Recovery from Grief and Loss: How Healthy Techniques Can Prevent Relapse

Recovery from grief and loss is neither a fast, nor easy process. And, when you add in the additional complexity of maintaining sobriety, it can become even more confusing to navigate.

What’s important to remember is that we all have to deal with loss at some point in our lives. While experiencing grief and loss in addiction recovery can be complicated, it doesn’t mean having to give up on all, or even some, of the progress that has been made. It’s important to be aware of the overwhelming emotional turmoil that grief and loss can create and to have a plan in place to avoid returning to your old habits as a coping mechanism.

Below, we’re looking at some beneficial ways to process recovery from grief and loss, and to help navigate these feelings without disrupting your road to sobriety.

The Process of Overcoming Grief and Loss

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when learning to recover from traumatic loss. However, for most individuals, grief is often experienced in multiple stages that cover a wide range of emotions and feelings.

Known as The Five Stages of Grief, they were first introduced by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. They are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Every individual grieves in their own way, and even among these stages there could be quite a bit of variation in how grief is experienced and processed. For those who are grieving in recovery from substance misuse, being aware of these stages—and knowing that they are both predictable and perfectly normal—could be useful for handling triggering thoughts that may occur.

Grief and Addiction Recovery

For individuals in recovery, grief could be a major trigger for relapse, and many people find themselves unprepared for both the depth of emotion and the overwhelming pain that may accompany a loss like a death, or the end of a relationship. What’s crucial to keep in mind though is that falling back into old behaviors will almost certainly make the grief process significantly worse.

Just like the stages of grief, recovery looks different to everyone. But everyone in recovery is liable to face grief and loss at some point, and it is essential to separate the two and find ways to prioritize recovery even while processing emotional pain.

Dealing with Grief in Healthier Ways

The process of grief may not be black and white, but the necessity of maintaining sobriety throughout it is. Here are some things that can help individuals stay on the right track.

  1. Allow feelings of grief to occur. Grief is uncomfortable, and it’s tempting to want to numb it. But repressing grief doesn’t make it go away—and it actually makes it harder to overcome.
  2. Spend time with and/or communicate with others. Isolation may be tempting, but our support systems are key in periods of grief and loss. Keep loved ones close, and discuss feelings instead of allowing them to fester.
  3. Avoid triggers. It’s only natural for an individual to be vulnerable to triggers while dealing with grief and loss. Make sobriety more likely by avoiding those triggers as much as possible, both in the home and outside of it.
  4. Make time for happiness. Many people feel that it’s wrong to experience moments of happiness while recovering from grief, but tuning into happy moments—and giving oneself permission to appreciate them—is one of the best ways to make it through the process.
  5. Stick to treatment. A period of grief is not the time to scale back a treatment plan. Instead, stick to what’s been working—and double down if necessary.
  6. Seek professional help. Working with a mental health professional can be immensely helpful while in recovery from grief and loss, even if it’s just for a short period of time.

If you are experiencing grief or loss during recovery, we encourage you to seek help if you need it. Please contact us to learn about our telehealth services and get the support you require.