How to Maintain Sobriety After a Loss
Life can be challenging at times, and one of the biggest challenges that we face as human beings is loss. This loss can be to something material, such as if we lose all of our possessions in a house fire. Or, more commonly, it will be the loss of a loved one. Many feelings emerge after the loss of someone that we care about, most especially grief.
Coping with grief can be a challenge on its own, and many people don’t know how they can properly manage their grief. Unfortunately, the emotion of grief can be so overwhelming that it might push someone in recovery towards a relapse.
That doesn’t have to be the case, though. In this article, we’re going to talk about some of the best ways that you can maintain your sobriety even after suffering loss. We’ll explain the nature of grief, some tips and tricks on how to manage it, and some important advice on how to maintain your addiction.
What Is Grief? How Can It Affect Me?
Grief is an often-overwhelmingly intense emotion related to loss. Grief tends to occur most often when people experience the loss of a loved one, such as the death of a family member or the breaking up of a long-term relationship.
Grief can also occur for other reasons. Some people may experience grief after losing a job, for example, and others may experience grief after the loss of sentimental worldly possessions. Some people even grieve for the loss of their addiction, feeling a sense of displacement as they sacrifice their old routines and habits.
Grief is something that everyone will experience at one time or another. Unfortunately, there are not many people who understand how to properly manage their grief. Because grief is such an intense experience, many people learn to repress and avoid it rather than experience it. And, as you most likely know, substance abuse is one of the most common methods of repressing intense feelings.
Grief can be a challenge to fully understand, and one of the reasons for this is because many people experience different emotions when they are grieving. Rather than being a single, isolated emotion, grief often describes a number of different and difficult emotions.
For example, some people’s initial response to their grief might be anger. Others may respond with denial. Others may break down and experience immense suffering, and yet some others may find themselves oddly relieved if the grief relates to the death of someone who was suffering.
There are a lot of different factors that can affect the way that you process and interpret grief. Some of these include:
- Your relationship to the person who died
- Your mental health prior to experiencing grief
- The reason leading up to the death of a loved one
- Any previous experience that you have had with grieving
Causes of Grief
While the most common cause of grief is generally acknowledged to be the death of a loved one, there are many other things that can cause you to experience grief. These are some other serious situations that might cause grief which could interfere with your recovery.
- Divorce or separation from a long-term partner
- Imprisonment – either for yourself or for a loved one
- Experiencing a serious injury or having a loved one experience an injury
- Being dismissed from a job that you were passionate about
- Retiring from a job
- Sudden or unplanned pregnancy
- Sexual problems or difficulties
- Sudden financial loss
- Loss of stable housing, mortgage foreclosure, etc.
- Having a child move out of the home
- Sudden or unexpected changes in living conditions, especially if these changes are for the worse
- Changing schools or being dismissed from school
- Loss of trust or approval among someone that you care for
Grieving the Loss of Addiction
Many people actually find that they grieve the loss of their addiction itself. While addiction is obviously a dangerous and unhealthy lifestyle to pursue, many people find themselves fully enmeshed in the life of addiction.
When they decide to sober up, it often feels like something is missing. Many people report that their addiction feels like a relationship, and in many ways, it is. One of the reasons that it’s so challenging to maintain a relationship with an addicted individual is because their relationship to drugs or alcohol often takes precedence.
Furthermore, it is not uncommon to hear of people in recovery referring to drugs or alcohol as “their old best friend,” or a source of support. These are roles that are typically played by other human beings. In this sense, the addiction fills in the sense of relationship.
And, because of this, it can often be extremely difficult for people to separate from their addiction. Even though the addiction may be unhealthy, it is still a source of comfort. Much like it can be challenging for people to put an end to toxic relationships, struggling drug users often have a hard time putting their addiction away.
Grieving your addiction can be another challenge on its own. One of the reasons for this is because it’s often difficult to talk about the parts of your addiction that were enjoyable or fulfilling. However, this can be an important step to take.
