Dealing with Grief in Recovery

Grief Defined

Grief is the emotional, physical, behavioral and social responses to the loss of someone or something a person has a bond with. Grief can occur in response to a relationship breakdown or the death of a loved friend, family member, partner or child. It can also occur when a person undergoes significant life changes such as moving homes, changing jobs, giving up an addiction or even undergoing an operation. Grief is often associated with crying, anger and depression. Some people feel emptiness and find themselves unable to express how they are feeling. Others will get angry and frustrated and may lash out at those around them.

When a person is grieving, they undergo many emotional changes that can be very serious, especially if they are going through the process of recovery. They will be angry, frustrated, sad, ashamed, guilty and relieved, and they may feel that the situation is hopeless. People may ask themselves questions, putting into doubt their previous actions or taking on blame for the loss. These questions are a part of the grieving process. For friends and family of the person grieving, they may be exposed to the fluctuating emotional states the person is undergoing which can lead to frustration, fear and depression. They may want to help in any way possible, even if it means tough love or smothering a person with kindness.

There is no normal or right way for someone to grieve. Everybody reacts differently to the loss of something or someone. Dealing with that loss in a healthy manner is the best possible way to be able to continue to move on from the trauma. Spending time with family members, friends, having alone time, attending professional counseling services, exercising and meditation are all beneficial for someone grieving. Having support from people can reduce the risk of falling into a deep depression, returning to substances or harming themselves.

Grieving as a Recovery Risk

When a loved one passes away, many people will fall into a state of depression, will be angry, aggressive or lash out at those around them. These are normal stages of grief that everyone will go through. It is a time of high sensitivity and intense pain. However, if someone is trying to overcome a substance abuse problem at the same time, this can be an incredibly high-risk period. There is the potential that they could relapse back into their drug or alcohol addiction. Drugs and alcohol are often used to numb emotions, to try to forget about the death of someone and deny that they are feeling sad. Ignoring emotional responses can be damaging and can lead to significant long-term problems. It can build up inside a person and make them incredibly angry and irrational, and they may isolate themselves. Some people believe that nobody will understand what they are going through. Others may not want to burden others with their feelings. They will feign strength when they are feeling weak and need others.

When in recovery, an addict needs to be honest about what is happening in their life and get the support that they need. Grief is one of the most significant triggers for relapsing and taking advantage of the support network that has been established can help to work through the pain and get past the obstacle. The griever should also remember that their future is dependent on staying sober and that the person they have lost would want them to live their life the best way they can. This means staying away from negative people and experiences like drug and alcohol abuse.

Holding onto Pain

Many people who are grieving develop a relationship with their pain. They may believe that their identity is based on unhappiness. They do not see that they can move beyond sadness, hopelessness and devastation to live their life. This relationship with pain is so familiar that they cannot let them go, and fear that people will think they have not grieved properly. They may even believe that overcoming their feelings of loss and pain would be disrespectful to the person who has died.

For those who are dealing with a substance abuse problem, this relationship with pain is even more significant. The drug or alcohol use may have developed in response to traumatic experiences, loss of close friends or family or childhood experiences that are painful. These people have not known a life without pain, sadness and depression, and they will seek out experiences that contribute to their pain. Co-dependent relationships see substance abusers seeking out a partner that is unhealthy, un-supportive and difficult to live with. They then use the relationship as a sign that they do not deserve anything better.

Loss of the Familiar

Although grief is typically associated with the loss of someone, it is also experienced by addicts who are changing their life to be one without drugs or alcohol. Many addicts express feelings of loss when they stop using, which can take a very long time to overcome. They mourn the fun and excitement that they had with the substance, forget the bad times and feel unable to cope without the drug and rituals associated with it. For family and friends, this can be a difficult concept to grasp. This is because family members can only see the pain and harm that the drugs and alcohol caused. They do not understand the intense relationship between the addict and their substance. Additionally, an addict will grieve for the freedom, relaxation, escape and distraction that the substance has provided while they were using. They may feel that their life is boring, dull and controlled. The substance abuser now has to come to terms with their reality and face up to the things they have been trying to escape for so long.

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