grief and loss in recovery

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 at 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.