Losing a loved one is hard enough for anyone, but such a loss can trigger relapses for individuals recovering from addiction. If we can understand the reactions that may happen during the grief stage, we may be able to stop a relapse in its tracks. How can we help ourselves through the process without jeopardizing recovery? Identifying our emotions and how normal they are is a healthy first step. The 5 main stages (reactions) of grief that one may experience are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, there are other reactions to grief that can be surprising to us, so in this post we will be reviewing 5 reactions to grief we may not have expected. We will be exploring how we can better understand these reactions and how we can view them as opportunities for growth in order to move forward in a healthy way.
Self-pity comes with a perception of damage to ourselves in our lives and fixation on wondering what might have been. A good example of how this relates to grief is if one has lost a parent early in life as opposed to when they are adults. Losing a parent early in life may make someone feel sorry for themselves because their life has been very difficult as the loss has been such a struggle. Relating this back to addiction recovery, losing a parent early in life and feeling self-pity may be difficult for someone struggling with addiction. This may have been one of the reasons as to why the person started having issues regarding addiction. If you have lost a loved one early in life and you often feel a sense of self-pity around it, you may want to dive into these emotions and reactions to grief and ask yourself how you can create healthier thought patterns.
Anxiety can easily manifest after losing a loved one. Shakiness, sweating, having panic attacks and nervousness, self-doubt, and irrational feelings may all happen when one is grieving. You may also doubt yourself and wonder if you are grieving the “right” way. Individuals recovering from addiction can feel anxious from losing a loved one, just like anyone else. It is a reaction that can leave you feeling confused and possibly isolated. Feeling isolated is very difficult when one is trying to recover and prevent relapse. It can be a good idea to talk about anxious feelings with others around you that you love and trust, instead of keeping the feelings in. Embracing feelings of anxiety instead of resisting them can help gain control over your reactions. When we resist anxiety, or the things that make us anxious, it is known to persist and come back stronger.
Worry tends to go hand in hand with anxiety and, when it comes to grief, there are several reasons as to why one may suffer from worrisome thoughts. You may be trying to avoid the grief and sadness, as well as the trauma of losing a loved one. Avoiding unpleasant thoughts, memories or emotions can be a common occurrence and it often becomes a trigger for more panic and anxiety. Excessive worry can also be realized as a control issue. For example, when we know there’s something that is out of our control we may worry about not being able to control anything around us, and we may get very stressed about this. In relating this to individuals who are on the path to recovery, losing a loved one may make them worry about relapsing again. Worrying may also be a mechanism that seemingly allows one to “prepare” for negative emotions thinking that they would be “bracing themselves” for the worst.
Skepticism means that we doubt the truth about something. Where grief is concerned, skepticism can present itself in a number of ways. Sometimes we don’t notice that we have experienced skepticism in relation to grief, but we may be skeptical about the way a loved one passed — especially if there was a diagnosis from a doctor that didn’t make sense to us. It can also come from the denial phase of grief. Thoughts like “did the doctor give mom the right prescription?” or “why did mom have a stroke, did her medication cause this?” These emotions can be very frustrating. For an individual recovering from addiction, skepticism can cause anger and resentment, which can make coping challenging. Trying to remain calm and accepting of the loss of a loved one, which will come with time, and skepticism is a phase that will likely pass once acceptance has kicked in.
Feeling envy relating to grief can present itself in a few different ways. For the purposes of this post, we envy what we lost when we see others that have what we don’t have. For example, if one has lost their mom and then a couple weeks later they see a mom and daughter shopping together they may feel a sense of sadness and envy that they no longer have the mother-daughter relationship. A couple that loses their child may feel envious when they see their children’s friends grow up and have careers, hobbies, weddings, and birthdays because they would have done anything to see their child grow up too. These emotions can be present for anyone going through grief and loss, but when it involves individuals recovering from addiction facing these feelings can be even more challenging.
These reactions to grief may be unexpected to you, but they are important to know about. Some people face grief and loss often in life and some face it very rarely and we never know how we will react until it actually happens to someone we love. Once we understand that grief encompasses a wide variety of emotions and emotional reactions, we are better equipped to handle whatever we are faced with and this, ultimately, may be helpful in recovery. Emotions are not good, bad, right, or wrong. When our emotions seem to cloud our lives, such as during grief, it is important to remember that those emotions are still giving us important information. If you are an individual recovering from addiction and recently had a loss in your life or are still grappling with past loss, or if you are struggling with any of the emotions mentioned above, please contact us HERE; we can help and you are not alone!