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Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

How to Cope with Death in Sobriety

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When you cope with death in sobriety and grieving, it can be difficult and often met with immense sadness and pain. Trying to stay on track with recovery while also experiencing the loss of a loved one, however, can feel impossible. Both grief and recovery can be very similar, characterized by feelings of denial, guilt, sadness, fear, and anger. Due to this, grief can feel even more intense when you are also already coping with addiction. Oftentimes, the grieving period can be a time that contains a high risk for relapse. This makes it especially important to consciously take steps that best equip you to maintain your sobriety while also addressing your feelings in this incredibly difficult time.

How does grief affect sobriety?

Substance use is often used to numb the pain and to try to forget, even just momentarily, the loss one is experiencing. Using drugs and alcohol to ignore emotional responses to death can not only be detrimental to your recovery but can also lead to long-term problems. By refusing to feel your grief and acknowledge your pain, you risk isolating yourself and having random outbursts of intense emotions. 

When you are in recovery, it is important to be honest about what you are going through in terms of grief and reach out for support. Grief can be a significant relapse trigger and taking advantage of the support system you have is crucial to staying sober and healing from your loss. Here are a few ways that will help you feel supported while dealing with loss and to help avoid relapse through this tragedy.

Allow yourself to grieve

Permit yourself to feel what you are feeling. It is essential to acknowledge and experience the emotions as they arise and not to judge yourself if these emotions make completing daily tasks very difficult. If you allow yourself to process your feelings as they come, eventually your grief will not be the first thing you think of when you wake up and go to sleep. Your daily tasks will feel less taxing and the emotions you are feeling will become less intense. If you give yourself the time to grieve at your own pace, you will begin to heal.

Seek out help to cope with death in sobriety

Grieving alone is almost impossible, especially in recovery. This means reaching out for support is essential in both sustaining your sobriety and processing your grief. When asking for help, be specific about your needs to ensure they are being met. Your cravings to use will almost certainly be strong at the beginning of grieving, so finding friends, family, or even medical professionals to love and support you is important. Community is integral in both healing from your loss and in maintaining your sobriety. 

Stick to your treatment plan and recovery

Although it will be hard to focus on anything except your grief, it is important to remain connected to whatever helps you stay sober. Whether that means attending AA meetings, speaking with your sponsor more regularly (if you have one), or practicing mindfulness, it is essential to try your best to stay on track with your recovery.

Practice self-care

During a time of grief, it is integral to take care of yourself both mentally and physically. Of course, the grieving process is exhausting and even activities as simple as showering may be taxing. It is important, however, try your best to do little things that help alleviate some of the stress and pain you are feeling. Getting outside and going on a walk, practicing gratitude and mindfulness, or even just listening to some calming music can have positive effects on the immense amount of stress and exhaustion your loss is putting on your mind and body.

Reach out to outpatient treatment services

Sometimes dealing with both grief and sobriety together can feel impossible to do alone. In these cases, outpatient treatment services may be a good choice to assist you in healing while maintaining your sobriety. NuView Treatment Center can help provide you with a support team that can help you process your emotions and safeguard your sobriety. The emotions you may be feeling while grieving can be similar to the ones felt in recovery, therefore understanding the feelings and how to cope with them is important. The staff and therapists at NuView can help in providing you with the safe space and assistance needed to do this. 

Above all, if you are experiencing the death of a loved one, you should remember that it is okay to feel lost and to need help. Grief in combination with recovery can be an incredibly hard battle to overcome on your own. Grief, and risk of relapse, as a result, is not a sign of weakness, but an indicator that you should reach out and get the support you need. Similar to recovery, grieving is a journey to be taken one day at a time.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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