Grief and Loss in Recovery | Avoiding Relapse When Coping with Death

The disease of addiction attacks even if you are in recovery. Addiction is relentless and despite ridding yourself of old behaviors, certain things tend to creep up in a matter of time. Although recovery promises a life beyond your wildest dreams, it doesn’t completely diminish some of the negative aspects of life. One of the most daunting obstacles to face is death. Grief and loss in recovery seem to happen more frequently than ever before. The national opioid crisis contributes to the highest number of overdose deaths—let’s face it, a lot of people in recovery know someone whose life has been cut too short. However, death can be dealt with in recovery without relapse. Although it can be difficult and you will struggle, it is possible and there are a few guidelines that can prevent you from relapse in these crucial times.

There are a number of effective coping mechanism and tools to use to face the obstacles that may arise. Of course, each individual’s shortcomings will vary in severity; however, the tools will be effective regardless of the matter.

Educating yourself on the stages of grief, what it means to overcome obstacles in recovery, and how to cope with grief and loss in recovery can be the deciding factor in how you overcome future struggles.

The 5 Stages of Grief

The Kubler-Ross model, otherwise known as the five stages of grief, was first introduced in 1969 in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying. Although the stages are written in a specific order, they can be experienced in any order at any given time. An individual dealing with grief and loss in recovery can also flip from one stage to another during their grieving process.

The stages of grief were initially inspired by the death of loved ones. However, the feelings expressed in the stages can relate to any form of loss and are useful for understanding the process and ultimately learning to accept death when it comes.

There is also no time frame for grief and loss in recovery. The time it takes to fully accept loss can vary on a number of individual factors.

Denial

Denial is typically the first of the five stages of grief. This stage is known as the survival stage and it helps in diminishing any urges to act irrationally. Denial is actually a defense mechanism which numbs us to our true emotions.

Sometimes, you might feel the world is a dark and meaningless place and overwhelming feelings might begin to take over. The stage of denial creates this illusion within you—that perhaps the diagnosis was a mistake or the loss isn’t actually true.

Anger

As the numbness begins to dwindle, you might begin to experience anger. When dealing with grief and loss in recovery, the intense emotions can override any feelings of inner peace you may have gained on your recovery journey. Anger is actually one of the easiest emotions to express. However, the anger may be directed at people or things who aren’t necessarily to blame. When dealing with a loss, no one is to blame. If an overdose is the cause of death, the disease of addiction is the only true culprit.

Bargaining

Bargaining is a normal reaction in any form of grief and loss in recovery. When you bargain, you typically make “if only” or “what if” statements. You might say to yourself things such as:

  • If only I had reached out sooner
  • If only I was a better friend, lover, supporter
  • If only I was there, I could have stopped it

However, these statements, along with many others that fit into this category, most likely would not have changed anything. Bargaining can also be a form of guilt or survivor’s guilt. Guilt convinces us that we are faulted when in reality, we only want to diminish the feelings of pain.

Depression

Grief and loss in recovery are sure to lead to depression. This stage can be felt throughout the entire duration of the process, especially if you are predisposed to depression or other mental illness. However, if you do not suffer from pre-existing depression, it is completely normal to feel symptoms of depression when dealing with loss. In this stage, you might begin to withdraw from support and loved ones. This can, however, be risky in recovery.

In times like these, despite not wanting to, it is important to keep in contact with people you trust. The feelings associated with depression can be a slippery slope, especially if you begin to feel weak in your recovery.

Acceptance

Acceptance is the final stage of the grieving process; however, it is possible to experience feelings from previous stages after getting to acceptance. Accepting death comes with time and being able to work with support networks to sort through the feelings associated with grief and loss in recovery. Although your life has been altered, there is a sense of contentment or accepting this permanent reality without feeling the need to do something brash. It is imperative that you continue to reach out to your support network and loved ones in order to remain stable.

Coping with your loss is a deeply intimate and personal journey—no one can tell you how fast your grieving process must be or understand the exact feelings you’re going through. However, you must not stray away from your program or your support, as they are your lifeline and can help you stay sober through the entire process.

Avoiding Relapse

Staying sober is the goal throughout the entire grieving process. You will experience all of these overwhelming feelings and it is important to avoid relapse. Relapse will only lengthen the obstacles.

Although relapse is preventable, it does happen.

I can tell you from experience, having knowledge of the stages of grief and actively working a program with a number of supportive people in my life, I still chose to pick up. Dealing with grief and loss in recovery is difficult. At the time I experienced this, I was weak and fragile in my recovery. I had no desire to continue my recovery process, but it prolonged a lot of the issues relating to the loss as well as issues prior to experiencing the loss.

