Content reviewed by Nicholas G. Glines

Grief is a complex and challenging emotion. Although it is often distressing, grief is an inevitable part of life. It can wreak havoc on an individual’s sense of identity and reality. For those working to achieve lifelong recovery from addiction, experiences of grief can jeopardize sobriety, especially if you used substances to self-medicate feelings of stress or discomfort in the past.

As experiences of grief tend to occur when we least expect it, individuals in addiction recovery need to recognize healthy ways of navigating grief consistently throughout their recovery journey.

What is Grief?

Grief is an emotion that typically results from loss. However, “loss” is subjective. The most common reason that people experience this emotion is due to the death of a loved one, although some other reasons that people may grieve include:

  • Moving out or leaving home
  • Being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness
  • The death of a pet
  • The loss of financial security
  • The loss of physical ability
  • Moving to a new community or school
  • Graduating from school
  • The loss of hopes and dreams
  • Divorce

One valuable way to grieve in addiction recovery is to become educated about it. For example, it is essential to recognize that everyone grieves at their own pace and that there is no right or wrong way to experience it. Learning about grief can help you better prepare for when you experience it in the future.

The 5 Stages of Grief

Although it may feel different, there is often a reason for how emotions play out with grief. Elizabeth Kubler Ross coined the five stages of grief as a framework to help us to learn to live with the loss we have experienced. These stages are entirely normal and allow us to set more realistic expectations for ourselves and others as everyone navigates grief.

These stages include:

  1. Denial: Denial is the refusal to accept that a loss occurred. Denial may be conscious or unconscious and often occurs as a defense mechanism.
  2. Anger: Grief can cause a person to be angry with themselves and others. It is essential to keep this in mind if you act with anger or someone you love acts with anger towards you.
  3. Bargaining: When an individual tries to negotiate a compromise with another person or higher power, it is known as bargaining. It often helps individuals to postpone feelings of sadness or hurt.
  4. Depression: Depression may cause sadness, regret, fear and uncertainty. This stage of grief is critical because it emphasizes that a person has begun to accept the reality of a loss.
  5. Acceptance: Acceptance indicates emotional detachment and objectivity. It leads a person to come to grips with their mortality and the circumstances involved with their loss.

It is important to recognize that these stages tend to occur in no particular order, and not every person will experience all of them.

The Gender Differences Associated with Grief

Grieving may be easier when education is tailored toward your specific gender group. There is no question that men and women experience emotions differently and, therefore, grieve differently. Men, in particular, can have an uncomfortable relationship with grief due to harmful masculine ideals that have been societally constructed. In this case, men may struggle more than women with grief as they try to avoid vulnerability to fit the masculine model.

Grieve By Honoring Your Loss

A healthy way to grieve is by honoring your loss. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, you can come up with small ways to celebrate and remember their life. You can create photo albums, write letters, journal and even wear your loved one’s favorite color as you grieve. Ultimately, you have to remember that your loved one would not want your life to slow down after they passed. They would wish you to live your life to its fullest.

If your loss is other than the passing of a loved one, such as experiencing a divorce, there are still ways that you can honor your loss. You can list all of the positive things or life lessons that you learned from your relationship. You could also show gratitude towards the people in your life that support where you are in your recovery journey, especially the ones that support your choice to move forward. Experiences of loss offer a significant opportunity to extend gratitude up and out.

Seeking Social Support for Grief

Social support is one of the most critical components of successful addiction recovery and healthy grieving. Support groups offer a safe space for individuals to get together to explore their experiences and emotions of grief. It can be valuable to converse with others who are going through the same experience, primarily while tasked with the added challenge of sustaining your sobriety.

Local treatment centers and community resources offer gender-specific support groups in many cases. This offered flexibility can be helpful because, as mentioned previously, men and women go about the grieving process differently. If you are still struggling, remember to be patient with yourself. Professional support and treatment may be your best option to keep your sobriety in check and ensure that you utilize healthy coping mechanisms throughout your grieving process.

New Hope Ranch is a male-only residential treatment facility that understands how challenging grief can be for an individual’s treatment and recovery process. We will help connect you with foundational social support systems that will make the grieving process more doable. During treatment, we will create an individualized treatment plan for you that will help you work through your past experiences of grief. To learn more about our programs, please call us today at (737) 600-8565.