6 Tips for Handling Loss Without Relapsing
Dealing with loss is a challenge for everyone, but, for those recovering from addiction, it can also be a trigger for relapse. We may find balance and solid footing after recovering in a sober living facility until an emotional life event takes us by surprise.
We may feel grief or loss after a death, the loss of a job, a divorce, or any other traumatic life event. Mental health professionals now tend to agree that there are no specific stages of grief, but a wide range of emotional reactions that may arise in any order. These strong responses can cause a desire to escape, but they can also be managed with healthy choices and support systems.
What Is Grief?
When we lose something that is important, we feel a sense of loss. We mourn that loss by a process of emotional responses, and we may develop physical symptoms, depression, and anxiety. These feelings are normal and natural reactions to loss.
However, for those in recovery, there may be another strong feeling to deal with—the desire to dull the emotional pain or physical symptoms by returning to drug or alcohol abuse. The pain caused by grief presents a challenge both to seeking sobriety and to maintaining it.
Understanding what to expect can help us to work through this challenge in new and different ways.
Understanding the Emotions of Loss
Processing a painful truth engages all of our emotions. Some of these same emotional responses arise during recovery therapy in sober living homes or recovery programs, under supportive supervision. You should expect to have a unique grieving process, which may encompass some or all of these feelings:
- Shock and Confusion
- Disbelief or Denial
- Anger and Guilt
- Despair or Hopelessness
- Sadness and Loneliness
- Loss of Drive, Purpose, or Faith
- Numbness, Disconnection, Lack of Intimacy
It is important to remember that, in time, these feelings will resolve. While you may never stop missing a loved one, over time you will come to terms with loss and experience feelings of happiness and joy again.
Let’s explore some healthy ways to support your sobriety while dealing with these strong emotions during times of loss:
1. Prioritize Your Sobriety
Recognizing that this experience of loss might put your sobriety at risk is a healthy step toward preventing relapse. Be proactive by:
- Taking steps to make sure you are protected from triggers that might cause cravings.
- Increasing your attendance of meetings at your local support group or halfway house.
- Actively avoiding events where alcohol or drugs will be offered, or plan for non-alcoholic beverages for yourself and visitors.
- Being patient with yourself and remembering that it might take months or even longer to recover from a major life loss.
- Focusing on living in the present, one day at a time, and remaining sober as a personal decision.
- Making a commitment to be a sober and supportive influence on children and other family members impacted by this loss.
- Remembering that all coping mechanisms are only partially effective and that enduring some pain and depression is a normal part of the grieving process.
2. Allow Yourself to Grieve
Absorbing and processing our grief and loss is essential to our mental health. We need to experience our emotions and work through them. When loss happens during active treatment in a sober living rehab facility, individual counseling and family therapy would be immediately available to help a recovering addict deal with these strong emotions.
Even if you have been sober for some time, there may be unexpected thoughts of substance use which arise in response to past habits of dealing with pain. Self-medicating short circuits the grieving process, leaving unresolved emotions, which must ultimately be dealt with before they can be released.
- Be prepared to fully experience this natural healing by expressing your pain and loss rather than holding it in. Talk to friends and loved ones about your feelings.
- You may feel a sense of injustice, or responsibility, or unwarranted guilt. Expressing these feelings will help you realize that others feel the same way and that you are not to blame.
- The loss of a spouse or child by death or divorce is shocking and traumatic, causing even more life changes related to finances and social circles. Give yourself permission to mourn before doing anything else.
The loss of a job, career opportunity, or housing may be deeply felt and grieved as well. Be aware that the emotions of loss you are feeling are valid and natural.
3. Limit or Delay Major Life Changes
When we are experiencing loss, our perspective is changed. Mental health professionals advise not making major life changes when depression or grief are immediate factors. Just like addiction, it takes time to recover from loss and regain the ability to see things clearly.
