Dealing with the death of a loved one is difficult for everyone. Dealing with loss is even more challenging for those in the recovery process. If you are in recovery, and you desperately want to avoid or escape the feelings the death has brought on, take comfort in the fact that your feelings are normal. It is important at this time to make sure you are not grieving alone, and it is even more important that you stick to your program and course of treatment. You might also seek out a creative outlet through which you can release your grief; you can help others; and you can engage in other positive activities.
Don’t grieve alone.
At 59, Kathy Robinson lost her husband, Patrick. They had been together since they were 18 years old, and Patrick had been instrumental in helping Kathy find her way after a 10-year battle with alcoholism. After he passed, “I felt the ground give way under me,” says Kathy, who had been sober for three years when Patrick died. “When he left me, it was like everything just crashed. It would have just been so much easier to go back to the bottle.”
The two had no children, so nights alone were the hardest for Kathy. “Other people in AA who had lost partners had their kids or grandkids – I felt like I had no one,” she confides. “You can’t let yourself forget that you do have people around you. Don’t diminish anyone in your life. Every single person can mean so much when you’re grieving.”
Knowing she was at risk for relapse, Kathy made sure she was always surrounded with friends and loved ones throughout her waking hours. She spent time with friends, going for coffee or shopping, and visited family members in the evenings. For a few weeks, she temporarily moved in with her younger sister, who had also been one of Kathy’s stronger supporters in early recovery.
Stick to your program and treatment
It’s very important that you stick to your program, no matter how difficult it is to get yourself to a 12-step meeting (or even get up, brush your teeth and take a shower). As challenging as it is, make sure you keep going. You will likely meet fellow recovering addicts who have gone through what you’re going through now, and can provide a solid source for support for you while you’re grieving.
If you have a trusted sponsor or a regular therapist, keep in touch with them. It’s as important as ever to talk with them about how you’re feeling, what you’re worried about, and what you’re scared of. Take their advice and support to heart, and remember that you’re not alone.
“After Rick died, the last thing I wanted was to go to AA,” says Kathy, “but do you know something… I forced myself to go every single day. Every day.”
Kathy also leaned on her therapist for support. “Before Rick got really sick, I was going once every couple of weeks, once a month. After I lost him, I was going once, twice a week. I needed someone who was unbiased, who wouldn’t judge me, who I didn’t think would tire of hearing me crying my eyes out.
“As much as your friends and family love you, I really think a professional who can guide you through your grief is one of the best people to have in your corner.”
Find a creative outlet
Fortunately for Kathy, she grew up in a musical household. Her father was a pianist, and her mother taught her to paint when she was still very young.
“I hadn’t painted in years,” admits Kathy. “When my therapist advised me to pick up a paint brush – she said it would help me release some of my pain – I thought, ‘What the heck.’ I didn’t have the motivation to create, but I needed to try.”
Kathy began painting. Sure enough, she became engrossed in the art. She found that the activity helped her feel calmer and more grounded, and gave her something to look forward to. Soon, she stopped leaning so much on physical contact with people, and found that painting gave her as much comfort as a phone call with a friend.
Finding a creative outlet – whether it’s painting, or learning how to play an instrument, dancing, journaling, scrapbooking or songwriting – is beneficial to anyone working through grief. You will discover that not only will a creative activity help prevent you from relapsing, it will also increase your confidence, your quality of life, and your sense of peace.
When you help others, you develop a sense of purpose. It gives you newfound meaning to your own life, and you tend to forget any kind of negative urges you might otherwise have when you’re not busy taking care of others.
There are plenty of things you can do to give of yourself and your time. You can volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. You can offer to walk dogs at your local humane society. You can ask friends and family if they need help picking up furniture, going to the airport, or grocery shopping for an elderly family member.
It’s important to keep your life balanced, however. Don’t become so overwhelmed with the needs of others that you forget yourself. Even while you’re filling your days helping other people, make sure you continue to practice self-care, attending meetings, seeing your therapist, and continuing your own recovery care plan.
Engage in healthy activities
Sobriety tends to have a bad reputation – some people think of it as a long, lonely and painful road. When you’re dealing with the death of a loved one, it’s impossible not to feel lonely and sad. But it doesn’t have to stay painful 24 hours a day. Sobriety, even after a death, can definitely be a joyful, healthy time, especially when you don’t let yourself get bored and make it a point to find health hobbies and activities that you find enjoyable. People in successful recovery find all sorts of things to do, like walking, exercise, cooking or journaling. Engaging in healthy activities will help ease your pain, and keep you from sliding back into negative behaviors.
If you or someone you know is in recovery and is dealing with the death of a loved one, contact us today for a free 15-minute consultation.