Research Paper By Shelley Breakell
(Alcoholism Recovery Coach, UNITED KINGDOM)
My intention with this paper is to research and show how the coaching process can work alongside the 5 stages of grief as described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross. (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. (July 8, 1926 – August 24, 2004).
Her extensive work with the dying led to the book On Death and Dying in 1969. In this work she proposed the now famous Five Stages of Grief as a pattern of adjustment. These five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_K%C3%BCbler-Ross).
This model also applies to loss of all kinds including that of releasing or losing a substance that has become an essential part of someone’s life.
(also called abnegation) is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial)
One of the fundamental aspects of alcoholism is denial; especially in the ‘functioning alcoholic’ – a functioning alcoholic is someone who is able to maintain their daily activities therefore maintaining the illusion of “I don’t have a problem.” This person clings to the belief that if they can ‘function’ like ‘normal’ people they don’t have a problem, saying “If I was an alcoholic I wouldn’t be able to get up and go to work would I? I wouldn’t be a successful business man on a five figure income would I? I wouldn’t be able to have the children up and dressed in clean, ironed school uniforms ready to go to school on time would I?” Therefore appeasing themselves and others about how bad the problem really is.
It could be argued that if an alcoholic is in denial about their problem they would never seek out the help of a coach which is essentially true because why would they? However there are still those that may have been pressured into coaching by family, friends and loved ones for example and there are also those that arrive at coaching knowing they have a problem but still gripped by denial about the seriousness of it.
What is the client needing at the denial stage and can coaching answer those needs?
The main aim is to move from denial to acceptance; acceptance that there is a problem that can no longer be ignored.
The process of this is to help the alcoholic in denial to look at the facts. In Alcoholics Anonymous Step 1 is
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.
And the process involved in that admittance is through a thorough exploration of all of the events, circumstances, problems, pains, traumas, harm to others and ways they have tried to stop throughout their drinking.
By providing a safe, validating environment coaching can help the client to look at the reality of their drinking, to ‘own’ the problem, offering perspectives and asking “Is that true?” If the client is willing and open to explore different perspectives they will begin to move towards a new view of the reality of the chaos their drinking has caused financially, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
This stage of the process would be designed to challenge present thoughts and beliefs in order to assist the client in reaching their own conclusions as to the exact nature of their problem. This may be a slow process and may be a case of two steps forward, three steps back as denial in alcoholism is chronic and powerful.
The client may be stuck in denial, unable to face their reality yet paradoxically desperate to escape it, angry at people for suggesting they have a problem yet deep down fully aware that they do.
This can manifest as anger, causing them to look outward for means of justification for their drinking i.e. the family in financial difficulties, the anger could be directed towards the spouse for not managing their money properly or spending too much on “useless things”. They may be stuck in the past, angry at a bad childhood. The anger they feel is more often however a cover for what they are really suffering inside and that may be fear, guilt, confusion, hopelessness and despair but they are too frightened to see it.
Anger and rants such as “It’s not fair, why me?” and blaming their childhood, their divorce, their circumstances are common. They may feel anger towards themselves, angry that they couldn’t control it, anger that they didn’t have the will power to stop, anger about the problems and pain they have caused people. There may be all of these aspects and although anger is a common emotion in alcoholism, it is often not ‘true’ anger. What is meant by this is that the anger an alcoholic feels during their drinking is often in justification and blame, whereas when an alcoholic enters recovery many years of ‘true’ repressed anger may surface alongside hostility and resentment towards themselves, other people, situations and life in general.
12 steps &12 traditions p.59, Step 5:
Anger and hurt pride might be the smoke screen under which we were hiding some of our defects while we blamed others for them.
What is the client needing at the anger stage and can coaching answer those needs?
A coaching relationship offers the security for the client to lead the process without feeling they will be judged or criticized.
If the client is assured of confidentiality and understanding they will be more able to release this anger. The coach can help by encouraging the client to express their anger in healthy ways, looking at the underlying reasons for the anger; where is the anger coming from? Who or what is the client angry at? How is the anger affecting the client on all levels i.e. emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually? Can the client see how their anger may be holding them back from a life of peace and can they contemplate any ways of releasing the anger? The client needs to be allowed to be angry but the coach also needs to be able to help the client keep the focus on the future, helping the client to put their anger into context and gently reminding them to bring their focus to present time. Using gratitude as a healing tool is a strong base for coming to terms with and letting go of anger even if the client can only find minute things to be grateful for to begin with.