There are a few guidelines and coping mechanisms to use that can help you stay sober throughout the grieving process. Having a solid foundation can better your chances of staying sober through a heartbreaking time. If you are in recovery, it’s important to stay strong and consistently reach out to your support network and close friends and family. Also, not drifting away from your support and your daily regime can help you remain busy, which is beneficial in all aspects of dealing with loss in recovery.

Although grief and loss in recovery is a difficult process, it is possible to overcome without relapsing if you follow the steps to prevent relapse.

Are You Struggling?

If you or someone you know is struggling with grief and loss in recovery, there is help available. At Pathway to Hope, we understand how difficult this process can be and our professionals can help you overcome addiction and any other obstacles you may face. Our trained professionals can be contacted at (844) 557-8575 and are ready to assist you in finding the right program for you. Unfortunately, relapse is a part of a lot of people’s recovery. However, it is important that you seek help before it’s too late.

How Competition Can Sabotage Recovery | The Danger of Comparing Addiction Recovery

Addiction recovery is a process, and it doesn’t end once you finish your rehabilitation treatment. Living in recovery and managing your addiction requires strength, energy, and a willingness to always be improving. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is, and that’s why there is a 40 to 60 percent chance of relapse within a person’s first year post-treatment.

The good news is that, if you dedicate yourself to your recovery, after that first year, the odds of relapsing get significantly smaller. While managing your addiction will never be easy, it will get easier.

During these early stages of your recovery, it’s important to avoid any behaviors or mindsets that could potentially sabotage yourself and leave you vulnerable to relapse. One common mistake is comparing your recovery progress with anyone else’s.

Everyone’s path to sobriety is different, and each person journeys through it at their own pace. While it’s important to set goals for yourself, when recovery becomes a competition to see who can reach their milestones the fastest or complete their 12 steps first, it can negate the whole process.

Comparing Works Both Ways

Recovery isn’t something you’re meant rush through in order to “keep up”. And, comparing yourself to others is a surefire way to trigger a relapse as it leaves you open to being overcome by negative feelings like resentment, jealousy, and insecurity, or on the other hand, overconfidence and complacency.

Feeling like you need to reach certain milestones because those around you have already achieved them and you’re “falling behind” isn’t a healthy motivational tool and it can hurt you in the long run. Competing with others to see who can blow through their post-treatment goals the fastest undermines the whole process and isn’t based on any internal inspiration to get better or take responsibility for your life after rehab.

On the other side of the coin, comparing your progress to those who have not come as far as you or are not moving as quickly can be just as detrimental. Being proud of your progress is one thing, but letting yourself get too comfortable based on where you’re at compared to others carries the risk of becoming complacent and losing that willpower needed to keep moving forward that’s so important to long-term success.

4 Ways to Avoid Turning Recovery into a Competition

Cut toxic people out of your life.

Post-treatment alumni programs and support groups are a fantastic tool for creating a long-lasting support system to help avoid relapse. They give recovering individuals a community of peers who are undergoing similar experiences and challenges.

However, while keeping others posted on your progress and celebrating each other’s milestones can encourage you to keep moving forward, there might be one or more people in these groups who turn it into a race, comparing their recovery progress to others in an unhealthy way.

If someone keeps bragging about the progress they’ve made while mocking or belittling those who aren’t as far along, they might be doing it to mask insecurities about their recovery, but if speaking to them directly about it doesn’t help, do your best to avoid them.

Set goals that are realistic for you.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to recovery. Even common recovery programs like the 12-steps are tackled differently from person to person, with some spending more time on one step than another.

It can be all-too-easy to compare yourself to someone else and what they have accomplished and try to set your goals to match theirs. However, these goals, while they might work for this other person, might not necessarily be achievable for you, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Trying to force yourself to make it to a stage of recovery you’re not at yet is more than just unhealthy, it’s dangerous because you’re essentially setting yourself up to fail, and when you don’t meet those goals, it can be disheartening enough to trigger a relapse.

Instead of competing and trying to “keep up” with the people in recovery around you, set goals you know you’re capable of meeting.

Maintain a sense of perspective.

Comparing your addiction recovery to those around you can cause you to lose your motivation and fall into a “negative thought loop,” potentially derailing all the progress you’ve made. One way to combat this is to put these thoughts into perspective.

Instead of “I have so much farther to go than they do,” think “look how far I’ve come.” Instead of “I should be progressing faster like they are,” think “I’m moving forward at my own pace, and I’m still moving forward.”

If you’re going to compare yourself to anyone, do it to the person you used to be. No matter how slowly you’re moving through the recovery process, you’re still running circles around your pre-treatment self.

