I’ve gotten quite familiar with grief over the past few years since losing my brother to a drug overdose. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance have flowed in and out of my life—much like the current of the ocean. Sometimes, the grief is calm and smooth and I barely know it’s there and, sometimes, it’s aggressive and angry and it’s all I can do to keep from drowning. It comes and it goes and I deal with it. I recognize it and, in a way, I welcome it. It reminds me of how much I loved my brother.
When Will died, I expected grief. I knew it was part of losing someone you love. What I didn’t realize is that grief is a part of anything you lose and I had to metaphorically bury the old me when I decided to try and get sober. As miserable as I was in active addiction, I was still going to miss parts of Active Addiction Allison.
I was 32 years old when I finally landed in rehab. I was quickly told that the Allison that walked through those doors was sure to drink again if I she didn’t change. “Oh, great,” I thought. “I have to become a completely different person if I want to stay sober?”
I mean, yeah, I get it. I didn’t want to be a raging alcoholic with loose morals and sub-par standards but, to be honest, that’s exactly who I had become. Alcohol allowed me to be okay with that and it worked for me for a good while. But it stopped working. Alcohol no longer took away my fear; it compounded it. It no longer gave me that false confidence that it once did. My confidence and self-esteem were lying on the floor, alongside my panties and my dignity.
I had been Active Addiction Allison for years, but Sober Allison? Who the hell was she? What did she like to do? How did she have fun? Who did she hang out with? So many questions and the answers didn’t come quickly enough for this immediate-gratification-seeking alcoholic.
Rehab was safe but that lasted only 28 days before I was tossed back into the wilds of reality. I walked out of rehab and right back into Active Addiction Allison’s life. I was in denial—the first stage of grief. I didn’t want to change my old playmates or playgrounds. That first year of being sober, I hung out with the same people at the same places I had for the past five years. I frequented bars and hung out until 2 am drinking soda water. I didn’t want to miss out on anything.
The fear of missing out made me angry—the second stage of grief. Man, was I angry. I was boring and I was bored. Friends stopped asking me to do stuff that involved alcohol and that pissed me off even more. The last thing I wanted to do on a Friday night was go to a 12-step meeting with a bunch of sober people who liked being sober and talked about gratitude and how effing happy they were. I didn’t fit in there either, which just took me to a place of bargaining—the third stage of grief. I came up with every “woulda, coulda, shoulda” and made deals with my Higher Power to just let me be “normal.”
After depression, the fourth stage of grief, came acceptance. I finally accepted that I had to change everything. I accepted the fact I’m a recovering alcoholic and I will never be someone who can control their drinking. I mean, what is this “normal” that I so desperately wanted to be? No one is normal. So what if I can’t drink like other people. In the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t a big deal. And with a little time and perspective, I started to realize just how lucky I am. In fact, I’m grateful to be an alcoholic in recovery. The life I have today exceeds anything I ever thought possible and it has nothing to do with material things but with simply being comfortable in my own skin—something I never really experienced until I got sober.
I don’t think I gave much thought to exactly how I was going to change, I just did what I was told to do. I surrounded myself with women who had what I wanted when it came to recovery and listened to what they had to say. Eventually, miraculously, I started to change without even knowing it. I am sure my friends and family saw it long before I did, but what I noticed was that I felt better about myself. I was happy. I wasn’t making a lot of poor decisions and that made not drinking a lot easier. I didn’t wake up with fear and anxiety about the day ahead, and didn’t regret anything from the day before. I started to get a sense of calmness and that fear of missing out turned into a joy of missing out. I no longer wanted to be a part of a dramatic and chaotic life that was so familiar to me. I actually wanted to be a better person and I was slowly becoming one.
But…and there is a but. I still miss old Allison sometimes. I still grieve her. No, not the hopeless, miserable, self-destructive parts of her, but the “wild and crazy I do what I want when I want and think about the consequences later” parts of her. I miss jumping on the plane with not enough money in the bank and calling in sick to work because something fun is happening in Mexico on a Tuesday. What I don’t miss are the consequences that come along with such decisions and behavior. I don’t miss the guilt, shame and remorse that had become a part of my being. I don’t miss waking up morning after morning with a sense of impending doom.
I love being sober. I love the new Allison. Her life is better, but I’m an alcoholic and just because I’m not suffering any longer doesn’t mean I’m not still sick on some days. Grieving the loss of alcohol or the girl I was when I drank is just part of choosing to be sober. It’s nothing in comparison to grieving my brother, which I think will forever be a part of my life. But no matter what it is that I am grieving, the process is the same and acceptance is the answer.