The passing of a loved one brings forth a profound sense of loss. And if you’re also undergoing addiction recovery, it becomes an even more delicate and complicated process.
Coping with grief and loss while attempting to be sober is a rather intricate situation. When you experience both, grief can trigger your cravings and prompt you to use substances as a coping mechanism. Simply put, it can lead to your relapse.
But, hope remains. In this blog, we’re offering practical strategies and guidance as you navigate the challenges of grief while breaking free from addiction.
What are the Stages of Grief
While grief is universal, the healing process is personal. The timeline and impact is different for everyone. But, as outlined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying,” grief follows certain stages, albeit not necessarily in a linear manner.
The initial stage will see grieving individuals finding it hard to accept the reality of their loss. They refuse to believe that their loved one has passed away. Denial typically serves as a fleeting coping mechanism, eventually giving way to a heightened awareness of mortality and the impact it will have on the people left behind.
After denial, the reality will finally dawn, prompting natural emotions like fury, frustration, and injustice to surface. Generally, bereaved people develop feelings of jealousy and resentment toward other people who they think are happy and full of life.
In this stage, mourners will attempt to make deals or bargains to reverse the loss and alleviate their overwhelming feelings. For instance, they might pray for a loved one’s return and, in exchange, they promise to change their own behavior.
When the heavy weight of the loss becomes more evident, people in grief will experience a deep sense of sadness. This can lead to depressive symptoms, ranging from loss of appetite and sleeping issues to hopelessness.
The final stage of grief is acceptance, where individuals start to accept mortality — including their own and that of their loved ones. This doesn’t mean being completely free of pain, but it entails having a sense of coming to terms with loss. It’s about moving forward and living with the reality that loss is an inevitable part of life.
How Grief Can Trigger Addiction
It’s no secret: Stress can cause addiction. And one of the most emotionally stressful and physically taxing experiences you may encounter is dealing with the passing of a loved one.
As grief is such a powerful emotion, it can drive you toward unhealthy coping mechanisms. If you’re recovering from addiction, you might resort to using drugs or drinking alcohol to mitigate the profound sense of loss that is taking over your being. Knowing the euphoric feelings that these substances temporarily provide, you could be tempted to give in to escape immense pain.
As you process your life’s new reality — one that your deceased loved one is no longer a part of — you will also find it hard to focus on your healing from addiction. Making sense of mortality may lead to feelings of disconnection and a general loss of meaning and purpose. These are huge psychological hurdles that can hinder your way of regaining control of your life.
Grief’s impact on your physical health can further aggravate the situation. Disrupted sleep patterns, poor nutrition, and the neglect of regular exercise can worsen the physical toll of addiction, making it even more challenging to stay on the path to recovery.
Tips on How to Work Through Grief While in Addiction Recovery
As this Harvard feature emphasizes, grief can “wax and wane over time.” Hence, if you’re recovering from your addiction, following coping strategies is essential. These will help avoid being overcome with the emotions that come with the grieving process.
To begin healing, you must recognize that seeking help from others, most importantly from professionals, is crucial.
Therapists and counselors specializing in addiction can provide invaluable guidance and support, especially during your most vulnerable moments. They will conduct therapy sessions and impart ways to navigate your complex emotions and face challenging situations. Various reputable facilities also offer specialized, tailored programs that offer a safe and supportive environment for recovery.
Utilize Coping Strategies
Safe and substance-free techniques are available to help you battle addiction and grief. Here are some helpful ways:
- Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation
- Hydrate and eat a balanced, nutritious diet
- Practice mindfulness and meditation such as journaling and deep breathing
- Spend time with nature
- Pursue creative outlets
- Get adequate sleep
Build a Supportive Network
It pays to establish and rely on support systems. Start by opening up to your most trusted family members and friends. By keeping open communication with them, you are building a dependable network that can help you pursue healthy ways of overcoming addiction and grief.
You can also join support groups and communities who share the same experience and situation. Not only will these give you access to educational and informative resources but they will also give you the emotional and moral support you need. Their experiences are also rich in learnings and sources of motivation, which you can apply and use as you embark on your journey to recovery.
Balance Self-Care and Grief Processing
Finding a balance between self-care and grief processing is essential. Keep in mind that it’s okay to take breaks and permit yourself to experience joy and relaxation while healing.
Like addiction recovery, healing from grief is not a linear journey, and it is normal to have ups and downs. Recognize that, but while at it, find time to integrate the coping strategies we mentioned above into your everyday life.
Establish Boundaries and Manage Triggers
Be introspective and honestly evaluate the things, people, and situations that trigger your addiction. Watch out for these in your grieving process and set boundaries so you can safeguard yourself from triggers while managing grief.
Develop Resilience and Acceptance
In the face of grief, it’s important to cultivate resilience in all aspects — physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual. A holistic approach will help you navigate loss better, find meaning despite all the negative emotions that you feel, and ultimately, heal and move forward with life.
Accepting the various realities of life and coming to terms with them will solidify your ability to bounce back, no matter what type of setback you encounter.
Indeed, the passing of a loved one brings forth a profound sense of loss. And without proper strategies, grief can trigger addiction and lead to relapse. Dealing with the dual challenge of grief and addiction is intricate — it requires resilience, self-care, and support.
In the thick of it all, remember that healing from both is not linear. It will take time, and you have to accept this truth so you can regain control of your life.
Wondering where you can seek reliable professional help, Pacific Crest Trail Detox is here to offer detox programs, among other services, to help you with your addiction recovery and grief processing journey.