Grief won’t wait until you find emotional stability in your recovery or life. Understanding the five stages of grief can help you learn how to stay true to recovery during grief.
Whether you’ve just lost your best friend, a family member, or a beloved pet, grief will deliver intense pain and many other symptoms. During this time, your conviction to recovery may be fragile. Remind yourself that a relapse will accomplish nothing; it will only invite more despair, destruction and guilt. The grieving process is unpredictable, deeply draining and raw. You may feel stripped, hopeless and empty. I can promise you that the grief does subside; in its wake, growth and deeper love for life is possible. We’ll discuss the standard five stages of grief, but please keep in mind that this journey is unique to everyone and there’s no one “right” way to experience it.
Even after the physical form of the loved one has passed on, you may refuse to admit that they are gone. That denial is a survival mechanism that cushions you from the initial shock of loss. It’s deeply unhealthy to cling to this falsehood for too long, though. You need to acknowledge the facts so that the true emotions involved can be brought to light. This can be excruciating, but the only way out is through. By being honest with your pain, the temptation to drown it through substance abuse will wane. By accepting the truth, you also put into perspective that your future still exists and needs to be cared for. This means the reasons you were striving for recovery before must continue to be embraced.
In the midst of grief, you may find yourself begging to exchange places with your deceased love one or promising to make a lifestyle change if only you could have a little more time together. Or you might bargain with yourself, granting permission to slip back into active addiction to numb the pain just for the time being. This will accomplish nothing. Sacrificing your recovery for temporary relief is only going to sabotage your ability to ever truly become happy again. It may seem impossible now, but with patience, tenderness and self-awareness, the pain can blossom into growth and motivation. Exercise, journaling, fellowship and therapy are all ideal paths to explore for healing and progress.
Grief is often complicated by anger and guilt. You may be furious at the deceased for abandoning you, or towards healthcare professionals for failing to save them. That anger and shame may be deeply internalized; you may despise yourself for not spending more time with them. Your actions during their final days may come back to haunt you over and over. You may feel you don’t deserve to be free and happy, so succumbing to addiction seems like a logical choice. It’s not. It never will be. What is done is done; our responsibility is to live our lives more fully, more aware and with more wisdom.
This phase is inescapable and necessary. It settles in after the denial fades and the anger burns away. Tears will fall when you think about your loved one, hear their favorite song, or see the empty pet bed. Crying is a nothing to be ashamed of; it purges stress and frees up tangled emotions. It is dangerous to your recovery to bottle up your pain, so seek console in family, friends and counseling. Additionally, if you find yourself so sad that you start to think about committing suicide, talk to your therapist immediately and work through your deep and real emotions with help from a professional.
This stage does come, but you need to stay honest with yourself and true to your recovery. Time alone will soothe the sting of grief, but it will take more effort than simply waiting to heal. Remember that life, as long as you’re alive, goes on. You can choose to let the grief defeat you, or to surmount it and witness even more beauty and wholesomeness in the world. Pain does have a purpose; it teaches, hardens and transforms. Accept this process the best that you can and know that it does indeed get easier.