On Grief, Recovery, and Finding the Right Path

A few days ago, a woman at a meeting was talking about a friend of hers who told her that there were certain things she had to do in recovery to somehow “get it right.” When one goes through the death of a loved one, many will call it your “healing journey” and insist that one must do this or that to truly “get over” the grief.

These kinds of certainty make me very uneasy for one reason. At our most vulnerable, many people will accept anything others insist is the “right way” and when it doesn’t work out, they not only feel the pain of loss and the emptiness that often accompanies recovery, but experience the added benefit of depression because whatever the “right way” was did not work for them. I am conscious of the fact that when we are at the emotional gates of these experiences, we want nothing more than for the pain to go away. We do not consider the fact, because of the misguided assistance of others, many of whom want the best for us, that there is no right way to do many, many things. In fact, the most brilliant solutions for coping with these things, and really many the solutions for coping with life’s problems often come from inside us.

Consider the wheel. It’s seemingly impossible to believe that at one time, there were no wheels. None. Then, someone said “Wait a minute, I bet I could get my slaughtered elk or bucket of water to the other side of the cave a lot faster if I had some sort of roundy rock or hard dirt clod to put it on top of.” Then boom, the wheel was invented and we got around a lot quicker. And from the wheel came the Accord, the Hummer and the tank.

I think a person who is faced with the daunting task of losing a loved one or facing their life without the monumental crutch of drugs and alcohol, a crutch they have gotten so used to leaning on that not having it means almost certain descent, they will listen to whomever is slinging the most enticing snake oil. They are so confused and in need of answers to questions that haunt them (namely, how will I go on without this person in my life? What kind of a life will it be without drugs and alcohol? Will I ever be happy again, have fun again, laugh again?), they don’t realize that they themselves hold all the answers they need if only they would look inside themselves and start fumbling through the debris left after the storm and search for it.

The suggestions of others to pray, exercise, meditate and walk the dog are just that. Suggestions. One needs to have a little strength, just a little, to be able to figure out their own way, their own path, and adhere to it. Maybe that path will align with the one that has worked for others and maybe not. For me personally, I can truly say that AA has provided some great guidelines like reading the Big Book, getting a sponsor, going to meetings and like that. But they are only that, guidelines, and certainly not hard-and-fast rules. If you lose your parents or your child or your best friend, maybe going to church 5 days a week and saying the rosary will help. And maybe it won’t. The important thing is to take those recommendations of others, think on them, and then decide how you walk the path in front of you. It may be a path into a gorgeous and stark desert. It may be a lush forest. Hell, it may be a kayak on an ocean with no shore. But it will be yours and yours alone. Go gently into that dark night. But bring a lantern. You may need it.

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