We’ve all had to deal with the loss of a loved one, and while it is difficult for anyone to deal with, for those struggling with addiction the loss of a loved one can sometimes make sobriety even harder than it normally is. When you love and care for someone, accepting their loss can seem like an impossibility. For some, there is a strong urge to isolate themselves, but learning to lean on others and not internalize is an important part of coping. The pain of loss can be excruciating, and it can be tempting to numb the pain with drugs or alcohol, but there are other ways to handle grief. In this article, we’ll take a look at the different stages of grief and how to deal with loss without giving up your sobriety.
What is grief?
It is defined as “deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death”. While all grief is painful, prolonged grief can affect close relationships, personal beliefs, and school or work.
Stages of grief.
The stages of grief are also the stages associated with facing one’s own death. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD wrote about the various stages in her book, On Death and Dying.
In this first stage, a person is in disbelief about a loved one’s passing. Especially in the case of sudden death, it can be a struggle to believe that someone is actually gone. It may seem like life no longer makes sense, and never will again. This is a normal reaction to overwhelming emotions and serves as a defense mechanism that somewhat lessens the immediate shock.
Once reality sets in, anger is the next emotion. It can be aimed at the person who passed, strangers, friends, family, or even inanimate objects. Many feel guilty about feeling angry, especially when they know that their loved one is really not to blame for what happened. Some get angry at the doctors or nurses for not doing more in the cases where medical treatment is involved. Some even get angry at God for allowing their loved one to be taken away. Again, this is normal, and you should allow yourself to feel all of your emotions. Underneath the anger is pain, and it is temporary.
This is the phase where people say they will do anything to have their loved one back, even when they know it’s not possible. People may make a deal with God or their higher power, thinking that if a miracle happened they could escape their pain. Many wish that they can wake up from the nightmare that they are in, and for a few seconds it can seem possible. They may go back to anger or disbelief or move into guilt.
People commonly look back at all of the things they feel were done wrong during the course of a relationship. A parent may feel guilty for letting their child go to a party or go out on the weekends; anything that could have contributed to their death. Often people will dwell on the negatives and obsess with what they could have done differently. This can cycle back to any of the other phases.
This phase is different for everyone, and can be short lived or more long term. It is perfectly natural to experience sadness after losing someone, and people cope in different ways. For some, it is relatively short-lived, but for others it is more intense and may require medical intervention. One may have trouble sleeping or eating, and feel lonely even when people are around.
This is the final stage in which death is accepted and no longer makes a person angry or intensely emotional. After this, it is possible to move forward.
Dealing With Loss In Sobriety
Rather than turning to drugs or alcohol, there are ways to cope with grief. While it may seem like the pain is too much to bear, solutions such as drugs are only temporary masks and do not cure the pain but only hide it for a short while. Here are some things that you can do while in recovery:
Talk to others.
Do not isolate yourself, but surround yourself with caring and supportive people. Talk with friends or family or speak with a counselor. More importantly, utilize your meetings and the people in them. More often than not, you will find many people who have experienced grief in sobriety. These are people you want to lean on, because they will be able to share their experience and how they got through it, without having to use drugs and alcohol. Furthermore, by continuously working your steps with a sponsor, you will find that you are actively working through the loss of a loved one on a daily basis.
Find a hobby.
Think of something that you love to do, and try to do more of it, or learn something new. We often give up our hobbies in active addiction. It is important to get back to these things in our sobriety. Many times, we find that when we occupy our time and minds with an activity, we seemingly refocus our thinking and even channel our pain in a positive way. Also, sometimes taking on a hobby of a deceased loved one can help us feel closer to them.
Join a support group for those that are grieving.
There are many groups that are just for people going through the same thing that you are. It can help tremendously to hear similar experiences of others.
Exercising releases endorphins and improves your mood. Furthermore, similar to “finding a hobby,” exercise can help us rechannel our energy in a positive way. Find a physical activity that you enjoy and do more if it. After all, sobriety is about healing on a physical, mental, and spiritual plane, and exercise can benefit all three.
Honor your loved one by living well.
Author Jim LaPierre says, “The best way we can honor those who went before us is to live the lives they would want for us. The last thing they’d want is for us to spend time in self-pity. They’d want us to let go, get our needs met, and get back to the business of living.” This can often time be easier said than done, but it’s the truth. Your loved one does not want you to be in pain or suffer. They’d want you to live a long life full of health and happiness. This means staying healthy and continuously making your sobriety your number one priority.
Contact Us Today
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism or chemical dependency, we can help. With more than 4 decades of experience in treating addictive diseases, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has had the privilege of helping many get on the road to recovery and achieve lasting sobriety. If you are tired of living a life of hopelessness and despair and are ready to make a change, please contact our Admissions Specialists today. We look forward to hearing from you.