Managing Grief and Loss In Recovery

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By Terence T. Gorski, Author

If you lose someone you love and you don’t miss them there is something seriously wrong. Grief from the loss of a loved one is a normal part of life. People recovering from addiction need to learn how to cope with the loss Ina sober and responsible way. Mismanaging grief and loss lead to depression and activate the relapse process. (see Depression and Relapse).

I find the loss of a loved one is a strange thing. The better the relationship we had with someone we lose, the more it hurts to lose them. The pain never goes away because there remains a hole in our soul — an emptiness that cannot be filled by anyone else.

Anniversaries of a loss are tough. At best they are bitter-sweet. I find, however, that dealing with loss is a skill that can be learned — must be learned — if we want to mature as a human beings.

The stages of mourning and grief are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life. Learning about the steps and stages of managing grief and loss can help us accept the process as normal and natural and develop skills for managing the different steps of the process. It still hurts, but the pain is more easily managed when we know we are not crazy for experiences.

Each of us must find our own way to cope with grief and loss. Their is no right or wrong way to do it and no universal time-frame for resolving it.

There is, however, a model that helps many people understand and accept the process. A five stage model of normal grief was first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.” I’m reality, however, the process is not as orderly or predictable as the five stages of grief make it seem.

I summarize the stages of grief with the acronym DABDA:

D = Denial. This can’t be happening!

A = Anger, usually at life and/or at God. “They can’t take you! You can’t leave me. You have no right to do this to me! What kind of a god would let this happen?”

B = Bargaining. I’ll do anything, pay any price, negotiate any deal to avoid losing this person.

D = Depression. There is a deep sense if traumatic loss that is biopsychosocial. Biologically there are brain chemistry crashes. Psychologically we feel empty and incomplete. Socially there is a big hole in the fabric of our lives.

A = Acceptance. We adapt to the loss, but acceptance does not mean we go back to feeling the way we did before the loss. The loss changes us and we learn to adapt to a new normal as we rebuild our lives.

The stages of grief model suggests people move through grief and get done with the process. In my experience that is not the case. Most people bounce from stage to stage and cues or triggers such as anniversaries and holidays can snap us back into the grief process.

I find that loss is easier to handle if I focus on the good memories and good things and consciously connect with gratitude for having those times with that special person. The only alternative is to stay in anger and forget the gifts this person gave us. This can leave us bitter.

In sobriety we learn to cope with the bitter taste of the loss while savoring the good things that we gained. And we must learn to do it in a sober and responsible way. That means feeling what we feel and developing deeper relationships with other people to help us through the process.

Using alcohol or other drugs to cope with the loss makes things more difficult and painful. It leads to a loss of control of our addiction and hitting a new bottom. When we get back in recovery the unresolved grief is waiting for us. It can complicate our new efforts at recovery and contribute to unnecessary relapse.

The good news is that we can learn to deal with grief and loss in a sober and responsible way. Cognitive Restructuring can help us when the skills are specifically applied to the process of managing grief and loss.

GORSKI BOOKS: www.relapse.org

8 Responses to Managing Grief and Loss In Recovery

  1. dwamp says:

    Thanks for this Terry! Have you read or written any articles that talk in depth about the grief that families experience as their loved one cycles in and out of active addiction/recovery etc.

  2. Guy Lamunyon says:

    Death is a huge relapse trigger. I have seen people with 20 years sober relapse after the death of a family member..

  3. Reblogged this on Fallon Trivedi Therapy and commented:
    loss is natural.

  4. Leigh Taylor says:

    Such a well written article, thanks Terry!

  5. Lillian says:

    No one but the person knows it’s like tearing a piece of your heart out

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