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July 09 • Grieving a Birthday

Day 731

Grief, I am told, is a big part of the recovery process. Understanding the stages of grief can be very helpful in recognizing the patterns of great loss Through that understanding a person can reach a place of patience and even grace with themselves.

We are not losing our minds; saying 'goodbye' is part of life, and doing it well can contribute to a healthy recovery. My demonstrated lack of ability to properly grieve significant loss may help explain other complications I find in recovery.

Did I just compare the loss of a loved one with the loss of sobriety? Maybe. In my recovery from sexual addiction, I'm told there is even grieving for some of the acting out behaviors, even though I do not long for them and do not consider my philandering and drinking to be anything worth grieving over. I don't understand that, but, like other aspects of this disease, the experiential and clinical observations provide strong evidence of this legitimate sadness.

Today is my second birthday, two years since my last inner-circle screw-up. I'm aware of a couple of forms of grief affecting me today. First, because I cannot go to a 12 Step meeting, I am embarrassingly sad that I can't get the coin and the hug and the affirmations from my friends in the program. And second, my stupid brain is telling me that there is nothing wrong that three or four hard-liquor drinks wouldn't solve.

I don't know whether I'm an alcoholic or not, but I stopped drinking about 20 months ago because of the way getting buzzed would deprive me of control over my thoughts, as well as the role it played in my last year of acting out. What I don't get is why this urge is so much stronger today than usual.

One more reason may be at play here. When my brother died more than 25 years ago, I did not grieve well. I was suddenly the only child of my aging parents, and I didn't have time for that. It took me twenty years to find a way to let out that hurt without worrying about how it looked. In the course of that, I became the custodian of my brother's ashes, waiting for that moment of family consensus as to where they would be placed or spread. When his widow passed away a couple of years ago, my wife and I also became the holder of her remains. While trying to make it clear to her twenty-something orphans that they had the final disposition call when they were ready, we welcomed this role as caretakers. Both urns were on shelves in our living room, and I was very comfortable with the idea that they would be there for years, maybe for the rest of my years. I even liked having them around.

One of my nephews stopped by yesterday and said he was ready to relieve me of the burden of safe-keeping his parents. We talked awhile, gave him the containers he had come for, and I walked him (them) to the car, feeling like there should be a dirge playing or something processional to mark the changing of the guard. When I walked back into the house, it was a lot emptier than it had been a few minutes before. I found myself fighting tears, and my wife had stopped fighting. It was deeply sad. At the same time, I was filled with pride for my nephew, who has grown into this responsibility through great trials.

My brother's ghost has played a significant role in my recovery, and perhaps in some of the early-life events that may have been part of putting all this in motion. So on this birthday, my heart is filled with missing him, and wondering what role he might have played during the past couple of years in helping me get my grits together.

Grief sucks.




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