult children of alcoholics and others who have
experienced abuse in their lives usually feel totally ripped off. They
may sense for the first time the deep loss of not having a family where
they felt safe and loved. Many grieve a childhood where they were never
able to be kids because of the adult responsibilities that were trust
upon them by parents who were out of control.
The key to working through all of this is to
avoid using alcohol or drugs to turn them off their feelings again. This
is a common cause of relapse for those in recovery programs. Instead,
the recovering person needs to "feel the feelings" with a
clear mind in order to work through them - and eventually leave them
Some final thoughts
A necessary part of reconnecting with their
emotional selves is to begin to grieve what they've made of their lives,
how they've destroyed the relationships. And this is one of the greatest
gifts that we will ever bring to our program participants, so we need --
but it is not going to happen on its own. It has got to be actively
programmed into our activities. And that is when they need to know we
are going to be committed to them as they work through this process.
Time must be set aside to give them the opportunity to talk freely about
what they are experiencing. There is a tremendous therapeutic value in
verbalizing feelings instead of stuffing what is going on within them.
In order to keep moving forward in recovery,
program participants must feel supported in the process of reconnecting
with their difficult feelings, including grief. It is the responsibility
of the program staff members to create an environment where participants
sense that they can safely and freely express the struggles they are
~ * ~
Copyright 1996-2012 by Michael Liimatta. All Rights Reserved.
Mr. Liimatta is the past President of Christians in RecoveryŽ
and currently serves on its Advisory Counsel. He is a Social Entrepreneur, Consultant
to Nonprofit Organizations with OneAccord, Chief Academic Officer at
City Vision College and has been involved with
drug and alcohol counseling and recovery education for 30 years.
Visit his web site
This series originally
appeared in RESCUE Magazine, published by the Association of Gospel
Rescue Missions, September 2000, November 2000, January 2001, and March