Grief is part of recovering from an addiction. For addicts, grief often manifests as sadness, depression, a sense of loss, as well as feelings of shame or regret. These feelings arise in waves and throughout the recovery journey as addicts experience significant lifestyle and personal changes. Three key things can create grief for addicts during recovery.
Cutting ties with people who contributed to their addiction lifestyle or were associated with it
Relocating to a new environment free of the influences of drugs
Letting go of unhealthy and dangerous behaviors and/or coping mechanisms
In our last blog we looked at why grief appears during recovery and how to better understand it. In this blog, let’s look at three ways to help yourself or a loved one move through feelings of grief while in recovery.
Build a New Network of Supportive People and Places
A newly recovering addict may lack basic communication skills to resolve conflicts, or they might be unable to recognize the difference between a boss offering a constructive suggestion versus harshly criticizing them. Their drug of choice was like a shell shielding them from real life and now they are confronted with learning how to effectively handle normal life situations standing naked and without their shell.
This is why the newly recovering addict will need to build a new healthy and supportive network to help them develop and manage new coping mechanisms for dealing with life’s daily problems. This network should include safe places where the temptation to use is removed as well as people who are encouraging of the addict’s efforts to stay away from illegal drug use.
Support programs: Many recovering addicts find benefit in recovery programs such as 12 Step Programs or other support communities who are working to create a healthy new lifestyle. In these communities of like-minded people, they can talk about feelings they are experiencing and receive encouragement and positive reinforcement for the changes they are making.
Discovering peace in nature, faith, or activity: Some recovering addicts find it helpful to spend more time in nature, join a faith community or cultivate a healthy new hobby. These new environments provide a positive change and afford opportunities to make new friends who are living a sober life.
A new supportive network is an important element for newly recovering addicts as it will serve to help combat past triggers and negative behaviors.
Incorporate and Leverage Counseling, Support Groups and Life Skill Building
Access to counseling, support groups and general life skill training can benefit the recovering addict greatly. Whether working one on one with a trained addiction counselor or sharing and receiving constructive feedback in a group setting, gaining new skills can build confidence and create a new portfolio of life skills.
The recovering addict will benefit from mastering new ways to communicate, especially in stressful situations, and may also increase their ability to express their feelings and fears. Beginning to believe in themselves and their ability to successfully build a career and foster positive relationships can strengthen their desire to stay on the path of recovery. The connections and resources they gain while acquiring new coping skills can also serve as a safety net when the hit a particularly rough spot in life.
Accepting Past Regrets and Learning Responsibility
An addict moving into a life of recovery is also learning to take responsibility for their daily actions and to make choices and decisions with a clear awareness of the associated consequences. For many recovering addicts, this new self-awareness and sense of moral responsibility can feel uncomfortable at first.
Formerly, the pursuit of their drug of choice and the feeling of the drug induced state overshadowed everything and colored all thoughts and decisions.
Additionally, the recovering addict can also find themselves facing the repercussions of past actions, especially those with negative consequences.
The key in recovery is to work through those past actions and regrets with a strong focus on making right what can be made right, expressing sincere apologies for past actions, and then moving forward. This is where a great therapist really comes in. Staying focused on the mistakes of the past can exacerbate the feelings of loss and grief and may undermine the work of recovery. Continuing to grieve about the past mistakes is in stark contrast to striving to set right what you have done, expressing sincere apologies for your past choices and to move forward and live a life that demonstrates you have taken that mistake and turned it into a lesson.
Just like a person grieves for the loss of a loved friend or family member, the recovering addict will grieve for their losses as well. However, with the right support and actions, they can move through the stages and anguish of grief to strengthen their recovery foundation.