Grief encompasses more than the natural reaction to losing a loved one. You can also experience grief when a beloved pet passes away, a marriage ends, or you feel remorseful over making bad choices. Many people in addiction recovery must cope with a sense of grief over their past and how much time they wasted on their addiction. Sobriety makes the awareness of previous behaviors crystal-clear and pivotal to individuals who once relied on drugs or alcohol to blunt reality.
Before you can learn how to cope with grief, you should understand what grief is and why everyone grieves differently about different things.
What Is Grief?
The overwhelmingly heartbroken feeling you experience after a loved one passes away is called bereavement. On the other hand, grief refers to the various depths of mental and emotional reactions a person has to bereavement. During bereavement, another response emerges called reconciliation, or the attempt to accept a loss. Reconciliation involves acknowledging the emotional pain of losing a loved one, searching for effective methods of adjusting to a loss, and even assimilating special characteristics of your loved one into your self-identity.
Grief is also a physiological response that uses large amounts of cognitive energy. Neuroscientists believe humans have unique brain cells that do nothing but “remember” and monitor people who we love and depend on for emotional satisfaction. Upon losing a loved one, these cells are unable to stop remembering and keeping track of loved ones. It is only over time that these neurons eventually realize that the absent person no longer exists in the physical sense.
Scientists think this same sense of loss affects people in recovery. Instead of grieving over a loved one, however, recovering addicts grieve over the loss of being addicted. In fact, the loss of addiction grief that arises from losing something that once represented the sole focus of an ex-addict’s life is just as difficult to cope with as the death of a loved one.
Coping With Grief & Loss in Recovery
Some people talk with their clergy to help them through the grieving process. Others rely on the compassionate shoulders of family members and close friends. You may find that keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings eases the acute sense of loss and regret as you navigate the path to recovery.
Staying busy with a hobby or outdoor activities, reading self-help books about how to deal with grief after defeating a substance addiction, and understanding your despondent reaction to sobriety is a normal, expected part of recovery can help you reconcile your past with your present and future. Talking to a grief counselor may be necessary if you are experiencing complicated grief.
Complicated grief develops when an addict in recovery cannot resolve their grief. Signs of complicated grief include:
- Ruminating constantly about your past as a drug or alcohol addict.
- Engaging in avoidance behaviors, such as refusing to visit certain relatives who you treat badly when you were addicted.
- Relapsing when complicated grief triggers cravings
Coping with grief in recovery will take time and a commitment to attending therapy sessions. Be kind to yourself and realize that it will also take time, patience, and courage to resolve your past with your exciting present and future as a sober, recovering substance abuser. Please call Hickory Treatment Center for immediate help with post-addiction grief.