Grief, Addiction, and Early Recovery

Grief and substance abuse are often linked. If left unresolved, the grief that a person experiences from loss can fuel their addiction whether it’s known to them or not. Being in the early stages of recovery makes a person especially vulnerable to the dangers of unresolved grief.

In an article in the Journal of Pyschodrama, Sociometry, and Group Psychotherapy, it describes how revisiting grief-laden situations or experiences may hinder a person in early recovery rather than benefit them. In order to handle these tough memories, the following are recommended:

  • A solid recovery program
  • Sufficient ego strength
  • Ability to navigate difficult emotions
  • Ample recovery support

Once these factors are in place, however, a person in recovery must address their unresolved grief. Self-medicating can temporarily mask the grief you’re feeling, but it will ultimately harm your recovery process in the long-term.

Acknowledging Grief

Grief is an entirely natural response to any loss. Losing a job, home, pet, friend, child, spouse, or other loved one are understandable reasons to mourn and grieve. There are also more abstract losses, such as losing time or trust in relationships as a result of your struggle with addiction.

Remember: There is nothing weak or unhealthy about experiencing grief. Grieving only becomes unhealthy when it’s left unresolved. If you try to avoid it, push it aside, or ignore it, it will only resurface in other ways.

Self-medicating, that is, trying to numb the pain of a difficult loss, will become more destructive as time goes on. As soon as the high or numbness wears off, the grief will still be with you and will probably feel more unbearable than before. Therefore, the first step to healing through your grief is to feel it.

Regaining Stability During Recovery

As mentioned above, many people in early recovery are emotionally fragile and vulnerable. In order to be prepared for healing through your grief, it’s important to focus on regaining stability.

  • Acknowledging the Loss of a Habit: Coming out of substance abuse means giving up one of the biggest life habits you’ve had. It may even feel like you’re grieving the loss of a part of yourself. Therefore, in order to regain stability in yourself, it’s essential to admit and feel this sense of loss. Only then can the process of rebuilding begin.
  • Coping with Big Changes: In addition to losing a major life habit, you may experience the difficulties of the change in general. Even though it’s toward growth, it’s still an uncomfortable change into something unknown and unfamiliar. What will your relationships with friends look like now? When will your family dynamics feel normal again? How will returning to work feel? These open-ended questions can cause emotional fragility if they’re not addressed one by one and with professional support.
  • Overall Frustration: Struggling with the urge to return to destructive behaviors will likely cause intense frustration, hopelessness, or feeling like it’s impossible to succeed. As a result of these feelings, a person in early recovery may feel generally on edge or in a vulnerable emotional state. If left unresolved, these frustrations can hinder a person from dealing with the root causes of their grief.

Tips to Staying Sober During Grief

No matter what stage of recovery you’re in, these tips can give you a place to start when it comes to dealing with grief. Substance abuse can be tempting for anyone in an emotional crisis, which is why it’s all the more important for someone with a history of addiction to be proactive in getting the help they need and staying sober through it all.

#1: Seek Out Emotional Support

Being alone during the grieving process can amplify the lows you might be feeling and trigger a relapse. Instead of isolating, turn to your friends, sponsors, and loved ones for the support you need. It may look like sitting in a room with someone, going on a walk, or keeping up with therapy sessions. But staying open to your relationships will help keep you from relapsing because of loneliness.

#2: Let Out Emotions Creatively:

 Recent studies have found that creative expression in group therapy settings can help individuals work through unresolved grief and loss. Role playing, creative drama, and immersive experiences can all help a person see and feel the grief they’ve buried. You can also do this on your own: art, music, and other physical activities can help express the pain that you can’t currently put into words.

#3: Read and Watch Encouraging Media

Whether it’s a book about grief or a helpful documentary, encouraging media will help keep your head above water. You may find tips to working through despair, or stories of people who have worked through losses in their lives. Knowing others’ stories may bring you comfort and hope when you see them come out on the other side.

#4: Healthy Eating and Exercise Habits

While it may seem like the last thing you want, it’s important to keep healthy eating and exercise habits. Relapse becomes a greater risk when you don’t take care of yourself physically. Drinking water, eating in a balanced way, and keeping physically active will help keep your body strong. In turn, you will have the strength you need to feel the emotions you’re going through.

#5: Keep Up With Your Counselor:

Step one is steering clear of isolating yourself. Step two  is to keep in touch with your professional counselors or therapists. Having access to professional help in a situation when you feel overwhelmed will make sure you don’t get caught in a sticky situation. It may feel vulnerable and even like weakness to reach out when you’re in crisis, but this is the way responsible adults take care of themselves in recovery.

Reaching Out for Help

If you want to find out more about how to address your grief and addiction, contact a professional at Pinnacle Recovery Center today. Get the help you need to start the healing process and before an emotional crisis escalates into a relapse.