Coping with Grief Without Alcohol

grief sober tools Dec 12, 2023


Something has been brewing inside me and it bubbled over this weekend. 


It started with listening to a song really loud in the car by myself. It struck a chord, almost literally.

I felt something in the music and started singing along. My singing took a turn and morphed into screaming which ended up with full on sobbing. Sing/scream/sobbing. Release. I spent the next two hours hiking in the woods talking to the trees, crying at the sky, and trying to make sense of my complex emotions. 


I didn't realize that I had been avoiding this meltdown for weeks. I ignored the signals and was now at the boiling over point. Looking back, there were some clues but I didn’t see them at the time. As a sober person, I have worked really hard to “check myself before I wreck myself”, but this one snuck up on me. 


In hindsight, I could see that my recent behavior in hustle, avoidance, distraction, and achievement was my own protection from what I was actually feeling. I couldn't see it while I was busying myself away from it. Even with all the self awareness work, all the self help books read, all the podcasts heard, all the healing done, the denial of the inner brew is strong. Such a good plug for coaching support right here. A jar can't read it's own label. Wink. Schedule Your Complimentary Call 

Everyone in the world has a coat of armor they wear to protect themselves from pain. Alcohol just happened to be mine, Now it isn’t. My addictive behaviors can now be spotted in other ways. 


Here’s a few top of mind right now. 

Workaholism: Building revenue or growing my business. Constantly. Proving I am ok. 

Achievement: The Good Reads Book Challenge, or any fitness quest. To win. I am ok. 

Perfectionism: Shown dare I say perfectly this season with holiday gifting, wrapping, decorating. I am ok.

Shopping: Looking cute. Having the right makeup or accessory. This mask is easy to wear. Put a little razzle dazzle on top of insecurity, sadness, or fear and I’m ready for showtime! I am ok.


If I was paying closer attention the past few weeks, I would have recognized that my friends’ still unannounced cancer diagnosis hit me hard, but I stuffed it down because I had to get on a call. 


If I had taken the time, I would have known that my other friend's significant cancer decline was weighing heavy on my heart. Instead I ran to the post office. 


When a third friend told me, in not so many words, that her days were numbered due to cancer, I refused to hear it. I maybe threw toxic positivity her way, reminded her of miracles, and then liked her son’s Instagram post. 


When I got the news that a lovely peer's cancer was back for the third time, well by now I had enough. I couldn’t even get myself on her CaringBridge site to share well wishes. Instead, I reached out to an old friend with a shared history to stir up something else. Old, familiar pain over new pain please. Anything else but this.


On my therapeutic hike, I was reminded about my resilience. I have overcome a lot. I did three eulogies in three years for unexpected, out of order deaths, years back as a drinker. Surely I could manage this.

Something feels particularly hard about where I am at now though. It is the slow drip of grief over time. Not to be compared to the shock and awe of someone being ripped from me without warning, which is excruciating and unfair in every way. This lingering grief over time is a slow ache that snuck up on me. I didn’t give myself permission to feel anything, as if death is the only acceptable reason for grief. It was easier to set this discomfort aside. There it was brewing beneath the surface anyway.

The pain is the pain no matter how it is delivered. The pain cannot be avoided. I have learned that the suffering is lessened with acceptance, thank you Pema Chodron. I work towards, not relieving the pain so much, as accepting what is.  


As I walked and talked with myself in the woods I was reminded of what I tell clients all the time. Their feelings are valid and appropriate. There is nothing wrong with them. As I looked at the sky, I recognized this was supposed to hurt.  Who would I be if it didn’t? What kind of friend was I?

I had gone through so much with these women over the years. Their joy was my joy when they had babies, celebrated anniversaries, graduations, their children's' accomplishments, career success, dream vacations, and more. How could I expect myself not to feel sadness now? I told myself because cancer was happening to them, not me, I wasn't allowed to feel sad. I must be strong. Strong meant positive vibes only. In the grief of years past I was stoic. I numbed myself with alcohol. I demanded I get over it. Fast. No, faster. 


This time I won’t shame myself for crying my eyes out as often as needed. I won’t be drinking thank you very much. I will allow myself the tears. Over and over again. I will not push them away or stuff them down or pour alcohol over it. I will give myself the time and space to tend to my pain. 


I understand now, I won’t be over it. Ever. I won’t be over anything. That isn’t the goal. That isn’t the measurement of my success. Perhaps to feel the intensity of emotion on all sides of the spectrum is. We are all going to die. I know that. No one gets out alive. I don’t know when anyone’s time will come. No one really does. To care so deeply about someone that your heart hurts alongside theirs, maybe this is how we walk each other home? To feel what we feel. To be who we are even in our most heartbreaking moments. It's proof of life. If not now, when? 


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