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Dealing with grief and loss is not easy for anyone, especially because at a young age, we are not always taught or shown healthy ways to handle those situations. Although grief can be complicated and people have different ways of processing it, it doesn’t have to be hard. Let’s take a look at the general stages of grief to help you get a better understanding of what people generally go through during this process, as well as ways to cope with loss while in addiction recovery. 



Stages of Grief in Addiction Recovery


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Typically, when we first realize we are experiencing the loss of a loved one, we naturally want to protect ourselves from feeling the pain associated with it. At first, we may be in disbelief and denial because the thought of not having that person in our lives is unimaginable, and often too painful to grasp. Memories of the person may start to come up, creating numbing emotions that may make it difficult to continue on with life. Although the denial stage may seem fruitless, there is one helpful objective that this stage accomplishes, and that is, denial allows us to slow down and absorb the information in manageable amounts so that we can better cope with loss. 


As we struggle to accept our future life without our loved ones, the initial suppressed emotions that were hidden by our denial can build up over time, and that’s when we move onto the next stage of anger. We may start to ask questions like “why is this happening to me?” or “how can life be so cruel to me? It’s not fair.” As we outwardly manifest our emotional turmoil through anger, we are also, unfortunately, isolating ourselves from the much-needed connection and comfort of the people around us as our anger can make us unapproachable and difficult to console. Anger may at first not appear helpful as we go through the grief process, but it may be all we are capable of showing early on.


When we realize that the loss is out of our control, and there is no amount of money that we can pay to stop us from experiencing the pain, we may try and reach out to something greater than ourselves for a miracle. Often this will be our higher power, and we may say something like “Why is this happening? If you just do this one thing for me, I’ll do whatever you ask.” Within the bargaining stage, we are usually searching for anything that will end the intense pain and bring back our loved ones. We may be drawn to memories of our past with them and feel regret for the time we didn’t spend together. Additionally, we may even experience guilt for the times we thought we hurt their feelings; however, the bargaining stage is yet another step we take down the path towards healing and closure. It can be used as a tool to prevent us from blaming ourselves for the pain that we feel from something that is out of our control.



As our initial panic dissipates, the reality of our circumstances and the feeling of sadness sets in deep. We may feel lost and lonely, and contrary to what we truly need, we may begin to isolate ourselves socially from our family, friends, and the outside world altogether. Depression is a natural stage of grief that most people go through when experiencing loss. The important thing to remember during this time is that you are not alone, and there are people out there who want to support you through this stage. All you have to do is reach out. The SAMHSA’s National Helpline is available 24/7 to help you and loved ones with mental or drug disorders. 



The last stage is acceptance and means that we have stopped struggling to change our reality and instead, are attempting to move forward with our lives. Although the pain is still fresh in our minds and we have not forgotten the person we cared for, acceptance is important for moving on. Acceptance is not an easy place to get to, and as said before, everyone is different. As a result, you should not judge yourself for the behaviors you took to get to this stage. Instead, take comfort in the fact that you have survived a devastating life event, and that you have hope for a future that will allow you to feel joy again in your life.


Healthy Strategies to Cope with Grief


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Dealing with grief and loss in addiction recovery is possible without relapse. Here are some healthy coping strategies to help when the time comes.

1) Take a Time Out

In recovery, you learn that no decision needs to be made immediately. Take time to allow yourself to gradually move on without adding emotional distress to an already difficult situation. Self-care activities like reading a book or meditating can help release built up worry and anxiety.


2) Exercise 

As alcoholics and addicts, we tend to have bad self-care when we are sad and struggling. Make sure to keep your physical strength up as this will help you in the long run. Try going for a hike and being out in nature to clear your head and refuel your spirit.


3) Reach Out to Healthy Support People

When you are looking for comfort during hard times, turn to your sponsor or friends from the recovery community as they will listen to you without judgment and have insight into how you can deal with grief from a perspective that will support your recovery. Go to a 12-step meeting, if needed.


4) Spend Time with Loved Ones

Try writing a letter to your loved ones to share how you’re feeling, invite some friends over to share stories about them, or take a trip to a place that you enjoy. These examples can keep you from being stuck in anger or depression, both of which can negatively impact your recovery.


5) Talk to Your Higher Power

Communicating your feelings about what has happened and asking for help going forward can assist you when you feel anxious, angry, and lonely, and stop you from giving up and self-medicating. Stay connected and don’t carry this painful burden alone.


Need Help Dealing with Grief? OTR Can Help You


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At Oregon Trail Recovery, we support you by providing beneficial tools and methods to cope with trauma, grief, or loss in a safe way. When you are ready to begin the process of unpacking your feelings, our caring and highly trained staff can offer you a safe atmosphere for guidance through the stages of grief. Contact us today for more information. We are available for you 24/7.