Content Reviewed by Cameron Bolish, M.Ed., CEO of PaRC

Grieving is never an easy experience to go through. Grieving while in recovery, no matter the reason for grief, has its very own unique and difficult challenges. Whether you are grieving the death of a loved one, the loss of friends or merely grieving the absence of your substance, it is incredibly challenging to navigate feelings of sadness and loss. Experiencing loss of any kind can trigger a range of intense and overwhelming emotions. These emotions are likely to surface in stages, which can make the process of grieving distressing and confusing.

When you are already trying to navigate how to prioritize your sobriety during recovery, being hit with an experience of grief and loss can make life seem unmanageable. Although you will endure a plethora of challenges as you try to work through your grief, there are some helpful tips that you can rely on to keep your recovery and general well-being a priority as you heal.

What Is Grief?

Grief is defined as a normal response to loss during or after a seemingly traumatic event. Grief is often associated with the emotional response that occurs after the death of a loved one, although grief can occur from any event of loss.

Many people neglect to understand that grief is a normal response to changes in environment, lifestyle or your typical daily routine. When changes in our life happen that cause us to feel out of balance or uncomfortable, it is likely that we are feeling the effects of grief.

In recovery, it is typical for an individual to grieve the absence of alcohol or their drug of choice. The substance that once seemed to bring so much pleasure into your life is no longer present. It is normal to grieve its loss.

In addition to dealing with the normal experience of grieving in addiction recovery, you might experience external loss as well. Multiple experiences of grief and loss that occur at once can complicate and prolong grief. It is essential that grief is worked through and addressed so that your recovery journey is not put on the back burner.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of grief may surface in stages. There is no right way to grieve, as everyone will experience different stages at different times. Some common reactions to grief may show up as:

  • Denial or disbelief
  • Shock
  • Periods of dissociation from reality
  • Periods of sadness
  • Trouble eating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Numbness
  • Physical effects, such as digestive issues or chest pain

How Do I Manage Grief in Addiction Recovery?

Coping with loss without putting your recovery in danger is possible with a few healthy tips. These tips will encourage you to keep your recovery a priority. During the moments that you feel overwhelmed, it is important to remember that you are not alone in what you are experiencing.

#1. Allow yourself to grieve. One of the most important ways to heal through grief in recovery is to face your grief. Avoiding or suppressing your grief will only put your recovery in greater jeopardy. You will notice that your emotions will surface differently every day in your grieving process. Give yourself time to accept all that you are feeling with patience and compassion for your own experience.

#2. Dive deeper into therapy. While you keep your recovery a priority, you must continue to engage in treatment, especially utilizing therapy. Your commitment to your treatment experience is vital. Therapy will help you to open up and reflect on your emotions. Group therapy is a valuable resource to provide social support while you are going through your grief. Lean in on the support from your treatment facility, therapists and peers as you try to heal.

#3. Focus on the good. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, try to remember all of the good times you spent together. Bring light to how lucky you were to experience your relationship with that person in the past, no matter where your relationship had gone. If you are grieving the loss of your substance, focus on how much healthier your body and mind is/will be as you continue to stay sober. Try to surround yourself with positive people that can help bring light to a time that feels so dark. It is important to turn negatives into positives in recovery.

#4. Reflect on and anticipate grief triggers. When your mind is caught up on grieving, many things can intensify your feelings of grief. Try to seek out these triggers before they occur. Create new, realistic expectations for yourself as you try and heal. If you feel an urge to relapse, it is essential that you focus on ways to navigate unexpected triggers.

PaRC (Prevention and Recovery Center) is an intensive treatment center for teens, young adults and adults that struggle with substance use and addiction. We hold weekly grief, trauma and loss support groups because we know that these uncomfortable experiences can worsen your recovery experience. After you’ve committed to a life of sobriety, our support groups and other grief programs will allow you to acknowledge and express your emotions of grief in a healthy way. Call us at (713) 939-7272.