The amount of time it takes to mourn your loss is a personal and variable one. By remaining sober, and spending time in a sober living facility if needed, you protect yourself from making clouded decisions which might have a major impact on your future and cause further emotional trauma.
Some of the major life changes you should postpone if possible include:
- Relationship changes such as separation or divorce
- Career or job changes
- Changing lifestyle or healthy daily habits
- Moving to a distant location or away from your support system
- Stopping treatment of addiction or avoiding meetings
We are resilient and can continue moving forward after enduring a loss. Daily activities and responsibilities might feel overwhelming at first, but, in fact, they help speed a return to a healthier frame of mind and a return to normalcy. Reminders of our loss can provide new purpose and direction as time moves on.
4. Lean on Your Support System
Family, friends, and support groups want to provide the help you need to fully process and recover from loss. Remaining isolated from others might make relapse easier and more likely. Make time to be with people who understand what it is to survive loss and remain sober.
- Remaining in contact with others will help you regain a clearer perspective and provide a safety net—a group of people who can help you find the right level of guidance to recover from grief and protect your sobriety.
- Support groups provide a safe place to be heard by others who have, or who are currently, dealing with loss and/or thoughts of relapse.
- In a professional environment, you can learn how to respond to the well-meaning but hurtful platitudes that you may hear from friends and coworkers.
- Persist until you find the level of help you need to remain sober, by sharing with your sponsor, a counselor, and your roommates in clean and sober housing.
- Sharing the feelings you are experiencing with trusted family, friends, and groups will help you learn to reframe your loss in ways that will support your forward progress.
5. Practice Self Care
During times of stress and emotional upheaval, taking care of your health and wellness is essential to healing. When we are under stress, our bodies begin to exhaust their reserves of energy and vital nutrients. Taking time to care for your wellbeing is a necessary and responsible step during times of loss, especially if you are responsible to care for others.
- Eat small nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day, even if you do not feel hungry.
- Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine in the evenings.
- Exercise on your normal schedule and/or practice relaxation techniques.
- Go to bed at a normal time or a time which allows you to get eight hours of sleep at night.
- Visit with your family doctor or treatment center medical staff for help with any troubling symptoms, ensuring they are aware you are in the recovery process.
Make time for activities that make you feel good like volunteering, crafts, and walking or by dedicating efforts such as cooking or babysitting to help others who are dealing with loss.
6. Know When More Help Is Needed
Sometimes the emotions of loss might seem like too much to bear. Cravings and thoughts of addiction can return suddenly, or depression can reach levels that require medical care and professional guidance. The natural grieving process becomes “stuck,” and we don’t know how to move forward on our own.
During recovery, we strive to become more self-aware and better able to ask for the help we need before relapsing. When a loved one or you seem unable to recover, these steps can help:
- Returning to treatment or sober living programs might be a safe way to support your sobriety while you undergo major loss or traumatic life events.
- Seeing a mental health professional or counselor who is trained in grief or trauma management can provide the tools you need to fully process your feelings of loss.
- Visiting with a spiritual advisor or returning to your source of faith can also provide a path to healing, acceptance, and support that may offer a deeper understanding of the event.
All of these resources seek to help build your resilience and strength as you deal with grief and loss. The determination to find those sources of healing will bring you to the places, people, and experiences you need to recover.
Moving Past Loss While Protecting Your Future
Grieving a loss is a natural process that cannot be avoided and which will be experienced eventually. Refusing to turn to substances during this challenge will provide motivation and confidence for your sober life ahead. You can move through this process supported by your own resilience and the support systems you choose to embrace.
At RECO Institute in Delray Beach, Florida, we offer relapse prevention support during all phases of recovery and especially during times of major life changes. If a safe and sober living facility might help you or your loved one weather an emotional loss, reach out to us today.
Our caring and compassionate teams partner with RECO Intensive’s outpatient treatment programs to encompass all of the services needed to foster connections and achieve independent sober living. No matter how deep your feelings of loss, let us help you traverse this moment and emerge safe and sober for the next chapters of your life.