For most of those who misuse or abuse drugs or alcohol, it’s typically to escape your headspace and numb yourself to the reality that is your life. While it might work for some time, after a while, all drug and alcohol misuse will take you down a dark road where you have to face your mistakes head-on. For those in recovery, using a substance to cope is out of the question. Grief and loss in recovery are challenging, and if you’re sober, it’s important to learn how to handle the stages of grieving in a way that doesn’t cause you to relapse.
Whether you’re sober or actively using substances, losing someone you love dearly is one of the hardest things to go through. Experiencing a loss of this magnitude brings a range of overwhelming emotions that hit you in different stages. These include anger, sadness, confusion, and resentment. Sometimes, you might even feel relief because you know a loved one is no longer suffering, which can be confusing. However, these emotions are grouped under a single term – grief.
Unfortunately, grief is universal, and we’ll encounter it at least once in our lives. It could be the result of losing a loved one, ending a long-term relationship, losing a job you put your heart and soul into, or any change that alters your life. Grief is also personal – it’s not linear or neat. It doesn’t have a timeline or abide by a schedule. You’ll likely cry, feel angry, withdraw, or even lose your sense of worth. None of that is unusual, nor is any of it wrong.
Below, we’ll discuss the stages of grief and how to handle them.
What Are the Stages of Grief?
According to Kübler-Ross via Healthline, there are five stages of grief:
Stage 1: Denial
One of the most overwhelming emotions to encounter is grief, and it’s not uncommon to respond to these feelings and pretend the loss or change didn’t happen. Denying it allows you to ease into the news and help to start processing it. It’s a common defense mechanism that will enable you to numb yourself to the severity of the scenario. Once you move away from the denial stage, the emotions you’ve packed away will slowly come to the surface, and you’ll be met with sorrow. It’s part of the journey and can be challenging to endure, which is why many people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope.
Stage 2: Anger
Denial is considered a coping mechanism – anger is a masking effect, and anger is a way to hide the emotions and pain you’re carrying. That rage may be redirected at others, such as the person who passed, your old boss, or the person that broke up with you. You may even blame others. Anger can also mask itself in bitterness or resentment. While not everyone will go through this stage of grief, some may linger here. Once it subsides, rational thinking will eventually prevail.
Stage 3: Bargaining
When actively grieving, it’s common to feel vulnerable and helpless. During those moments of intense emotions, you might be searching for ways to get back the control you thought you lost or find a way to affect the outcome of this event. During this grief stage, you’ll ask yourself “what if” quite often. Bargaining is a line of defense against your emotions and helps postpone the hurt, confusion, and sadness you’re battling.
Stage 4: Depression
Anger and bargaining can feel active, whereas depression could feel like a quiet stage of the grieving process. During the earliest stages of grief, you might be trying to escape your emotions. For those in recovery, it can be uniquely challenging because, in the past, they might have turned to substances to cope. Depression is tough to deal with and is often messy, causing you to feel heavy, foggy, and confused. Many people will refuse to get out of bed and might consider using drugs or alcohol again. Fortunately, you can move past this stage by speaking to a mental health expert.
Stage 5: Acceptance
Acceptance does not mean you’ve moved past the grief. However, it means that you’ve come to terms with the situation and understand its meaning in your life. You’ll start feeling different at this point, which is normal because you’ve experienced a significant change in your life. With acceptance, there will be more good days than bad. Grief affects us differently, and there is no time frame anyone can expect to deal with it – this is typical. Below, we’ll explain some ways to manage grief in recovery.
How to Manage Grief in Recovery
Coping with loss in sobriety brings its challenges. You may want to revert back to your old ways because you’ve lost meaning in life and your recovery, but it’s important to manage your emotions and not lose sight of what it means to achieve sobriety and handle these tough situations while clean.
- Allow yourself time to grieve: As mentioned above, grief doesn’t follow a timeline. If you’ve been grieving for several months, that’s OK. The weight of your loss cannot be measured against others. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek help. What this means is you can grieve as long as you need to. One of the best ways to do that is to take in what you’re feeling – the good and the bad. It takes time and patience, so be kind to yourself.
- Stay active in your treatment program: Recovery is a challenging period, even when you aren’t battling loss. Adding these profound emotions into the mix could be a recipe for disaster if you stop managing your recovery. You may not feel like talking or sharing, but you must continue visiting your therapist, attending meetings, and surrounding yourself with a support group. It will allow you to open up your mind and reconnect with the treatment principles that have brought you to this point.
- Eat healthily and sleep well: Even if you’re not battling grief, you should always eat nutritious foods and sleep well. However, loss of appetite is a common symptom during this period. People often lose motivation to do anything, so they start eating poorly and cannot sleep because they’re stuck in a loop of negative thoughts, which increases their chances of relapse. Try eating healthily and nourishing your body to the best of your ability. You should also get as much sleep as you can and exercise. Combining all of these gives you the best odds of boosting your mental state. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help.
- Stay around positive people: You don’t want to surround yourself with people who tell you to get over it or that your grief is no longer valid because enough time has passed. You also don’t want to isolate yourself and hide from the world. It’s understandable in the earliest stages of grief, but it’s not smart in the long term. You must connect with positive people – even if it’s a walk in the park, a quick coffee date, or a night out on the town.
- Stay away from triggers: You’re more vulnerable to using drugs or alcohol again after losing a loved one. You must remove yourself from situations that can potentially trigger your old behaviors. During a brief period of weakness, you don’t want to test your sobriety. Surround yourself with positive people and situations. Avoid things that are uncomfortable or make you upset. Put yourself over everything else right now.
- Commemorate the loved one who passed: One method that could help you feel better is to honor the life of the person who passed. This celebration of life ceremony could involve the gathering of family and friends to share memories. This can help you immensely in the healing process.
Unfortunately, relapse can occur during this period. However, you can prevent it by reaching out for help before it’s too late. If you relapse, you must get yourself back in treatment right away. As you know, addiction is a life-threatening condition, and the longer you actively use substances, the higher the odds of becoming a statistic.