Grief is one of the most challenging emotions we can experience. We often associate it with the death of someone we love—and that is certainly one of the most difficult losses. But we can also feel grief about many other things. In fact, the current public health crisis—which finds many of us staying home and away from others—can inspire grief in a number of different ways.
The Many Faces of Grief
For example, you may be feeling grief about missed events you were looking forward to. Maybe it was a graduation or a friend’s wedding (or even your wedding!). Maybe it was a concert by your favorite band or a vacation you saved and saved for that you’ve had to cancel. You could be feeling grief because so many sports events are canceled or even because you can’t visit your favorite coffee spot and enjoy a chat with a friend.
You might even feel grief about the disruption of your daily routine, especially if you are concerned that things at your workplace or in your community won’t get back to normal quickly—or possibly at all. You could be feeling grief because you value the opportunity to hug your friends and can’t do so right now.
All of these forms of grief—and others, too—are perfectly legitimate and understandable. And they are difficult to deal with in healthy ways, especially for a person in recovery. The desire to lessen your grief and sadness by turning to drugs or alcohol can be very powerful.
So what can you do to ensure that your grief won’t upend your sobriety?
Give Voice to What You Are Feeling
Sometimes when we are grieving, we shut down. But it is important to share those difficult feelings with someone you trust—whether you reach out by phone or video chat to a friend or to your counselor, therapist, or sponsor. Isolation can intensify your feelings of grief, so making connections is extremely important.
If you participate in a 12-Step program (or other recovery program), you already know how powerful it feels to share your feelings with supportive people. If grief is threatening your sobriety, talking it through with someone can help ease the burden.
At Times, You’ll Want to Process on Your Own
Even though connecting with others is important, you’ll still have times in which you’ll need to face and process your grief on your own.
To this end, keeping a journal might be a useful exercise. When you put your thoughts on paper or screen, you externalize them and can perhaps consider them more calmly. Some people are reluctant to journal because they associate journaling with teenagers writing about their latest crush. But in reality, writing down our feelings can help us come to terms with difficult emotions like grief. And because your journal is yours alone, you don’t have to feel any judgement about how you are processing your feelings.
Practicing mindfulness might also be helpful. Mindfulness—which has its roots in the East but has become widely practiced in the West—is all about remaining grounded in the present moment. A mindfulness practice helps to keep us from replaying the past or imagining the future. This can be especially helpful when we are struggling with grief.
During this time, you probably can’t join a mindfulness group in person. The good news is that there are many resources available online—many of them free and some of them offering subscriptions—so you can get started on your own. Exercises specifically for those dealing with grief are among the many options you can find.
We should note that journaling and mindfulness can be powerful tools during your recovery journey even if you are not experiencing feelings of grief. In fact, regular practice of either or both may make them even more effective when you need to process the intense sadness, anger, or other emotions that often characterize grief.
Don’t Let Grief Undermine Your Recovery. We Are Here to Help.
If you are dealing with a substance use disorder, you already face a challenging road, a road that can feel like nothing but potholes when you are overwhelmed by grief. At The Aviary Recovery Center, we have the resources and expertise to help you get on a smoother road to recovery. There will likely still be bumps in the road—after all, recovery from a substance use disorder and from grief are both lifelong journeys—but our continuum of care will offer you the support you need.