My mother went to rehab at the age of sixty-nine. She successfully stopped using alcohol and her life changed dramatically. She is now healthier than ever before, both physically and mentally, and she is extremely excited about this. However, along with that excitement comes a lot of regrets. She wishes she had stopped using alcohol decades earlier so that she’d have more time.
This is a regret common to most recovering addicts, regardless of age. Addiction can seem to steal time, turning what could have been meaningful years into vague periods of time we can barely remember. It is difficult to leave rehab without a deep sense of grief.
There is one fundamental way of dealing with this grief: living in the present. When you live in the present, you experience the joy of life as it is, regardless of how much there is ahead of or behind you.
But simply choosing to live in the moment is not enough. That is something addicts sometimes do as a way of avoiding responsibilities and introspection. To do so in a healthy manner, you cannot be running from other feelings.
The Importance of Emotions:
A fundamental lesson taught in all rehabs is that emotions are both good and temporary. Emotions are good because they make us human. While it is difficult to feel the sadness of losing a loved one, the alternative is far worse. An absence of sadness would mean an absence of love. It is a price we pay.
At the same time, emotions do not last forever. It is necessary to feel those emotions, but what leads many people to use substances is that they begin to seem overwhelming. It is difficult to function when feeling so deeply, and there is a fear that the emotion will never go away.
Neuroscientists estimate that emotions typically last up to 90 seconds. They come and go in waves, but when you are not attuned to them you may only notice the peaks. Understanding that the emotion will not last forever is a huge part of being able to accept and experience it.
Why Grief is Necessary:
Upon leaving rehab, you will almost certainly feel a deep sadness. This sadness is a good thing! My mother is only able to feel that sadness because she can now see how good life can be. But without processing that sadness, it can become yet another thing a recovering addict runs from.
You can live an extremely meaningful life when you are no longer using substances, but that does not mean the sadness will just go away. In fact, its presence is extremely important, and you will need to acknowledge it and give it space. You will need to grieve the time that was lost, even as you understand that the present is the only time you ever have.
Grief for what you missed out on is a crucial part of recovery. It is a sign that you are on the right track to the life you now know is before you. Spend some time mourning the past so that you can move on and live the life you have always wanted.