When you are in recovery and must face the loss of a loved one, it is not uncommon to immediately feel triggered to relapse.
The pain and sadness that come with the loss of a loved one can feel unbearable, and because of the overwhelming nature of the emotions that characterize the experience, a period of grief and mourning is not only normal but expected.
In fact, if intensive symptoms of loss and depression persist for up to six months due to the death of someone close to you, it is considered a normal part of the grieving process. However, if grieving and depression symptoms worsen with time or continue longer than six months, mental health treatment is recommended.
When you are in recovery and must face the loss of a loved one, it is not uncommon to immediately feel triggered to relapse. Escape is very often the first choice of those dealing with overwhelming emotions, and death and loss can trigger some of the most intense emotional periods of your life.
It is possible to navigate this experience without relapse. Here are some tips to help you get through:
1. Give yourself permission to grieve.
Don’t try to stop yourself from feeling what you are feeling, and do not judge yourself if it takes time for you to manage even the basics. Your loss and those feelings of grief may be the last thing you think about at night, the only thing you think about all day, and the first thing you think about in the morning – for a time. Eventually, it will be the second thing you think about in the morning rather than the first, and you will be able to make room in your life for other experiences. Give yourself the time and space to get there at your own pace.
2. Stick to your treatment program.
Though you may not feel like going to a 12-step meeting or talking about anything you are feeling with your therapist, it will be helpful to you to not only get out of the house but to also change focus and reconnect with treatment principles. The principles, truisms, and philosophies helped you to get through detox and the early stages of sobriety, and they can again be of service to you as face your loss.
3. Spend time with others.
You may want nothing more than to isolate, and shut out the rest of the world. While that may be a healing choice briefly, it is important to connect with others. Go for a walk with a friend or out to coffee – something that helps you to get up, take a shower, get dressed, get out of the house briefly, and connect with another human.
4. Make a concerted effort to avoid triggering situations.
When you are vulnerable in your recovery after the loss of a loved one, it’s important to limit your exposure to other situations, feelings, and stressors that can cause you to want to drink or get high. For example, now is not the time to test your boundaries by going to bars with sober friends or spending time with people who make you feel uncomfortable or unhappy. Your sobriety is of primary importance right now, so make every effort to protect it by avoiding the things you know may put you in the vicinity of drugs and alcohol.
5. Commemorate your loved one.
Pick a date in the near future where you will spend the day doing something special for or in memory of your loved one. Having this point to prepare for and then the experience of it can help you to move through your grief rather than sitting still in it.
6. Ask for help.
If you need support or if you are unable to manage certain things, ask others who are close to you for help. Be specific in your requests in order to make sure you are getting your needs met, and when the time is right, make sure that your gratitude and appreciation are evident.
7. Give back to others.
Making a concerted effort to focus on the things that are good and positive in your life can help you to move forward in processing your grief. If that doesn’t come easily, volunteering can connect you with different people who are struggling. Seeing them and helping them can help you to feel better about yourself, your place in the world, and the value of your life, which in turn can help you to manage grief without relapse.
8. Create a new goal.
Similarly, creating a new, positive goal and mapping out a path to achieve it can help you to fill your life with something good after a loss. Choose a goal that is important to you and that you can accomplish in a relatively short amount of time (e.g., fewer than 30-60 days) and that will help you to make progress in an area of life that is important to you (e.g., spiritual growth, family connections, career growth, etc.).
9. Get back on track.
Should you relapse during the grieving process, it does not have to mean a return to a full-blown addiction. Instead, if it does happen, get yourself back on track as quickly as possible by connecting with your therapist or your sponsor and investing quality time in recovery therapies and treatments.
Have you lost a loved one during recovery? You are not alone. If you’re using substances to numb the pain or your grief, The Recovery Village can help. Call today to speak to one of our addiction specialists.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.