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Coping with Grief and Loss While in Recovery

by Landmark Recovery

February 2, 2021

How can you recover when you’re still suffering? Recovery from substance abuse is never easy, but trying to recover when you’re mourning a loss can feel nearly impossible. Other times, substance abuse is directly tied to grief.

Grief And Its Relationship To Substance Abuse

In some cases, substance abuse directly contributes to the loss. Consider this story:

A woman and her partner are getting ready to use. She goes out to buy drugs, brings them back, and they use together. Her partner has an overdose, slips into a coma, and subsequently dies. She blames herself for their death; her guilt, trauma, and grief drive her further into addiction.

In other cases, substance use may come as a result of grief and loss:

An academically gifted teenager is used to getting straight A’s in school. Although he has a good life, he starts to struggle after experiencing turbulence at home. His grades begin to fall; teachers begin to notice, and eventually, he loses his scholarship to a prestigious college. He feels guilty and devastated. He is disappointed in himself and thinks that he has disappointed others. He starts to drink heavily, trying to come to terms with his failure. 

And in other cases, feelings of grief can lead a person in recovery to relapse.

How Does Grief Manifest?

First, it’s important to remember that the ways we experience grief are not universal. There is no right or wrong way to mourn, regardless of what people say. That isn’t to say that there aren’t healthy and unhealthy ways to mourn; there absolutely are. But as a general rule, we can’t ascribe a moral value to how people cope with loss and grief. It is an individual experience that we can’t understand until we go through it ourselves.

Second, keep in mind that grief and loss are not always about death. It can be the loss of an opportunity, a relationship, a career, a family home, self-esteem, trust, or a litany of other things. Don’t judge yourself too harshly about your feelings of grief. It is a perfectly natural feeling, and it manifests differently for everyone. You don’t have to go through a tremendous and terrible trauma to feel grief. It is a unique and relative experience that can affect anyone, regardless of how happy or well-off they appear to be.

Grief and Recovery

How can you succeed in recovery when you’re already struggling under the burden of grief?

Ultimately, when experiencing grief, there’s nowhere to go but through it. You cannot avoid it, no matter how hard you try. Ignoring it or pushing it away will cause it to reappear later on or manifest in other unexpected ways. You may struggle, lash out, become angry, or deeply depressed. Recognizing grief when it enters your life is the first step to coping.

The key to overcoming grief, continuing your journey to recovery, and maintaining your sobriety is to feel the pain. As awful as it may be, you have to feel it and let it pass through. Allow yourself to ride the wave of grief, and once you resurface, learn to recognize your emotional triggers, seek out the support you need, and learn to build healthy coping mechanisms.

If you are dealing with grief in the middle of your recovery or are struggling to cope, Landmark Recovery is here to help. When you’re ready, reach out. We’re here to answer the call, and we genuinely care.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.