If you were to grieve the loss of a marriage, you would be grieving the loss of the important parts of this relationship. Your relationship to substance is similar, and it’s important to acknowledge and grieve for the parts of the addiction that helped you feel comfortable or safe.
Most people don’t develop drug or alcohol addictions for no reason. They become dependent on substances because they help them to feel good – much like a toxic relationship can even help people feel good at certain points. Thus, when you decide to stop drinking or drugging, it’s important that you mourn the loss of this toxic relationship.
Doing this helps you to acknowledge what your wants and needs are. For example, if you are mourning the loss of the comfort and confidence provided by substance abuse, this tells you clearly that comfort and confidence are important for your happiness. As you shed the unnecessary and toxic relationship to addiction, allowing yourself to grieve the loss of these parts, you’ll be able to develop newer and healthier relationships with yourself and other people.
One of the most challenging aspects of recovery is learning to dismantle the relationship that you shared with your drug of choice. However, it’s only by doing this that you will learn how to find these sources of comfort and satisfaction in other relationships.
Because drugs become such a fundamental component of an addicted person’s lifestyle, it can be tremendously difficult to do this. Ending an addiction feels very similar to ending a long-term relationship, and one of the often unaddressed issues related to this is learning how to grieve.
Learning How to Grieve
Learning how to grieve is incredibly important for anyone who is hoping to overcome a loss. In this section we will explain one of the most common and effective grieving processes, known as the Kubler-Ross model.
This model describes the different parts of the grieving process. Having a solid understanding of this grieving process helps you to accept and integrate your emotions. We will discuss how to interpret this model for both the loss of a loved one and the loss of an addiction.
The Stages of Grief
The five stages of grief, first identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, basically describe a number of different defense mechanisms, coping responses, and ultimately the acceptance of grief. These stages are:
Denial. Denial is the first stage of grief and is often marked by the inability to accept the loss. Serious loss is often a traumatizing and unexpected experience – one that frequently overwhelms the individual’s capacity to cope. When this happens, people may actually deny that the loss has actually occurred.
Anger. Anger is known to be a form of defense mechanism, one which often overshadows other difficult emotions such as sadness and fear. As the second stage of grief, anger often signifies that we are experiencing a number of other overwhelming feelings that we have not yet learned to cope with.
Bargaining. When one enters the bargaining stage, they begin to experience distortions in thoughts and may try to take responsibility for their loss. They may begin to wish that they did something differently, as if they could have prevented the loss. Many people experience guilt during this stage.
Depression. The stage of depression may vary from person to person. Some people may decide to isolate and avoid others, whereas some may experience intense sadness.
Acceptance. The final stage of grief is acceptance: acknowledging the nature of the situation and coming to terms with it. Only after one has accepted the loss will they fully be able to move forward from it.
The Stages of Grief Regarding the Loss of Addiction
While the stages of grief do not change, they can be interpreted differently when someone is considering the loss of addiction. Here are some examples about how to understand the stages of grief when you’re trying to overcome an addiction.
Denial. Most recovering drug users are already quite familiar with denial. Nobody wants to become addicted, and most people with serious addictions experienced a prolonged stage of denial before acknowledging that they actually had an addiction. This stage can keep someone from actually moving forward with their recovery, choosing instead to re-engage with their addictive behavior.
Anger. Many drug users experience anger when they first acknowledge that their addiction has serious power over them. When acknowledging this, they must also acknowledge a serious loss of their own personal power. You may also develop a sense of anger towards the people in your life, yourself, or towards the drug itself.
Bargaining. Many recovering addicts experience a prolonged bargaining phase during which they attempt to reconcile their relationship with drugs. Rather then cutting things off entirely, they attempt to cut deals with themself. It’ll be okay if they only use once or twice a week, or if they choose to reduce the amount that they’re using. This bargaining phase can last many years and rarely leads to success.
