Using the Tools of Recovery to Cope with Loss
Even in recovery, losing a loved one is a painful fact of life – but that pain doesn’t have to last forever.
Feelings are and addict’s worst enemy. In active addiction, we used alcohol and drugs to avoid negative feelings. We spent years hiding from our feelings and burying them under mountains of substances. Rather than deal with reality, we hid in the bottle or popped a few pills to feel better. Now sober, we’ve learned to live life on life’s terms, without the crutch of drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, part of living sober is coping with the death of a loved one.
The feelings associated with the death of loved one can feel overwhelming. Pain, guilt, anger, resentment, and confusion can bring us right back to the emotional depths we explored in active addiction. For many addicts and alcoholics, these stumbling blocks can lead to relapse. Luckily, there are ways to cope with grief in a healthy way, utilizing the tools learned in recovery. When we practice the lessons of our 12-step program, sobriety will win every time. After all, we have 12 steps, and there are only 5 stages of grief.
So how do we stay sober while dealing with the death of a loved one? Well, first of all, don’t pick up. Every addict has experienced the ineffable desire for drink or drug, but those of us in recovery also know that that feeling will eventually pass. To stay spiritually fit and avoid relapse due to grief, do all those things they told us to do in the beginning. Call your sponsor. Call another alcoholic. Go to a meeting. Do something productive. Help someone. Move a muscle, change a thought. Pray. Live one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time – whatever it takes to get to the end of the day without giving up your sobriety date.
Our bodies function better when we take care of them, but severe grief can make even the simplest tasks seem impossible. When we feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, it’s hard to find the energy to shower or make the bed, but we must persevere. Adhering to a self-care routine will keep your body healthy so you can begin healing mentally. Eat healthy. Drink water. Brush your teeth. Go for a long walk. These acts of self-care may seem small, but they make a huge difference.
Drinking and drugging doesn’t fix problems – it makes them worse. Relapsing to deal with grief is like shooting yourself in the leg because you broke your ankle. Instead of diving into a bottle and making things worse, honor your loved one by dealing with the pain in a healthy, non-destructive way.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but many alcoholics have found that the best way to feel better is to selflessly help someone else in need. Give someone a ride to a meeting. Take a newcomer to the diner and introduce them around to your friends. Call someone who’s been struggling and ask them how they’re doing. Keep helping people and you’ll be surprised how fast the “need” to use goes away.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good workout. Exercise requires focus and intensity, so it’s a great way to disconnect from the pain of grief. One of the most jarring effects of the death of a loved one is feeling helpless and out of control. One of the most jarring effects the death of a loved one can have is a feeling of helplessness and lack of control. This familiar feeling has driven many an addict to relapse. Working out is a great way to take control, get focused, and get back on track.
During step 1, we acknowledged that we are not in control. In step 2, we learned that there is a power greater than ourselves. In step 3, we gave up our will, began a relationship with our higher power, and asked for help. These steps are crucial to the recovery process, but they can be equally useful in the grieving process. Apply the lessons of these steps to the grieving process.
Even though it seems like the pain of loss will be here forever, it won’t. When we deal with grief in a healthy way, the pain becomes less and less over time. This doesn’t mean we stop loving the person who’s gone, nor does it mean we stop missing them. It just means it doesn’t hurt so much. Just keep in mind that if we keep doing the right thing, one day at a time, the pain fades but the love stays.
Recovering from grief is like recovering from alcohol and drug addiction: it’s a slow process that requires work, dedication, and help from others. Nothing can make the pain disappear overnight, but by doing the next right thing, practicing self-care, praying to a higher power, and helping others, the pain will eventually subside. If you’re struggling with the loss of a loved one, please, ask for help – you are not alone.
Resources for dealing with grief
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Resources to help addicts and alcoholics find local meetings and support
Disclaimer: The views shared in this blog are solely those those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Townhouse on Sixth, the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or any other alcohol and drug addiction recovery program. Providing information about a topic does not equate endorsement. If you are having a hard time or feel that you are at risk, please contact your sponsor, counselor, addiction recovery specialist, or call 911.