3 Lessons Learned from the Deaths of Recovering Addicts / Alcoholics

September 10, 2015 Becky Doyle

I have learned lessons from the deaths of recovering addicts. I have found grief around death to be especially difficult when the loss is of another recovering addict. I think this is because of the understanding, compassion, and support that is shared between recovering alcoholics and addicts. In my experience, these friendships seem to be the most profound and deeply rooted -- more so than any other relationships.

Long after the shock and hurt have subsided, I am left to sift through my memories of the recovering addict to try and find meaning in the trauma of their death. Here are three things I have learned from watching recovering addicts and alcoholics die.

Almost six years sober now, I have watched three recovering addicts/alcoholics pass away. The first two were friends who provided considerable guidance to me and led by example with their own personal recovery programs. The third was someone I met after five years of sobriety, and while he was more of a peer than a mentor to me, I was still able to learn a life lesson from his journey in addiction recovery.

Lesson #1: Recovering Addicts Really Can Stay Sober No Matter What

Before watching my friends approach death with serenity and acceptance, I thought this was merely a trite comment intended to motivate newcomers. Honestly, their ability to stay sober as they faced their final greatest transition was mind-boggling. Each and every day was a gift to them. In these deaths of recovering addicts, I witnessed them give new meaning to the phrase "one day at a time" and truly demonstrate gratitude as an action.

I would think that in their situations, drinking and using would be preferable to their pains and fears surrounding death. This must be what it really means to have addiction recovery as the most important part of your life. I can only hope that if I ever walk in their shoes, that I can have half of their grace and dignity.

Lesson #2: It's Never Too Late for a Recovering Addict To Make Amends

Over and over again, I hear "old-timers" (addicts with decades of sobriety) talk about the importance of making amends because you never know when it will be your last chance. I distinctly remember one friend in recovery telling me he had left no loose ends, and that he had made all the amends he needed to complete. He talked about these amends as positive experiences, almost as if it gave him closure. While I hear there is no such thing as closure, maybe that is intended more so for the ones left behind. These men I have watched die while in recovery seemed to find closure for themselves.

The deaths of the recovering addicts who welcomed me to sobriety taught me many things. Here are three of their final lessons. Check it out.

Honestly, I have been holding on to a few old resentments because I think there is no point in amending those wrongs. I have convinced myself that the incidents were so long ago, or the offenses so minor, that there is no reason to dredge up old memories. Maybe that is true -- but maybe it's just my alcoholic mind keeping me in negativity, guilt, and remorse.

If I truly want to feel liberated and forgive myself for my mistakes, I need to make all my amends, no matter how old. If I properly manage my expectations and resentments in sobriety, I won't still have amends to make. I'm grateful that these deaths of recovering addicts, my friends, drive me to make amends I ignored for too long.

Lesson #3: Receiving Help When Confronting Death Is The Best Gift You Can Give

Alcoholics and addicts tend to think primarily about their own needs and feelings. With that selfish mindset, it is tempting to resist help because we often rate our self-worth according to how much we can do independently. This is just one example of how "selfishness" could be the middle name of every alcoholic, recovering or not. We forget that it's not always about us.

As the friend and supporter of these men in recovery, I wanted so badly to show them how I cared by being helpful to them. I was at a loss for words and felt that my actions were all I had left. For instance, the opportunity to push the wheelchair enabled me to feel like I was sharing the love and compassion they had so willingly shared with me in my early recovery.

These are not lessons that are exclusive to recovering addicts, but they are certainly the most important lessons I learned from each of my friends in their final days. Although gone, the deaths of these recovering addicts gave new meaning to my recovery. To my life. I am eternally grateful.

Image courtesy of Flickr user creepyhalloweenimages.

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APA Reference
Doyle, B. (2015, September 10). 3 Lessons Learned from the Deaths of Recovering Addicts / Alcoholics, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Becky Doyle

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