Focus on you.

While this might sound obvious or like a repetition of the previous steps, this one goes for any kind of comparing. Whether you’re the person feeling hopeless about your own progress in comparison to someone else’s or the one using others’ slow pace to make you feel better about your own, neither mindset is helpful or healthy.

The playing field, so to speak, will never be level, so there’s no way to make equal comparisons between people. Everyone’s end goal may be the same, but you’re all starting from somewhere different, and trying to compare your recovery progress to anyone else’s can take your focus off what’s actually important: maintaining sobriety and putting your life back together.

Focus on your own life and well-being rather than worrying about whether you’re reaching important recovery milestones before or after someone else. Avoid the potentially damaging pride that comes from paying attention to someone who’s behind you and the feelings of defeat that come from getting fixated on someone who’s ahead of you. Instead, celebrate reaching your goals at your own pace and keep setting more.

Get the Tools You Need for Your Recovery Journey

Pathway to Hope has created treatment programs that give you the motivation you need to continue succeeding and thriving in your recovery. From therapy, life skills training, and relapse prevention programs to our aftercare and alumni programs, you receive the support you need to continue to be empowered.

At Pathway to Hope, we understand that treatment is only the first step on a long journey through recovery, and we’re here to help every step of the way. If you or someone you know needs addiction treatment or support while in recovery, call us anytime, day or night at 844-557-8575 or contact us online.

Loss in Recovery and How to Handle It

Loss and the subsequent feelings of sadness are as much a part of life as breathing. It is an unavoidable and unfortunate truth that remains prevalent even when we find ourselves in a program of recovery. There are many different ways one may experience loss, and all the feelings that come with it are completely valid, sober or not. It’s important that when we do experience loss in recovery that we can adequately deal with the situation and navigate through the feelings sober. Loss can be one of the biggest triggers for relapse among addicts and alcoholics in recovery. Preparation for the inevitable is the best way to ensure our recovery survives another day.

Difficult situations aside, practicing our program of recovery should always remain at the forefront of our priority list. When we find ourselves in a 12-step program for the first time, it’s both overwhelming and confusing. We’re exposed to all new terms and mantras and we may feel out of the loop. But we stop feeding into our self-doubt and anxious thoughts. We sit down. We listen. We learn.

Before we know it, we’re reciting the readings in our heads and perpetuating the same sayings that were once new. Everything is going great. Then suddenly, our world is rocked by the loss of a relationship, a job, or even, God forbid, a loved one. Where we once stood firm in our convictions and our recovery, we find ourselves rocketed into a place of uncertainty and emotional turmoil. What do we do?

Back to Basics

The first thing we need to do when we experience loss in recovery and we find ourselves in the midst of such a severe blow to our emotional fortitude is to remember everything that got us sober in the beginning will still keep us sober now. Recovery is not conditional. No matter where we find ourselves in life, recovery is possible. All of the tools we need to successfully manage loss in recovery have already been provided to us; we merely need to pick them up. No amount of effort can ever really prepare us for the sudden and unwelcome arrival of loss in recovery, but that same effort can be the lighthouse that guides us through the storm and allows safe passage to shore.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Firstly, when it comes to loss in recovery, just because we may have weeks, months, or even years sober, doesn’t mean we can’t indulge in the initial feelings of overwhelming sadness and fear that comes hand-in-hand with these situations. You do not have to deny your feelings; in fact, it’s counterproductive and can actually lead to relapse. It’s imperative to feel your feelings when dealing with any type of loss in recovery. These feelings you’re experiencing are rightfully yours as well.

Whether it is a small or large loss, you should not have to defend the validity of your feelings to anyone else, or even to yourself. In the past, many of us used to cover up our feelings. Without the crutch of substances to lean on, these emotions can overtake us in a way we haven’t experienced in years. And that’s completely okay and even normal. We do not have to put a strong face in our moments of weakness. Recovery teaches us to recognize and feel our feelings, good or bad. It’s how we move forward that defines us.

You’re Not Alone

Part of the defining characteristics of recovery is our sense of community and camaraderie among our fellow recovering alcoholics and addicts. While our first and most natural response when dealing with loss in recovery for many of us may be to retreat into a place of isolation away from everyone else, it is crucial we do not do this.

Isolation during times of loss in recovery is a step toward relapse. It is during these times we need to lean on our sponsors and support system more than ever. We need to reach out to other recovering addicts and share our feelings and our thoughts, no matter how crazy or seemingly insignificant they may be. Keeping an open dialogue of honesty between yourself and your support system not only gives you a healthy outlet for all of your feelings and thoughts pertaining to the situation but also keeps you accountable in recovery.

