How Do You Keep Grief from Sinking Your Recovery from Addiction?
We typically think of grief as the result of losing someone close to us--a relative, a friend, or even a pet. However, grief is really a reaction to any loss and can be part of many of life’s challenges--a breakup or divorce, losing a job or business, losing a house, or even giving up drugs and alcohol. Grief can be intense and pose a major challenge to addiction recovery.
We typically have little or no control over the situations that cause us grief and life doesn’t care whether or not your recovery is strong enough to withstand a major loss. As difficult as grief can be, it doesn’t have to undermine your recovery. The following tips can help you stay sober while you process your grief.
Accept Your Feelings
First of all, it’s crucial not to suppress or avoid grief. When confronted with a loss, grief is a normal reaction, and trying to suppress, avoid, or numb it will only cause you problems in the long run. Research shows that accepting challenging emotions, particularly in stressful situations, leads to fewer mental health challenges, such as major depression. Of course, allowing yourself to feel painful emotions is inherently challenging.
Mindfulness can help but it works best if you’ve already been practicing mindfulness meditation consistently. If not, you might still benefit from just allowing yourself to feel grief, understanding that it’s normal, noticing how it feels in your body, and noticing how it comes and goes and changes over time.
Connect with Others
One of the worst parts of grief, especially after losing someone close to you, is that you feel alone. Perhaps you’ve lost a confidant or someone you depended on in some way. You can’t imagine anyone else filling that gap and you can’t imagine that anyone else really understands what you’re going through. However, that feeling is an illusion. Others probably feel the loss keenly as well and the people around you want to help you, so let them. It’s especially important to resist the temptation to isolate yourself. Isolation increases your risk of both depression and relapse. Stay in touch with friends and family.
Talk to a Therapist
People don’t always need therapy to cope with grief, but if you’re recovering from addiction while trying to cope with grief, it’s best to have professional help. You may be confronted with a flood of overwhelming and conflicting emotions and you may feel tempted to escape with drugs or alcohol. A therapist can help you sort all this out, lend a sympathetic ear, and help you make a plan for staying sober as you deal with your grief. And if you have a history of depression, grief is just the kind of thing that might trigger another episode so it’s important to do everything you can to look after your mental health.
Keep Going to Meetings
A major loss can severely disrupt your life and as a result, you may feel like it’s fine to skip meetings for a while. That’s typically a bad idea. This is the time when you need that structure and support the most. There are almost certainly some people in your group who have had to deal with grief in recovery and they can provide support and advice.
As discussed above, it’s also important to stay connected and avoid isolating yourself and going to meetings--perhaps even going to extra meetings--is a great way to ensure extra support and keep from feeling isolated. Also remember that even if you have to travel for a funeral, there are probably meetings wherever you’re going.
Beware of the Anniversary Effect
As time goes on, you will gradually feel better. You might start to feel almost normal again after a few months but then it’s time for that person’s birthday or it’s the first holiday without them and suddenly you come apart again. This is the anniversary effect and it often blindsides people. It typically happens around birthdays, holidays, and, of course, anniversaries--including marriage anniversaries and the anniversary of the person’s death.
Sometimes seasonal cues can trigger a return of grief. The best thing to do is to be aware of it and perhaps even deliberately mark the occasion with other friends and family members so that it becomes an occasion for remembering the best things about the person.
Be There for Others
Keep in mind that when you’re grieving, you’re probably not the only one. If a loved one has died, there are probably other people who are hurting too. While that doesn’t invalidate your own grief in any way, being aware of that fact and being there for others can be a way of connecting and sharing the load. Having compassion for others’ grief can make you feel a bit better, and if not, it can at least give you a sense of purpose that can carry you through and help you stay sober.
Take Care of Yourself
As noted, grief is often disruptive but you should still make an effort to take care of yourself as much as you can. Try to get enough sleep and eat healthy meals. Get some exercise if possible; that will boost your mood and help you cope with stress. The more you are able to stick to your regular routine, the less chaotic your life will feel.
Expressing your feelings about loss can be hard. You may be overwhelmed with conflicting feelings and find yourself at a loss for words when trying to talk to friends or even your therapist. You may have more luck with more creative pursuits--painting, drawing, poetry, music, or whatever you like to do. These modes of expression don’t require you to be very specific or accurate and can allow you to grapple with feelings there aren’t really words for.
Grief can be a serious challenge for addiction recovery because it can be traumatic and destabilizing, just the sort of emotions people typically rely on drugs and alcohol to cope with. Acceptance, social connection, and self-care are the major keys to staying on track when faced with grief.
At The Foundry, we know that life can throw some major challenges your way whether you’re ready for them or not. That’s why we emphasize skills for emotional resilience, as well as involving family in the process. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
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