Coping with Grief and Loss in Recovery

Coping with Grief and Loss in Recovery

Loss is a part of life, something we all go through no matter what stage of recovery or addiction we are in. But, not being prepared to face sudden death, illness or even the loss of a relationship in recovery can emit feelings that may trigger addictive behaviors. Understanding the grief process, and what you can do to effectively (and safely) cope with grief and loss will help you to remain sober during this challenging time.


What is Grief?


Grief is the natural response that humans (and a few animals) have to loss. Grief is a state of suffering and struggle that we face when someone or something we love is taken away from us. We see grief in babies when their favorite toy or stuffed animal is taken. We see grief in the elderly when a loved one passes. We see grief ourselves when a relationship ends be it due to failed behaviors, trauma, or the death of someone we care deeply for.


Grief can result from loss without death. Although we are most likely to associate grief with the death of someone we love, we can also experience grief over the following losses:


  • Loss of good health, a diagnosis of cancer or a similarly life-threatening condition.

  • Loss of a job, especially a job that has been a part of everyday routine for several years.

  • Loss of a pet, either due to death or the pet being lost.

  • Loss of a dream that we once had and have since realized will not come true.

  • Loss of a home, either due to sale, foreclosure or damage from a fire or similar catastrophe.

  • Loss of a friendship or relationship.

  • Loss of an unborn baby--a miscarriage.


We don’t always recognize the situations that will lead to grief for us. For instance, moving away from close friends may cause grief even though we can still communicate with those we miss. Likewise, a child going off to college may cause grief as we adjust as parents to “an empty nest.” 


When an individual, animal, situation or routine is significant in our lives, losing or walking away from it can be difficult and may ultimately lead to grief. However, regardless of what causes grief in our lives, there are healthy ways to cope without risking relapse in our recovery.


Understanding the Phases of Grief


Having a better understanding of each phase of grief can help you to better understand what is going on and to cope with those feelings in a more positive manner. Even just knowing that a certain emotion you have is the result of grief and recognizing that, “this too shall pass,” may help you to avoid unthinkable outcomes. The following phases are likely when we experience loss:


  • Denial - In the deepest moments of grief, we may disregard the reality that the individual or thing we loved so much is gone. Denial is a natural defense mechanism that helps us to deal with the first bout of painful emotions in embarking on this journey of coping with loss.

  • Anger - We may not even realize the anger we feel but it is common to blame ourselves or to blame others for the loss. Often times we will feel guilty for the situation and guilt is a widely known precursor to relapse.

  • Bargaining - Making the “what if’s” or “If onlys” a reality. We bargain for what we want and think to ourselves or out loud, what if I had...fill in the blank. Unfortunately, bargaining for what we love only prevents us from seeing through to the future. We get stuck in the past, and the what if’s take over. It’s a bad place to be, and hopefully, in the healing process of grief, you aren’t stuck in this past situation for long.

  • Depression - Once the loss sets in we feel worried, hopeless, or otherwise depressed. This is the point when we realize that the individual we loved is not coming back from the dead, the home we lost was destroyed, or the job we once loved is never going to be the same. The depression leaves a painful emptiness that will take time to heal.

  • Acceptance - This is the final phase of the grieving process. You have come to terms with the loss and, although you may not be happy, you understand that it was not your fault, that no bargaining or otherwise will change the situation, and it is time to move on.


In each phase of grief, coping is a HUGE factor to prevent relapse. Especially when depression sets in. Grief can be a serious trigger to relapse if you don’t allow yourself to gracefully go through the grieving process while also seeking the support of others along the way.




Myths About Grieving


Don’t let yourself fall victim to these myths of grief. In fact, avoiding any of these thought patterns is one of the many steps you can take in coping with the loss of someone or something you love:


  • Myth: The pain will dissipate even more quickly if you ignore it.

    • Fact: Ignoring the pain allows it to build beneath the surface and when it does come out it will be much worse than if you were to deal with it in spurts as it comes.

  • Myth: Remaining “Strong” in the face of grief is important.

    • Fact: Everyone feels sad, depressed, and lonely during the grieving process. Allowing yourself to feel, and to show others how you feel, can help you find the support you need to get through the sadness stage. 

  • Myth: Crying is the only real way to show you are upset about a loss.

    • Fact: Crying is okay, but if you don’t cry, that’s okay too. Grief is a healing process that only YOU know what to do for YOUR healing. Crying is a normal response for those who feel upset, but if you don’t cry, you don’t have to feel like you’re not doing your part.

  • Myth: Moving on means that you have forgotten about the significant loss that you experienced.

    • Fact: Moving on is a part of the healing process and a necessary fact of life. Moving on never means that you have forgotten what happened or who you lost. Memories can become an integral part of your coping process and everyday routine, but you must move forward when you are ready.


Dealing with Grief in Recovery


Although grieving the loss of a loved one or something else in life that mattered to you is an inevitable part of life, there are healthy ways to cope with grief in recovery. These methods of coping will help you to prevent or at least reduce the risk of relapse during this difficult time. 


Consider the following activities:


  • Learn how to recognize your pain and accept it. This doesn’t mean you have to be in pain from the loss forever, but it does mean that you need to learn how to acknowledge the pain you are feeling. This is especially true in recovery because acknowledging pain can help you to also recognize the need to seek support. Consider Pocket Rehab a place where you can reach out for support from others that may also be dealing with grief right now. Community is a great place to cope with loss.

  • Recognize the emotions triggered by grief. Remember the stages of grief outlined above? Anger and depression are just a few of the emotions that grief may trigger. Recognizing that these emotions are the result of loss can help you to realize where your real needs are. You may find help by seeking support, or maybe you just need to apologize to someone that you were angry with recently as a result of the grief you were feeling? Both can make you feel better.

  • Realize that only you can understand fully what you need as you grieve. Don’t put a timeframe on how long you can or should grieve a loved one or a pet or a loss of any kind. If you feel like you have been stuck in a rut for too long, consider seeking support but don’t force yourself to feel better before you are ready. Grief takes time--and that time is different for everyone.

  • Take care of yourself. Maybe you have been so stuck in grief that you feel sick and tired. Maybe you haven’t showered or eaten well lately. Maybe you are slipping into old behaviors or habits that you KNOW could lead to relapse? Seek support and don’t be afraid to let others know how you are feeling and acting. A recovery coach could help you get through this without relapse.

  • Recognize when grief has slipped into a deep depression. This step is hard. Depression is a part of the grieving process, but sometimes grief can lead to a deep depression that lingers for several months or even years following a loss. Talk with others, seek help, and most importantly, listen to the cues your body and brain are giving you. Have you been depressed for too long?

Category: Pocket Rehab
Tags: grief and loss, addiction recovery, relapse prevention, depression, anxiety