Most people suffer loss and grief at some point in their lives. When a loved one passes away, we have to learn how to live without that person and continue to live in positive and healthy ways. Grieving is the process that we go through when we suffer loss. It is a normal reaction to losing someone or something close to you, and it is a necessary part of mourning. For people with addiction however, the loss and grief can be a little bit more complex. Many individuals who are in active addiction are using substances or alcohol to mask the feelings of grief and the other normal emotions that arise during the processing of a loss. This could lead them into a downward spiral of additional losses (e.g., losing their job, home, relationships, and health).


Dealing with loss during recovery can be a very delicate process. It can be easy to fall back into addiction or addictive behaviors, particularly if there has been a recent and significant loss and the individual is in the early stages of the recovery process. Similarly, loss is also an inevitable part of recovery since it is encouraged to remove all unhealthy relationships that contributed to the addiction (e.g., persons the individual used to engage in addictive behaviors with). Loss can also be identified as leaving a job that was too stressful, ending a friendship that no longer serves you in a healthy way, or even giving up material possessions that contribute to addiction. Feelings of loss and grief may accompany the loss of any of these things. More importantly, giving up the actual addiction is a recovery-specific loss. Very often, once the substance or behaviour is removed from the person’s life, it can ignite feelings of unresolved loss and grief.


Everyone has different ways that they process grief and loss. Individuals recovering from addiction could be very sensitive to working through these feelings without their addiction. Since there are so many different kinds of loss, it can be subjective and depend on what you have to let go of in your life to achieve and maintain recovery and avoid reengaging in addiction. Sometimes it is difficult to uncover feelings that have been long buried within. As such, it is very important to be kind to yourself throughout this process and realize that if you had an addiction for a long time there will most likely be feelings of stress, anger, resentment ,and anxiety that may arise during the recovery process, especially in the beginning stages. Everyone’s experience of loss is different, but the tendency to cover it up with an addiction or addictive behaviors is common. This likely comes from the fact that we seldom learn how to grieve in healthy ways and support ourselves through difficult emotional experiences. Individuals recovering from addiction should keep in mind that what they feel may be different than what others feel and not everyone takes the same path of recovery.


So, what does it mean to you? Individuals in recovery should ask themselves this question and journal about this so that they have a way to reflect on all the feelings that arise during sobriety. A lot of these feelings come from grief, mourning, and loss. This can include, but is not limited to, loss of their previous lifestyle, loss of family members and friends, and the loss of financial status. Do such losses cause you to feel stress? Anxiety? Depression? Feelings of hopelessness?


It is integral to have a safe space to release our feelings and not continue to keep them contained, because they will find a way to come out one way or another – and we want them to come out as safely as possible. If we bottle up our feelings we have the potential to increase our stress levels, which in turn could lead to possible relapses of addictive behaviours and patterns. Trying to avoid painful emotions won’t lead to positive outcomes. The harder we struggle, the more stress we will experience and we can then become stagnant. Avoiding uncomfortable feelings will eventually catch up with us. When we make space for our feelings, allowing ourselves to live with them not against them, and also have a safe outlet for them, their negative impact on our lives will gradually fade away and no longer persist. What we resist persists, as they say.

Becoming aware of our loss and grief and where it came from, while developing the skills to be able to handle such emotions, can help in sustaining recovery. Strength Counselling is here for you. This is what we specialize in and you can learn more about us here on our website or email us for more information at info@strengthcounselling.ca.