Addiction is difficult to give up, even after it has taken everything. When someone decides to enter recovery, they begin a new journey of healing. The benefits do not outweigh the challenges at the beginning for many people, because it takes a while to see why it was a good decision. It can be a road filled with potholes and difficulties. The coping strategies people use to heal from their losses can be helpful in times of grief or sorrow over what happened over the course of their addiction. There may be old wounds that resurface for the person to deal with now they are not numbing their pain. Turning towards these strategies will be healing if the person can embrace them on the journey.
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Types of Loss in Recovery
Even if friendships are toxic, they are still companions for the journey. Sobriety means people make lots of changes. Giving up drugs and alcohol is one step away from the old life. Giving up friendships is another thing entirely. Everybody in a person’s inner circle needs to be evaluated for how much they are giving to that person and how toxic they may be. Some friendships are just not healthy for an individual with addiction. Saying goodbye to those people is like losing a friend, sometimes even a family member, because they are not healthy to be around. The constant companion will always be there. This should offer a source of comfort to make it easier to coping with life as it happens, even when things are difficult.
Grieving Deep Losses
Being with people who are addicted is painful. Some are not able to seek help they need in time or could not get away from addiction before it took their lives. In recovery, an individual might encounter the loss of friends and family members to addiction. They may be revisiting old losses they were numbing out for a long time. Grief has a way of returning to a person’s life and intermingling with their story. It is all about how to engage with it that matters. People can spend decades suppressing awful, painful truths in their lives. Unacknowledged grief is powerful, but it is never too late to work through the losses and find healing.
Five Stages of Grief
Everybody has an individual journey towards healing in recovery. The five stages are one way to give parameters around grief. This does not mean boxing it in. This mean setting the stage for space to heal. The grieving stages are not going to be linear. Although this outline is helpful for people who lost a loved one, there are ways to incorporate these ideas into grieving losses from addiction, lost friendships, lost opportunities, divorce, and many other losses people experience in life. Here are some examples:
- Denial: people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol often struggle with denial. It allows people to walk through bad stuff but it also keeps them from encountering new stuff. A person with an addiction might deny the existence of addiction or make jokes, or say the loss is not too bad and they can handle it. Whatever the person is in denial about will not make it go away. They have to face it eventually in order to heal
- Anger: with the fading of denial, most people confront feelings of anger. This may be directed to close friends and family, even if they are not at fault. Anger is a genuine emotion. It can make a person feel stressed and threaten inner peace. Don’t let anger take over without looking at how to navigate the healing
- Bargaining: people want to convince themselves of control over their lives. The challenge is they are not in control. They are most able to control what is right in front of them for the time being, it seems, but after that, it all seems to become more difficult. Bargaining is about seeking ways to change what has happened, even if that is not possible
- Depression: A myriad of emotions will rise up in someone who is grieving. Whether it was 20 years ago or yesterday, grief will come in waves. It is common to feel sadness with the impact caused by death. It is hard to deny the situation as it becomes clear bargaining is not an option any longer
- Acceptance: as a person gains insight, they are able to finally look at their addiction, losses, and grief with a different perspective. They learn how to move on in life without their lost loved ones. Things start to feel different, even if some days are easier than others. Continue to seek out new opportunities as this process emerges. Know there is no going back and it is essential to the process
Coping Through Grief
There is no right or wrong way to walk through grief. Coping with grief is tough. If a person does not face painful emotions, they are going to take over a person’s life. The process should be squeezed into a timeframe in some people’s opinions, but grief waits for no person. It will come when it is ready to come and people need tools to deal with it well. Although a person walks alone in their grief, they are not alone in grieving because everyone experiences some kind of loss at some point. Processing this grief with therapists and people who can work with the individual makes it important. Some self-care tips to be mindful of on the journey:
- Practice good self-care
- Eat well and get enough rest
- Reach out, don’t hibernate. Let people help because grief can cause relapse for some people in recovery
- Know special dates will come up that might be difficult to prepare with therapists and loved ones as to how to handle them
- Avoid triggers for relapse and don’t spend time with people that make an individual uncomfortable
- Record feelings in a journal and read inspiring books on grief and loss
- Hit the gym or ask a friend to go for a walk when things are hard, exercise is good for recovery
- Give back to others and offer comfort to people who are struggling in recovery or in other ways
Relapse is not on the horizon if a person is able to cope with their feelings. When the urge comes to use or fall back into old habits, it helps to resist the temptation with the right support. Relapse only lengthens the process. Admit relapse and seek help. Get back on track as soon as possible, even if it means re-entering treatment.