Getting yourself to a meeting may seem like the absolute last thing you want to do during the initial blow, but it is during this time we are the most vulnerable and belong at a meeting. Even if you don’t share while at a meeting, being around other addicts and recovery in a time of loss is the safest and most comforting place to be. Just know that no matter what kind of loss you may be encountering, someone in the room has gone through it before and handled it sober, meaning you can, too. It is this message of hope we need the most when things seem so bleak.

A Return to Spirituality

During the course of our recovery, it is common to experience what is known as complacency. While it is not inherently bad, it can make us far more susceptible to relapse. It is during the difficult times that we need to be avidly practicing our spirituality more than ever. Being that spirituality–not religion–is the backbone of our program, it’s vital to have our channels of communication with our Higher Power open.

Through the power of prayer and meditation, we may find ourselves capable of handling the situation more successfully than in their absence. Recovery aside, prayer and meditation are often cited as a healthy coping mechanism during times of loss by mental health professionals. It is something proven by both science and practice to work, so why not implement it?

Time Takes Time

At the end of the day, handling loss in recovery is the based on the art of practice. Surmounting a significant loss in our lives is not possible in one day. But setting a realistic goal of just feeling a little bit better than the day before is a great place to start. By doing what we know works and continuing to do so, we can successfully navigate the situation without picking up a drink or a drug.

Some days will be better than others, and when we’re having a difficult and emotional day, it’s okay. It’s part of the process. We need to just continue on the path of recovery and consistently implement the tools we know work.

The only sure-fire way to cope with loss is time. They say time heals all wounds, and this is true. Some more intense feelings of loss may never fully go away, but we learn to live with them and live with them sober. By giving time the opportunity to work its magic, you’re also giving yourself a chance for maintaining recovery. We never have to use again, no matter what. No matter how dark and dreary it may seem, just as we’ve seen before, a brighter day is on the horizon. We need only give ourselves the chance to see and see it sober.

If you or someone you know is currently struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, don’t delay on getting the help necessary. Contact us at Pathway to Hope to speak to someone 24/7 and see how we can help you or your loved one today! Call 844-577-8575 or contact us online now!

Addiction History — Should You Disclose Yours?

You could go back and forth with yourself over whether to disclose your addiction history and recovery status. And that could leave you feeling anxious and doubtful of everything and everyone around you, including yourself.

Or…

You could decide to share, or not share, with others that you are in recovery and know that the decision to disclose your addiction history is solely yours and embrace the feeling of empowerment that comes from staying in control of your destiny–and your personal business.

If only it were that easy. For some, it is; for others, it’s far from it.

It is understandable why the question of whether or not to disclose your addiction history raises concerns and even fears. Despite the progress that has been made over the years regarding drug addiction awareness, struggles with the brain disease still carry a stigma that is hard for some circles to understand and accept. Stigma also surrounds multiple issues involving addiction, including those related to employment, finances, legal matters, health, and interpersonal relationships.

Many choose to keep their addiction history and recovery under wraps or out of their story because, for them, it’s easier to avoid the stares, the questions, and the judgmental comments that may follow when the status is shared. It’s easier to avoid being in the spotlight for past substance abuse problems and feeling like you still need to answer for them.

A quick internet search turns up first-person accounts from people who have talked about why they chose to tell, or not tell, people about their addiction past. Some have said the decision to not share doesn’t mean they are hiding their status or that they are ashamed of their past.

Think Before You Share

There is the idea of whether a person who chooses to keep their addiction history and recovery status private is contributing to the stigma they are concerned about. The right answer will vary from person to person. If you are on the fence about whether you should disclose your addiction and recovery status to others, here are a few things to consider before you spill the beans.

How do you see your recovery story? Your relationship to your past can play a major factor in how you think others will receive you and your story. If you are uneasy about what has unfolded in your life, others may pick up on that uneasiness and reflect it back to you. To get to a place of acceptance about what has happened, sort everything out piece by piece. Forgive yourself and others and make healing from past actions, hurts, and disappointments one of your main goals.

Take your time as you work to make peace with the events that have happened in your life. It’s important to remember that you have moved on from that dark chapter and that you don’t live there anymore. You can do some soul-searching by taking up meditation, journaling, or talking with a counselor to see where you are in the process of accepting your story. You may want to rehearse the conversation in your head or with others so you’ll know exactly what to say when it comes time to say it.

