When Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, PhD edificed her work in Death and Dying, she formulated five stages of grief. At the time, this piece was looking at common threads of grief in the terminally ill. The classical stages are Denial, followed by Anger, which is then supplanted by Bargaining. After that, Depression or Isolation. Finally, as these emotions run their course, the individual comes to an Acceptance. It would be important to note that these stages or this process is observable in typical and I’d say, developed presentations and have a cultural bias. Or as one of my favorite sages likes to say, “Generally speaking…”
Kubler-Ross would later expand the grief and mourning process to all manner of our sad and traumatic milieu It is how we make sense of the sense-less. A valve that releases perhaps grandly at first, but then fizzles down into a reparative process. When we don’t go through all the phases and get stuck in say, depression/isolation, we literally get stuck there. A bit like Dicken’s Miss Havisham. Stranded in place. When K-B expanded the scenarios of grief from terminal illness to divorce and substance abuse, career implosion and deeper relationships it’s easy to see the patterns. Even natural disasters can be felt remotely. We see it now in other types of disaster, mass shootings and horrific events to which there seems no resolution, a plane crash in the middle of the ocean, horrific acts of terrorism.
I know I felt it each and every one of the times I attempted sobriety. I could get stuck on any one of those rungs. Sometimes it felt like I was trying too hard. Like I was tugging at knots, getting nowhere, just making them tighter. A good spot for me to settle was in that depressed mentality of despair. Of course, to say everyone, every time experiences grief in a proscribed manner would be reckless. Some people simply don’t grieve they way we see it on TV. Homicide detectives will tell you there is no pat response. But what I do find intriguing is where the stages are linked to substance abuse. I’ve been around enough addicts to note some validity to a “looping” of emotional expression. I see, too that some are more likely to bounce between Denial and Bargaining than working toward an acceptance. Look at twelve step logic.
While the steps are in a different order, you can see where AA expects an attitude of acceptance before the individual is, or has been through some of the cleansing the other stages afford. The reason I remark on this idea is that a friend is having a lot of trouble accepting this notion that he is not going to be able to drink again, either on a one-day-at-a-time basis are looking down the road into his sunset. After five months of abstinence, he’s all wrapped up in the anger/denial/isolation package. After he read a little about what grief and acceptance is with a more personal point of view, he’s been a little less depressed and his anger, not gone, but less irrational? As far as isolating, he really wants to talk about this. And communicating is always good.
Something this does for me is, now I have another little pause button I can press. Then I do a little checklist. Where it rubs me, I know I need more than a cliche’ response. Maybe I need to see the situation from another vantage, listen with a clearer head, look for understanding before offering criticism. Maybe the problem need real help, not prayers and platitudes. Either way, being able to see left and right, front and back, up and down keeps me out of my head and gives me another day to cherish.