Managing grief while in recovery

managing grief while in recovery

Grieving the loss of a loved one causes perhaps the most challenging range of emotions most people ever have to manage. For a person in recovery from behavioral disorders, it can be even more overwhelming, especially if the loss was sudden or unanticipated. Maintaining sobriety is a daily challenge; when complicated by losing a loved one, it may be enough to make relapse seem tempting.

People in recovery do not want to lose everything they have gained by relapsing due to unforeseen circumstances. Special steps must be taken during this difficult period to stay on the road to health and recovery.

Seek support

“The Addiction Counselor’s Documentation Sourcebook” by James R Finley and Brenda S Lenz includes a guide for people dealing with grief that recommends:

  • Seeking friends and family members who are aware of their situation and can listen to their feelings
  • Letting others know they are grieving so they can get support and encouragement without needing to turn to self-medication
  • Attending 12-step meetings that encourage the maintenance of sobriety and offer fellowship
  • Talking to clergy if those in recovery are of faith
  • Remembering that pain is temporary. Thinking back about how other pain eventually diminished can provide hope and support

Avoid holding back

People often feel they must appear to be “strong,” but sharing grief with others should not be thought of as placing a burden on them. It’s likely that the sharing process helps both people. Bearing emotional pain alone increases suffering, while sharing it allows it to be released.

There is no map for a grieving person. People respond in their own way and in their own time. If a person feels therapy might be helpful, he or she should seek out a therapist, perhaps one who helped during treatment and is already familiar. An individual in recovery who is also grieving may be prone to depression and any steps to prevent that are helpful.

Honor your loved one by living a good life

It’s a tribute to a person to live the life they may have wanted for us. Although it may sound like a cliche, they probably wouldn’t want us to continue feeling sad or sorry for ourselves. Many people start small foundations or groups in honor of deceased people as a way to honor them and carry on their name. Planting a tree in memory of a person is also a green and therapeutic thing to do, and helping other substance abusers rewards both the helper and the helped.

White River Academy is a residential treatment center and boarding school in Delta, Utah, for boys ages 12 to 17. Our therapy includes grief counseling for students whose behavioral disorders may be affected or caused by loss. Call our 24/7 helpline for more information.

Written by Veronica McNamara.

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