What is this person’s relationship to you, and do they need to know? You need to feel safe in your space and that you can trust who you’re talking to, whether it’s about everyday matters or your personal thoughts and private information. It is important to evaluate, and in some cases reevaluate, who is in your life and for what purpose. Not everyone needs to know what has happened in your past or what you used to do when you were battling your addiction. Just like not everyone needs to have a key to the front door of your home or your Social Security number. Your story will always be your story, but not everyone is trustworthy to honor it.

Before you choose to disclose your addiction history and recovery status, consider your relationship with this person and what you, and the other person, stand to gain from the disclosure. If you are considering telling a supervisor in a professional setting, that’s one thing. To tell someone you’ve just met the details of your journey to sobriety before you turn away a drink at a party, is something else. Each situation must be weighed on a case-by-case basis.

What’s in it for you? If you haven’t already, take some time out to think about what you want for yourself now that you are rebuilding your life after addiction. You will inevitably find yourself in a situation where you’ll have to decide whether to say more or less about yourself, so it may be helpful to anticipate these scenarios and how you might handle them. While reviewing your plan, you will want to assess your motivations or intentions, before you disclose your addiction history. Are you telling the person because you want to connect on a deeper level, and if so, why? Or are you not telling the person for another reason that’s not exactly clear as far as the outcome is concerned?

If you just want to spill information not knowing where the conversation will lead, the result could slow down your healing process. Instead of sharing with a complete stranger who may just brush off your private info with a confused nod or an awkward pause, find a trusted friend or sponsor instead who can help you assess your feelings in the right setting. A casual mention of an addiction history may not be in your best interest. Only you can decide when sharing with someone is right, but do consider whether disclosing this sensitive information is appropriate.

Addiction History Disclosure Matters More When…

You’re dating someone. If you’ve decided to have a relationship with another person, you will be vulnerable and will want to, or even need to, open up to them about who you are and what you’ve been through. If you have chosen this person to spend time with and you feel there’s something there worth pursuing, you will have to consider how the other person will react.

Only you can determine when and where is the best time to let your partner know, but keep honesty at the forefront and base the relationship on that. Truth is better than lies when establishing a serious relationship.

Employment is involved. In some cases, the decision to disclose your addiction history and/or recovery status might already be made for you. Employment situations fall into this group. If you have a legal case with charges tied with a case involving substance abuse, you may be required to disclose that information when applying for a job. The Soft Skills Builder website offers guidance on how to disclose a recovery status in this sensitive situation and ways employers can accommodate workers in recovery. The site advises the best way to approach disclosure and advises what to do if you feel your disclosure could have a negative effect.

Discussing your medical history. Your healthcare providers should be aware of your substance abuse history so it can be kept in mind when treating your medical needs. This includes any doctor, dentist, psychiatrist or another medical professional that you’re seeing for the first time. Even if you’ve been going to a particular physician for a while who is aware of your recovery, it’s still a good idea to keep them up to date on your status. Another instance in which you may want to disclose your addiction history is when you’re considering donating blood.

You need to explain the family’s history of addiction to your children. Experts advise parents to talk with their children about a history of addiction in the family as people with blood relatives with a drug or alcohol use disorder are at higher risk of suffering from their own addiction and mental health disorders. Educating children about how substance abuse has affected their family can help protect and make them aware of the possibility of addiction. When talking with your children, be honest about addiction, recovery and the possibility of relapse.

You will have to decide what age is appropriate when having this conversation (some suggest as early as elementary school and no later than middle school, when the chances are higher that children are increasingly exposed to drugs and alcohol). But it is advised that when you do, make sure children know they did not cause the addiction or substance abuse behaviors that have taken place and that recovery is work in progress to overcome the disease of addiction. You can decide how much to tell your kids, but again, be honest when you do, and let them know they can come to you if they have questions or need advice.

Opportunity to Teach Others About Recovery

Of course, there are benefits when you disclose your addiction history and recovery status with others. You may find that once you open up about your past, others will draw closer to you to hear more out of genuine interest in your story and admiration for your courage to overcome your addiction. They also may share their own challenges with addiction or those of loved ones and people they know.

Many people still are unaware of what addiction is, how it works, and how it affects others, as well as the negative stigmas attached to it. The question of when and where to talk about your past with addiction and who to discuss it with is up to your discretion. Whatever you decide to do, remember that your journey is yours, and your story is your gift to share at the right time, in the right place and with the right people.

Need Help? We’re Here

Addiction is not a disease that anyone has to face alone. Even if you have started recovery, we offer resources and support after treatment that can help you. Experts at Pathway to Hope are ready to help anyone struggling with substance abuse issues to start their recovery. We focus on our clients and ensure their needs are addressed first. Call our addiction specialists who are ready 24-7 at 844-557-8575 for more information. They are standing by, ready to answer your call.