Grief in Recovery: 10 Ways To Cope and Stay Sober
Dealing with grief in recovery from addiction can be incredibly complex and challanging.
Many people may experience relapse due to grief being so consuming and painful, and feeling like they can't handle it. When we lose someone we care about, the emotions are truly indescribable.
Read on to learn what grief looks like, and discover our top 10 ways of dealing with grief in recovery whilst staying sober.
The 5 stages of grief
Grief can be caused by many things, including the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship. Grief presents itself in many different ways and affects everyone differently. Generally, however, there are 5 stages of grief that we all move through.
The 5 stages of grief are as follows:
- Denial. In this stage, you may deny that the loss has happened. You may experience feelings such as confusion, shock and numbness.
- Anger. In this stage, we feel angry that the loss has happened. We can try to blame others, and even blame ourselves. We may have feelings of guilt, regret, and shame.
- Bargaining. In this stage, we remain in the past. We may often tell ourselves “what if I?.”. Or, “I should have”, thinking that if we did something to prevent the loss or death, things would be different today.
- Depression. In this stage, we experienced the devastating feelings of sadness, emptiness and pain that come with a great loss.
- Acceptance. In this stage, we accept that the loss has happened. This doesn't mean that we agree with the loss or necessarily feel good about it, but we are in a state of acceptance that allows us to move forward and progress through our lives.
Working through grief is not a linear process, meaning that the stages of grief aren’t experienced in a single, straight line. Rather we bounce back and forth between varying stages or experience multiple stages simultaneously.
The goal, however, is to reach a place of acceptance.
How dealing with grief in recovery can cause relapse if not worked through
If you're in recovery from addiction, you may have a hard time managing difficult emotions. Grief compiles all the most difficult emotions together in one place, and maybe sometimes, in one moment.
Grief can be numbing and overwhelming all in one fell swoop.
Sitting through the difficult emotions that are brought on by grief is incredibly painful. The pain can feel like it's so much to bear that you can't possibly get through it. When you feel like this and you're in that moment, your mind may begin to consider turning to drugs or alcohol in order to relieve your pain.
However, that reprieve isn't real and is only temporary. As soon as the effects of the substance wear off, the pain of grief only comes flooding back. However, in addition to dealing with grief, you may now be dealing with secondary emotions like guilt and shame for turning to substances.
When grief is pushed down, it can manifest in many other ways. Relapse only draws out the grieving process.
It’s never too late to grieve
Grief is not only reserved for people who just recently experienced a loss. You can harbour feelings of grief long after a loved one is gone.
This is especially important to know for those in recovery. You may have experienced a loss in active addiction that you weren't mentally, emotionally, and spiritually present for due to the nature of your substance use. Even though you may have physically experienced the loss, you weren't in a space to actually process it.
Additionally, you may have experienced a loss as a child that you were never able to process or work through. This loss could have come in the form of the death of a parent or guardian, the death of a sibling, or abandonment from a caregiver, just to name a few examples. As a child, you may not have had emotional support or felt safe to express sadness. That grief may have been pushed down, and manifested as your addiction.
In recovery, you may have to look at previous losses that you were never able to process and actually work through. So many different feelings come along with grief, such as anger, sadness, regret, isolation, guilt, pain, and more. These emotions are incredibly complex but they are entirely normal. They can absolutely be understood and worked through so that they are no longer weighing you down in any way.
Grief in recovery doesn't have to cause relapse
The truth is, grief does not have to cause relapse. In recovery, you'll learn that it is incredibly normal to experience emotions in life such as anger, pain, stress, and fear. It is normal to experience everything that comes with grief, as this is simply part of being human, as painful as it is.
Recovery teaches you that there is nothing wrong with experiencing difficult emotions, but it's what you do with those emotions that can dictate the course of your life.
This applies to grief as well. Even though it hurts, grief is a completely normal part of being human. The difficult emotions you feel right now will not be your emotional baseline forever.
Learning how to manage grief allows you to process the loss of your loved one in a healthy way, so that it doesn't impede on your sobriety.
10 ways to cope with grief in recovery
Coping with grief while in recovery from addiction is no doubt challenging, but it is entirely possible.
Below are 10 healthy ways to cope with grief in recovery whilst maintaining your sobriety:
1. Take your time
Take your time to grieve. If you’re a caregiver, you may not feel like you have the time to be sad or to feel your grief. However, it’s important that you make the time to do this or the grief may manifest later in destructive ways. Lean on others for support. If others seem like they have “gotten over” the loss but you still feel your grief, that is okay. Take your time to feel and accept your feelings, as your emotions are always valid. If over 12 months have passed and you still feel the effects of grief impeding on your ability to live a full life, speak with a counsellor or therapist to help you navigate through it.
2. Feel your feelings
Many people try to push down or ignore painful emotions. For those in recovery, this can be especially damaging. Try to allow yourself to feel your feelings instead of pushing them down or trying to ignore them. In order to stop feeling a difficult emotion, you need to face it, feel it, and allow it to pass. Allow yourself to feel any sadness, anger, or pain that is accompanying your grief. If you're in a place where you feel like the difficult emotions are leading you to relapse or to doing anything destructive to yourself or someone else, reach out to a therapist or counsellor. The emotions that you're feeling are normal, and a professional can help you navigate them safely.
