The loss of a loved one is one of the biggest fears people in recovery face. When you have suffered a profound loss, especially the death of someone close, you will discover that the grieving process is uniquely painful. But learning how to cope with grief without losing your sobriety is essential if you expect to accept the change and keep moving forward. People in recovery must practice healthy coping strategies to avoid relapse.
If you have ever experienced grief, you know that the waves of emotion that characterize bereavement can seem unending. But the pain of grief notwithstanding, it is an essential and unavoidable part of processing the loss and eventually acclimating to life as it is now. A Zen proverb states succinctly, “The obstacle is the path.”
The Recovery-Grief Connection
When you are in recovery, grief can be profoundly unsettling and, in some cases, can result in a relapse. Maintaining a healthy recovery program and securing or continuing access to professional guidance to lead you through the stages of grief is crucial to adopting new, positive ways to cope and continue on your recovery journey.
For some, grief may be the catalyst for addiction. As the agony of your grief becomes intolerable, you may turn to alcohol or other substances to deal with it. What began as a distraction turns into an addiction. Unfortunately, drinking or using other substances doesn’t resolve the feelings that come from the grieving process; the feelings just get numbed or suppressed. It doesn’t help that the addiction adds more problems to the already unmanageable situation.
Aside from grief due to a loved one’s death, you will find yourself grieving other things in early recovery. Loss is a frequent side-effect of addiction. As your addiction starts to drain more of your time, energy, and money, you lose personal relationships. Although the people may not be deceased, the relationships you lose to your addiction still need to be mourned.
Why Support is Critical During the Grieving Process
Grief takes on new connotations when you’re in recovery from addiction because shedding old behaviors can unearth old losses and restart stalled processes. Recent deaths can trigger past grief that was never adequately processed, which can be overwhelming when your old coping skills are absent. When these feelings of grief and fear are aroused in an environment without some support, they pose a severe threat to continued sobriety.
Although the intertwinement of substance use disorder and grief is complicated, addiction professionals can help you sort through your feelings and patterns of behavior to move through grief stages and build new, healthier coping skills. Handling grief may entail sorting through intense sadness, anxiety, and anger; doing so in a safe space with people who have experience in the grieving process helps your well-being and maintains a sustainable recovery.
Tactics for Approaching Grief in Recovery
While the experiences of grief and loss in recovery are challenging, using the new coping methods you’ve learned can ease the weight of sorrow and help you maintain and even enhance your sobriety. Here are some things to remember:
- Maintain your health. The connection between mind and body is intense, particularly during highly stressful or emotional times. Physical exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which relieve stress and boost your mood. Exercise also enhances sleep, which is helpful during grieving when sleep patterns are naturally disrupted. Experts do, however, advise against engaging in strenuous workouts and suggest gentle exercise instead, especially things like walking, Tai Chi, and yoga, activities that are in line with your body’s present needs.
- Practice mindfulness. A grieving mind is a perplexed mind and often can feel overwhelmed. Prayer, meditation, and other mindfulness techniques connect the mind with feelings of calm and peace, quieting the storm of powerful emotions that are a fundamental part of grieving. Faith and the relationship with a higher power discovered through a 12-Step program and meditation can be constructive in the grieving process.
- Permit yourself to feel your feelings. When you encounter grief in recovery, the barrage of raw emotion and feelings seems relentless, especially when you have been using negative coping skills and having a deadened emotional response from addiction. But it would help if you remembered that the feelings you have are not only ordinary but necessary. Grieving is the brain’s way of disentangling and ultimately accepting the loss. Should you come to a point where the feelings make you feel close to relapse or unsafe, it is time to seek professional help. Extra support can not only help you through the grieving process but help you maintain your sobriety.
- Expect grief triggers. Many things can enhance or return feelings of grief. Going through your loved one’s belongings, looking at old texts or photos, and the anniversary of important events or holidays can all set off new waves of grief. You can prepare yourself for this by talking to a friend or loved one. Bereavement support groups are especially helpful for you to verbally process emotions and learn to adapt by using different coping skills. Avoid isolation and plan a response to reduce the risk of relapse and continue your movement through the grieving process.
- Accept help from the people you trust. A significant loss can make you want to shut out the world, close the door, turn off your phone, and hibernate. But entering and leaning on community support can make a huge difference when you are grieving. Making a connection with those whom you trust can provide you with solace and reassurance as you make your way through the stages of grief. The bereavement support group mentioned above can help you process grief with others in the same or similar situations.
Grief and loss are incredibly difficult for people in recovery. If you have a support network, you must utilize them. Now is the time to gather your tribe and lean on them. However, if you find that you are still struggling, you may want to add more resources. Hired Power provides Personal Recovery Assistants to help you cope with some of the more significant hurdles in your sobriety; grief qualifies as a substantial hurdle. When it comes to making arrangements for counseling, finding an appropriate support group, and utilizing other community resources, a Personal Recovery Assistant can take the pressure off and allow you to get through the grieving process in the healthiest way possible. Call Hired Power at (800) 910-9299 to determine how they can help you work through this difficult time. Others have come out the other side of the grieving process sober; you can do it too.