Losing someone important to you is always traumatic. When someone you care deeply about leaves you, through death or by choice, the pain is intense and can be all-consuming. Adding the pain of a significant loss can be overwhelming…especially if you’re in recovery.
Experiencing “normal” grief in recovery may leave you feeling consumed by sadness, shock, denial, despair, anger and numbness. Your impulse may be to escape through drugs, alcohol or anything that will numb the pain. This can really be a test to your recovery program.
Grieving a personal loss while in recovery can be a volatile combination and may trigger a relapse. Individual and group therapy, support groups and educational resources can help people struggling with addiction to better identify and manage triggers to avoid relapse.
How to help yourself through grief and loss while in recovery
There are many kinds of loss and many phases of grief. Throughout each stage of the grieving process, keep your recovery firmly in mind. Be vigilant. Regularly review your recovery and remember why it’s so important to you. Begin each day with a positive focus on recovery, and end each day with gratitude.
Allow yourself to grieve. Accept your feelings and recognize that you’re allowed to feel pain, anger and confusion. Negative feelings may consume you at first, but they will lessen as you continue to process your grief and find healthy outlets for your pain.
Find a bereavement support group. Check with your doctor or therapist for information on local grief support groups that are most appropriate for those in recovery. Some AA or NA groups may even have meetings dedicated to grief support.
Move through your grief at your own pace. Your timeline will not be the same as anyone else. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief may be more or less intense on any given day. Always allow yourself to feel what you feel, and to accept the validity of your feelings.
Talk to others about your pain. Share your feelings with others who also experienced the loss. Stay in close communication with your therapist, support group, sponsor and trusted network of friends. Individual and group therapy and 12-step and other support group meetings keep you connected to those who share your recovery goals.
Reject the urge to withdraw. Interact with positive, compassionate people. Spend time outside, appreciating nature. Find creative outlets or hobbies. Exercising your creativity helps dissipate negative energy.
Be especially vigilant about sticking to your treatment plan. Strong emotions can be triggers and it can be very tempting to numb the pain of loss with drugs or alcohol. Take extra care to avoid people, places and situations that are potential triggers to relapse. Keep in close touch with your sponsor and/or network. Socialize with people and in places where alcohol or drugs are not present.
Keep busy and focus on your physical and mental health. Incorporate a healthier diet, regular physical exercise and practices like mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Keeping a gratitude journal focusing on good memories about the one you lost, as well as gratitude for your recovery, can help keep you on track.
Reach out to others who are suffering. Help others also affected by loss or volunteer to help others in need. Giving to others takes the focus off your own grief, at least temporarily, improves your self-esteem and makes you feel good.
If your loss involved the death of a loved one, plan a commemoration in their honor. This could be a “Celebration of Life” ceremony, a special gathering of family and friends to share memories or writing letters in your journal to your loved one, recalling special memories or telling them what they meant to you.
Relapse may happen. Don’t despair. As long as you reach out for help, it’s not the end of your recovery journey. The faster you contact your therapist, treatment provider or sponsor and recommit to your recovery plan, the faster you’ll get back on track.
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs you are recovering from the loss of a loved one include acceptance of your loss, no longer blocking the pain of the loss, adjusting to life without your deceased loved one and building new relationships.
Symptoms of complicated grief disorder
With “normal” grief, after a time, the feelings lessen, and you can move forward. But for some, the pain is so severe and unrelenting, it is impossible to work through it alone. This can be a sign of complicated grief disorder, which the Mayo Clinic describes as “being in an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing.” The disorder is also known as persistent complex bereavement disorder, or prolonged grief disorder, and is more likely to affect those already dealing with complicated emotions.
When symptoms of grief fail to decrease over time or intensify, you may be experiencing a complicated grief disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic website, signs of this disorder may include:
- Intense sorrow over the loss of your loved one
- Inability to focus on anything other than your loss
- Intense longing for lost loved ones
- Problems accepting death or absence
- Numbness or detachment
- Bitterness about your loss
- Feeling your life has lost meaning
- Inability to enjoy life or to remember the good times with your loved one
If you’re suffering from complicated grief, you may have trouble functioning in your daily routine. You may withdraw socially, feel deeply depressed or feel life isn’t worth living. These are danger signs for anyone and can be amplified if you’re also in recovery. If you’re feeling any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek immediate help.
Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987.