3. Be mindful of triggering situations
When you're in recovery, it’s important to be mindful of putting yourself in triggering situation. Triggers are unique to each person. For many, being in an environment like a bar or parties with drugs and alcohol can be triggering. However, there are also more subtle triggering situations that can bring up many emotions within you. Going past a certain park, driving by a certain building, or going down a specific street can all act as triggers. With grief added into the mix, placing yourself in a triggering situation can be highly threatening to your sobriety. Be mindful and intentional about where are you going and who you engage with during this time to protect your recovery. Doing so will create a safe space to process your grief in recovery.
4. Try not to isolate
In the early stages of grief, you may feel inclined to shut yourself off from the outside world and just be alone. The pain can seem impossible to bear, and it can feel like no one understands you. Take the time to grieve alone if that’s what you feel you need, but be sure not to stay in this place for too long. When you feel ready, spend some time with people who love you, attend a meeting, or speak with a counsellor. Being around others can help you gain some perspective, and can help you pull yourself out of your head.
5. Talk to someone
Talking to a therapist or bereavement counsellor will be particularly helpful if you’re grieving a loss, especially while in recovery from addiction. A big part of recovery is self-awareness and being present. Sometimes, it can be hard to catch our own blindspots. Talking to a counsellor or therapist can help provide you with a third party perspective. They can put the pieces together and show you how your grief has affected other areas of life. They can provide you with a safe and supportive environment to explore the difficult emotions that come with grief. Because it's so important to be aware of what's going on with you internally during recovery, talking to someone after grieving a loss can be an indispensable asset to your recovery efforts.
6. Continue with your treatment program
It may feel like you need a break from your treatment programme or from going to meetings. Take the time away that you need, but make sure you do continue to go at some point when you feel ready. This is an added level of support that many others who are grieving don’t have access to. The people in your groups know what you’re going through, as many people have struggled with grief in recovery. Feeling understood, validated, and supported by a group of people when going through something as painful as grief can help remove some of that weight from you. It can also offer you a sense of hope.
7. Keep practising self-care
If you’ve started to practise self-care in recovery, it is important that you continue to when you’re grieving. Grief is so all-consuming and can drain the mind, body, and spirit. It’s so important that you continue to take care of yourself so that you don’t sink into a dark place. Practising self-care can be as basic as practising healthy hygiene, sleep habits, and nutrition. It can also mean engaging in a hobby that you love, or spending time with family or friends who make you feel good. It may feel hard, but try your best to take small steps towards looking after yourself. This can help you maintain your health on every level, and will aid in preventing relapse.
8. Set a goal
When you’re ready, setting a goal can be a great way to help you move through the grieving process. The goal can be work-related, hobby-related, or anything you can think of that gives you something to work towards. Having a goal and the small steps you want to take to reach that goal can give you something to work on, allowing you to feel productive. It is really easy for grief to make our world stop spinning, and by setting a goal when we feel ready, we can ensure that we don’t stay stuck in a dark place and that we continue to move forward.
9. Give back
Giving back to others or volunteering your time you can help you take your mind off of your loss and feel good. You can give back in a big or small way, whether it’s in the form of buying a cup of coffee for the stranger behind you, or volunteering at the homeless shelter once a week. Giving back can be a great way to help you get out of your own head for a bit and gain some perspective and positive feelings.
10. Be mindful of dates
When dealing with grief in recovery, it helps to be mindful of upcoming significant dates and to brace yourself for the emotions you may feel near those times. For instance, a death anniversary or the month of a significant breakup can bring up visceral feelings of loss all over again. Know that there’s nothing wrong with experiencing these emotions, but simply prepare yourself ahead of time for knowing that you may experience them.
The right way to grieve
The process of grief is truly unique to each individual, their loss, and their unique experiences. There isn't one set proper way to grieve, but what is important is that you talk about what you're experiencing and what you're feeling. When you hold these emotions in, they’ll fester inside, making them even worse. Holding in your difficult emotions can also allow your thoughts to spiral to a dark place.
Staying aware of your mental and emotional state is paramount, as grief can catch up with you. Take your time grieving, but if you’re struggling with acceptance, it is important to speak about it with a counsellor or therapist so that your loss doesn’t impact other areas of your life.
You can also use our platform to freely connect with and create support circles with like minded others.
And remember, accepting a death doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten about your loved one. As your life continues onward, you’ll find ways of incorporating your loved one into your experiences in a beautiful way.
You’ll learn to honour them, and to live your life in a way they would have wanted you to. You’ll learn to live your life in a way that would make them proud.
Author - Thurga
Dealing with a relationship break up in addiction recovery
- 9 Tips for Coping With Grief in Sobriety https://www.tresvistasrecovery.com/blog/9-tips-for-coping-with-grief-in-sobriety
- Overcoming Grief: 10 Tips for Coping With Loss https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/grief/overcoming-grief/
- Coping with Grief and Loss https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm
- Grief after bereavement or loss https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/feelings-symptoms-behaviours/feelings-and-symptoms/grief-bereavement-loss/