What happens after you leave or lose an addict? The 5 Stages of Loss

What to expect when you leave an addict (or lose them to addiction)…from someone who’s been through it.

minute read

Have you just left a relationship with an addict or lost someone you love to addiction?

Sometimes, knowing when to stop helping an addict can be a life-changer. Because we focus so much on the addict when we are in a relationship with them, once we have committed to leaving, we do not know what to do with ourselves. So much of our energy was given to their addiction and trying to save them that we lose our own identity. For most of us, the fears we felt about leaving confront us head on.

We have the time to ponder all of the “what ifs” we have discussed in previous articles that have kept us from leaving. Here, we address what you can expect when you DO LEAVE. We’ll review the Stages of Loss that are fairly predictable, and then offer you a section to share your story at the end. As always, we try to respond to all real comments personally and promptly.

What to expect when addiction takes it all

When you leave empty-handed from a traumatic situation where there was no resolution you do not gain the closure most of us desire. Even if you are the one who decides to leave, loving an addict who rarely gives you the thanks and the recognition you deserve still hurts. You spent years loving them and trying to help them. In fact, many years are spent for most people trying to get the addict to see them and recognize that they would do anything to help them recover.

Leaving an addict can make your whole time with them feel meaningless. Coupled with the lack of gratitude and love you would expect to gain from your bold statement, you may also have anger, disgust and hate thrown at you on the way out the proverbial door. But the truth is that addicts affect families in negative ways. And there is a time to leave.

When I finally left the addict for good, I thought I would be immediately relieved but there was a period of time where uncontrollable emotions would come in stages.

It was Valentine’s Day, three months after I left my husband, and he had completely abandoned my daughter as a father so I had a great deal of anger towards him. But when the day came I cried like I hadn’t in months. I saw people buying flowers, heard friends making reservations for romantic dinners and I was a single, struggling mother trying to support myself and a child.

I got wind that he had a new girlfriend, a young stripper, and I felt the most horrific void and sense of loss and betrayal. Although I knew he was an active addict and that nothing he did meant much, I took a step backwards that day.

5 Stages of Loss

When you leave, there will be a period of time where emotions run high and you will experience stages of loss. Similar to the stages of loss when a loved one passes away, I will give you my personal account of the stages of loss you may experience when letting go and leaving an addict.

Stage One: Denial and Rationalizing

This stage is shock. We leave and try to convince ourselves that we are doing the right thing and that if we leave maybe the addict will get help and come back to us. We keep tabs on the addict in small ways but deny that there is anything wrong with that. “I just want to make sure he/she is okay.”

The truth is that we are shocked the addict is not trying hard enough to make changes and win us back. This is a shock and a fear come true for most of us.

Stage Two: Anger

When we start to realize that the addict is moving on without us (in theory) and that we are left a broken mess, we can start to become angry. When reality kicks in we need a defense mechanism which usually comes in the form of rage. We want to know why we weren’t good enough to change for or why we are stuck paying the bills and raising the children while they are out still getting high. Each situation is different; however, if the addict leaves you, anger can be even worse because it was not our decision.

Stage Three: Negotiation

When the anger subsides and we realize that the addict is definitely no longer a part of our lives and perhaps still using or in recovery we tend to start bargaining. We start to wonder if we had done this or that differently, maybe the outcome would have been different.

Stage Four: Sadness and Depression

When all of the emotions that blind us to the feelings we must go through subside, depression may make its entrance. We no longer can justify, rationalize, negotiate, and make excuses for an addict’s behavior, indifference, lack of love for us and so on. We may realize that this is really the end and go through a very rough period of sadness.

Stage Five: Acceptance and Moving On

This is simply the stage where you are sick and tired of feeling the way you are and you may start to realize that you want more out of life than what you had with the addict. You start to feel a freedom and independence you have not had since before the relationship and you find a sense of hope for a new life ahead of you. This may take time and for some years but if you keep persistent in your own recovery, this can happen sooner than later.

Take heart! Emotions are not permanent

It is important to keep in mind that things are going to change as you go through these or your own set of stages. These feelings will not last forever so go through them and do not avoid them so that you can go through loss appropriately and not have chronic “relapses” of these stages later.

Dealing with loss is ultimately a deeply subjective and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But allow others, especially those who have had success with moving on, to be there for you and help comfort you through this process.

My main suggestion? Give yourself the opportunity to feel the grief as it comes over you. Fighting it only will prolong the normal process of healing.

About the author
Amanda Andruzzi, MPH, AADP, CHES, is a Certified Health Coach, founder of Symptom-Free Wellness, and the author of Hope Street. Her first book, Hope Street memoir is an inspirational story of one woman's frightening journey of co-addiction that led her to uncover courage, unbelievable strength and overcome great adversity. She resides with her daughter, husband, and two sons in Florida.
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