Depression. The depression stage can overwhelm people who are struggling with addiction. During this stage you understand that this drug is causing more harm than good, but you are still unable to fully accept the need to sober up. This phase often leads to an increase in drug use, as this can cover up feelings of shame and guilt associated with your acknowledgment of damaged relationships, lost responsibilities, and personal mental or physical health problems caused by your addiction.
This stage can also be immensely depressing because you are acknowledging the toxicity of your relationship with your substance of choice. Much like someone in a toxic relationship may become depressed when they realize that their purported loved one has been abusive, you may experience depression when you realize that these drugs are not actually helping you to improve as a person.
Acceptance. During the stage of acceptance, most drug users are willing to seek help or make serious changes. You begin to realize that drugs are not a sustainable option for you to progress in your life, and you become determined to make a more positive change in your life. Only after you have fully acknowledged the damage done by your addiction will you be able to move forward and make positive, healthy choices.
How Grief Affects Recovery
Grief is often a long-lasting experience. It does not simply go away in a matter of days. The grieving process may take weeks, months, or even years – and during this time, you will be susceptible to relapse.
Grief, in itself, can be a serious cause of stress. On top of that, heightened emotional sensitivity caused by grief can make you more sensitive to other stressors in your life. Stress is one of the leading causes of relapse, and this can make it much harder for you to remain focused on your recovery goals.
Grief can also be particularly challenging for someone in recovery if they have lost an important member of their support group. In this case, not only will you have to deal with the difficult grieving process – you will have to do this while integrating the loss of one of your fundamental pillars of support.
During the grieving process, people often have a hard time managing their daily schedules, routines, and goals. For someone in recovery, these things are all paramount to remaining sober. Losing sight of your routines and recovery plans can put you at risk of relapse.
How to Prevent Relapse During the Grieving Process
One of the most important things for anyone experiencing grief is to find support. You can reach out to loved ones – friends and family – or seek help from a professional, such as a therapist. In either case, it’s vitally important to make sure that you have enough support to help guide you through these challenging times.
One of the best things that you can do is put your focus on happy, enjoyable, and light-hearted activities with people who understand the grieving process. They will help to support you. Making time for uplifting activities will remind you that life can still be enjoyable.
You may also find that supporting other people who have experienced the same loss can be reassuring. Many people don’t fully understand how to comfort themselves, but find it easy to comfort others. Taking time to care for others can help you feel better about your own situation.
And, of course, it’s always a good idea to fortify your support network when you have experienced a loss. One of the best ways to do this is to reconnect with your recovery program. Talk to your old recovery coach or therapist and let them know that you’re experiencing grief.
It’s also a good idea to take time to incorporate stress-reduction and wellness therapies. These might include:
- Practicing meditation. Meditation has been studied and is proven to help reduce stress. Meditation also helps to improve emotional awareness and can encourage you to understand the grieving process better. There are many forms of meditation available, and they can all be done at home.
- Practicing yoga. Many consider yoga to be another form of meditation, and the two practices work very well when combined together. Yoga helps you engage with your body and find focus. This can be immensely useful when you are struggling with the overwhelming emotions of grief.
- Writing. If you often have a hard time understanding your own feelings, writing can be a fantastic way to help you connect with yourself. Take time to write down your thoughts and feelings in a daily journal. Even if you don’t feel like you’re writing about anything in particular, just let the pencil flow and see what comes out. You may be surprised to see what happens.
Moving Forward & Conclusion
Even though grief might seem overwhelming and all-encompassing, it is an experience that you can push through. By accepting and overcoming grief, you will become a stronger person.
However, this is not always easy. Death and loss often seem unfair. However, learning to cope with this unfairness is part of the process. In doing this, you will develop a greater appreciation for the love, gratitude, and connection that you share with those who are still living.
And, in recognizing this, you will also learn more about the importance of being loving and compassionate to those around you. While grief might seem overwhelming, you will ultimately learn how to become a stronger and more capable person because of it.
If you are having a hard time coping with your grieving process, don’t hesitate to reach out to a rehab company or a counselor. They will be able to help support you through this difficult time.