The Five Stages of Grief

During my first year of counseling my counselor told me about the five stages of grief. We all go through these stages whenever we face a change in our lives. Sometimes we go through them in the order listed; sometimes we zigzag back and forth, gradually working our way towards acceptance:

1. Shock/Denial
2. Anger
3. Depression
4. Bargaining
5. Acceptance

My counselor wrote them down for me and to this day I still have that piece of paper taped to my mirror. Looking at this list helps me understand where I am in the process of dealing with changes in my life. It helps me understand where other people are too. It was particularly useful in helping me learn to stand my ground when telling people bad news – saying no to working overtime or to covering a shift for someone else, choosing to go home and go to bed instead of going to see the person I’m dating, telling my roommate that I was moving out – these are all things this list helped me do. Eventually I didn’t even need to look at the list. I knew if I stuck to my guns the other party would work through whatever they needed to work through and accept my decision.

Another way this list is helpful is to view it as a tool. I have a friend whose brother committed suicide. When she becomes depressed about other things in her life she returns to thinking of her brother, and that depresses her further. A few days ago she said she was afraid this reoccurring depression meant she was broken… that she would never be the same.

She’s not broken. There is nothing to fix. Any time we face an unexpected change in life we’re put into Stage 1 (Shock/Denial) and we work through the stages till we find Acceptance of whatever the new change is. As we do this our brains remember other times we’ve gone through the stages. Not being able to differentiate this time through from other times is one of the things that can cause an addict to stress themselves out to the point of reverting to old comforts.

But we’re not on an infinite loop. It’s the same process, but not the same situation. Each time I write the word “think” I’m not referring to the same thought. I use the same hammer for every nail I put in. That doesn’t bother me. There’s nothing broken in us for using the same tool to get us through multiple changes in life, nor for remembering our past – and it doesn’t mean that this time is the same as (or as bad as) other times we had to use the tool.

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