Loss and grief are difficult to handle at any point in life, but they may be especially challenging when you are in recovery from addiction.
Grief can occur many times throughout life, whether a loved one has passed away or you lost a job. Grief can put you under extreme emotional stress, making everyday tasks difficult and stirring up strong, difficult-to-handle emotions.
Before you became sober, you may have used drugs or alcohol to cope with feelings of loss and sadness. Without proper coping mechanisms and support, you may be extremely tempted to use alcohol or drugs again in an attempt to overcome grief. You may have felt that alcohol or drugs helped numb the pain.
Addiction itself can add to loss. Addiction can lead to loss of a job, a marriage, or your home. When you were experiencing addiction, you may have found that it was the only thing that helped you through these issues, even though it was causing the issues. These feelings of unresolved grief may pop back up again in recovery, making it extra challenging to stay sober.
Though you once used substances to help with loss, it’s vital you remember that you don’t need them now. You are not alone. You have resources and support in your life to help you stay sober and cope with grief.
How to Cope With Loss Without Drugs or Alcohol
The grieving process is often described in five stages, also called the Kubler-Ross model of grief. You might experience all five stages or just a few stages. You might skip a stage or do all of them in a row or go backward in stages. But understanding these stages can help you find healthy ways to move through your grief and live with loss.
The five stages of grief are:
- Denial – During this stage, you may feel shock or numbness. It may difficult to move forward with your life as you try to deny the loss occurred.
- Anger – You may feel mad at the person who was lost, yourself, others or even God in this stage. You may lash out at those you love.
- Bargaining – During bargaining, you may think in “if only” statements. You think if only things had been different, you wouldn’t feel this way.
- Depression – In this stage, you will feel deeply sad about the loss.
- Acceptance – Acceptance doesn’t mean that you are okay with the loss. It simply means you accept that it occurred and are willing to find ways to cope with grief.
Alcohol or drugs numb you to your feelings or distract you from grief. Because of this, they can keep you from progressing toward acceptance. You may continue to feel grief and feelings may become more intense or stressful over time.
But drug use is not the only unhealthy behavior related to loss. You also need to avoid behaviors such as:
- Isolating yourself
- Not communicating your feelings with others
- Taking out your anger and frustration on loved ones and friends
Instead of participating in these behaviors or using again, you need to use the coping skills you learned in recovery to move forward. If you need a refresher on these skills, you can attend support groups more frequently or schedule your own individual therapy. You might need more support during a time of grief than you typically do, but that is normal.
Tips For Staying Sober While Grieving
If you are grieving while in recovery, particularly in early recovery, you should take very purposeful steps to avoid a relapse. You should:
Reach Out to Your Support System
Recovery is challenging enough; you need the support of friends and family to get through hard times. Ask for help, whether that is just spending time with others or having someone check in on your regularly.
You can also rely on your sponsor, counselor, or support groups. These people understand exactly the challenges you are facing and can give you tips and strength for getting through.
Go to Meetings More Often
Whether you are part of an alumni group, 12-step program, or other community support group, you may need to step up your attendance to get through this difficult time. Don’t miss a meeting and consider going to additional meetings. You’ll have a chance to work through problems with your peers while receiving vital encouragement.
Don’t Hide Your Feelings
When you are at meetings or talking to people who support you, be completely honest about your feelings—including if you are feeling tempted to use. Sharing your personal struggles can help you feel seen. They can help you know that what you are feeling is normal. They can also help you find ways to deal with these issues and better understand what support you want and need.
You should also share any feelings of depression, anxiety or anger that you feel. Again, these feelings are normal after a loss. You need help from others, both personal friends and professional counselors, to get through them. If they know what you are feeling, they can provide better support and care.
Contact Your Addiction Treatment Facility
If you are facing additional struggles, you should be able to reach out to the center where you received care. They may provide outpatient services, like counseling or alumni groups, to help you get through this difficult time. They know you and your addiction best and can offer personalized care.
At Harmony Place, we offer long-term care to help you get through the challenges of life, from everyday struggles to big losses. From support groups to counseling, you can find the services you need to cope in healthy ways and resist the temptation to return to drug use.
If you or a loved one require addiction treatment, we can help. Contact us at 1-888-789-4330 at any time day or night for assistance.