Grief and loss, while not inevitable, are often intertwined with the addiction recovery process. You may need to say goodbye to friends, loved ones, habits, and even parts of your identity to move on fully and live a healthy and happy life in sobriety.
Even when these are positive changes, it can still be painful to cut yourself off from people, habits, or the way things used to be. By understanding what you’re about to do will be difficult, you can prepare yourself as best you can with coping mechanisms and knowledge that will help you navigate the stages of grief.
Making peace with this part of the process is essential because if you are unprepared, it can destabilize your recovery and make you vulnerable to relapse.
It’s normal to experience grief when you undertake a drastic change like becoming sober. No matter how painful it feels, it’s part of the healing process, and your commitment to recovery will let you move forward with your life.
What to Expect During Recovery
The process of recovery can be unpredictable and complicated. You may face tumultuous emotions that don’t always make sense. However, your experience will most likely follow the widely accepted stages of grief first named by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying.
The five stages of grief are:
- Denial: Denial is a self-defense mechanism that protects us from a daunting truth. If you have substance use disorder, you might first deny that you have a problem. Denial may keep you from seeking treatment at first or denying the help of loved ones who offer it.
- Anger: Once denial subsides, anger usually takes its place. You might misdirect your anger towards loved ones or other people in the line of fire. You may blame someone else for your issues or even accuse them of forcing you to seek treatment against your will, whether or not that’s the truth.
- Bargaining: During this stage, you recognize a problem but are still not ready to face it. You might try to compensate for the issue instead of fixing it. If you’re in recovery, you might convince yourself that you can handle your substance use disorder alone. You may even try to make a deal with a higher power if you believe in one.
- Depression: Acknowledging the damage that may have come from your actions is challenging. You may feel overwhelming sadness throughout the entire process, or it might hit you all at once. This phase often comes when bargaining has proven not to work.
- Acceptance: You will finally accept your situation for what it is. You may still experience the emotions from previous stages, but you’ll be able to move forward.
There’s no way to skip stages or redirect the grieving process. Though it looks different for everyone, you will likely experience all these stages for some time. You may even go through this process multiple times for various perceived losses. These losses may include:
- Your habits – It’s normal to grieve for the substances you used and the practices surrounding them. Those rituals were a part of your life, and you may have absorbed them into your identity. It can take time to untangle that and build a new identity in your sobriety.
- Your “freedom” – You may feel like you’ve lost some degree of freedom when you enter recovery. You’ll need to hold yourself accountable to various people, attend treatment sessions, and may even stay in a rehab center separate from your home.
- Loved ones – Not everyone goes through recovery at the same time. If you have friends or loved ones still dealing with substance use disorder, you may have to cut them off for your health. You may also deal with losing a loved one who passes away.
Everyone’s recovery is unique. You may not mourn the same losses as someone going through a similar process. Still, being prepared to cope with what you might face is crucial.
How to Prepare for Grief and Loss
Once you know what to expect, you can prepare as much as possible. Knowing healthy coping mechanisms will help you get through the turbulence of grief. You won’t know what will work best for you until the time comes, but having more tools in your arsenal is always positive.
Coping mechanisms you can use during recovery include:
- Staying healthy – The mind-body connection is strong. Keeping your physical body healthy will give you the structure you need to heal your emotional and mental well-being. A nutritious diet and routine exercise are vital. Experts recommend a moderate exercise regime rather than a strenuous one, as grief can cause physical aches and fatigue.
- Connecting with supportive loved ones – Stay in touch with sober friends and family who can lend you an ear when you need it.
- Committing to your treatment – Attend all your support groups, counseling sessions, and any other appointments you might have. These are essential to your recovery and help you through the grieving process.
- Mindfulness or prayer – A regular meditation practice can help you work through feelings and cultivate acceptance. If you believe in a higher power, prayer can also be a powerful way to connect with your spirituality and your ultimate purpose for getting sober.
- Feel your feelings – You don’t have to try and suppress your emotions or avoid them. It’s healthier to allow yourself to feel what comes naturally and work through it.
- Know your triggers – Identify anything that might trigger your grief or make you vulnerable to a relapse. Triggers could include people, places, activities, images, or dates on the calendar. If you’re going to have an encounter you know will trigger you, prepare by reaching out to a friend or sponsor. Avoid being alone during these sensitive times if you can.
- Celebrate your victories – Don’t hesitate to honor your milestones and celebrate how far you’ve come. Recovery isn’t easy, and every step you take is a huge accomplishment.
You may discover unexpected coping mechanisms as you progress through your recovery. You might find other outlets such as creative pursuits, journaling, or a new hobby to help pull you through the tide of grief.
Starting the Healing Process
Exploring how to begin your recovery and what to expect from it is an essential first step. You’re preparing yourself for the future. Whatever challenges may come, they’ll be worth it to live a successful, happy, and sober life.
Your recovery could start at Jackson House. Once you enter our community, we’re committed to guiding you through your healing journey. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to well-being, and no grieving process will look the same. We’re here to support you as the unique individual you are. Reach out to learn more about our programs at Jackson House Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers today.