“Living with incomplete grief is like swimming while holding an inflated beach ball under the water.” John Bradshaw
“Grief is the last act of love we give to those we love. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.” Annette J. Dunlea
The heartache and sorrow of grief can feel devastating and it’s normal to feel powerless and fragile, especially during the early days of sobriety. You may desire to turn to substances to ease the pain. When cravings become difficult to resist, keep in mind that after, relapse only prolongs the grieving process.
For a person in early recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, grief can be especially disruptive. The loss of a loved one can be traumatic, both those in early sobriety and those who have been in recovery for years may become triggered by overwhelming negative thoughts and emotions.
Going through sobriety is challenging enough on its own, so much so that having to handle grieving the loss of a loved one on top of it may feel all but impossible.
In many instances, the very substance you’re recovering from might have been the exact crutch you once used to get through difficult times like this. Something that invokes such intense emotions and can trigger a relapse.
One never “gets over” grief and loss. The loss of another person, valued situations or possession is something intertwined into the story of each of us. The brain reconciles loss with “stages” of memories that are felt and restore harmony in personal meaning… in stages. This does not occur at once, or may not be felt in any certain order, with the time of the death or loss, the grieving process is unpredictable.
People may experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – The five stages of Grief by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, grief is a very personal and an individualized experience.
Certain stages of grief may last longer than others, some may overlap, you might feel as if you are drowning or not able to move forward in a particular stage of grief as in complicated grief. Be sure to surround yourself with people who support you so they can help you stay alert and focused on your recovery, especially with the holidays right around the corner.
Here are some helpful tools for dealing with death and grief in recovery.
Permit yourself to grieve; in the first stage of denial many people have difficulty moving forward. For those in recovery, it might seem easier to cast aside the truth than attempt to handle it in recovery, it is an ideal environment to process grief with a sober support network.
Resist the urge to withdraw. It’s alright to give yourself some space from the more socially intense activities to heal. Isolation and social withdrawal though, can not only negatively affect your mental health, but it can also serve as a trigger for relapse. Spend time outside in nature; investigate healthy outlets like exercise, meditation, or creative activities; interact with compassionate positive healthy people.
Prioritize your wellbeing. All-around wellbeing is not just about your physical health, it also includes your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Consider integrating some form of activity into your daily planner, eating more healthy foods – vegetables and fruits, as well as practicing mindfulness meditations (journaling, breathwork).
Appreciate your memories, it can be difficult to initially revisit memories of your loved one, it’s a healthy way to process your grief. Celebrate their life by remembering their life with happiness and gratitude, rather than just mourning their death; look at the memories you had with them.
Resist the urge to withdraw. It’s alright to give yourself some space from the more socially intense activities to heal. Isolation and social withdrawal though, can not only negatively affect your mental health, but it can also serve as an impulse for relapse. Spend time outside in nature; investigate healthy outlets; interact with compassionate positive healthy people.
Don’t be dispirited if you relapse. Relapse is not synonymous with lack of success; for many people, it proves to be an important mental shift that permits a person to move forward with an even stronger commitment to sobriety. When a person continues to reach out for help, it’s not the end of your recovery, it’s a new beginning.
If you’re on a journey of recovery and committed to a life of sobriety, processing grief comes with many challenges. There are online sites that offer support through online groups for grieving. Hospitals have educational and support groups that address bereavement. Clergy and churches offer support and counseling. Rituals to honor those who have died are helpful. Local hospices offer support groups for family or friends of the dying, or those who have died in the past.
Grief lessens and changes and returns but it never vanishes, it gets easier over time.