Troubled women in coat near lakeWhen difficult things happen, addicts habitually turn to their addiction to block out pain and discomfort. If you attend a treatment or rehab program, you learn how to cope with negative events in a healthy way, so that breakups or job losses do not lead to relapse. But there is perhaps one issue that is hardest of all to cope with — the death of someone close, especially if you haven’t yet dealt with this type of loss since becoming sober.

Whether it is a parent, pet, partner or friend who passes away, the pain and confusion of bereavement can surpass all other types of distress. If you cared for someone dearly, it’s only natural to miss them. But any type of bereavement, whether your relationship was smooth or rocky, can leave you with guilt, anxiety, unanswered questions and feelings of helplessness.

In the case of a relative dying, there may be funeral arrangements to make and legal documents to consider, as well as costs. All of this adds to the difficulty of grieving while trying not to succumb to the temporary relief that you previously sought in substances.

Let It Be

Grief is a natural response to bereavement. If you try to change how you feel with alcohol, drugs or addictive behaviors, you’re suppressing your authentic feelings. The pain will resurface later, along with regret about relapsing. Add to that, your loved one would’ve wanted you to remain healthy rather than relapse on account of them.

Allow yourself to go through the grieving process. It is not shameful to cry, to miss someone, to feel angry or overwhelmed. Common stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining and depression before reaching acceptance. It can be helpful to identify these states whenever you notice one surface; labeling them takes some of the power out of the feeling.

Back up these labels by reassuring yourself that whatever happens, you will be alright as long as you stay sober. The death of someone special to you can feel like the end of your world — but it never is. It’s also helpful to remind yourself that your grief will lessen with time.

Find Support

Stay close to your network of sober friends or those who support your sobriety. While you may feel like isolating, cutting yourself off is more likely to lead to relapse. Community can be a great place to share how you’re feeling. If you’d rather work through your grief privately, call a helpline or contact a bereavement counselor. Stay in contact with rehabilitation aftercare services, so they can offer you extra help.

If you feel like you can’t cope with making arrangements, delegate some of your responsibilities to others. Ask friends and family members to help with clearing out old possessions, sorting out the funeral details and dealing with any legal matters.

If attending a funeral, make sure you are with someone who supports your sobriety before, during and after the event. They can steer you away from any temptation to drink or take drugs, offer comfort and remind you how proud your loved one would be to see you coping with something difficult while remaining sober.

Find Closure

One of the most difficult things about bereavement is working out how to find closure. Remember the serenity prayer at this time:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

You cannot change what has happened, but you can choose actions, attitudes and behaviors to help you through it. Everyone finds closure differently, but here are some ideas to help.

Create a Tribute

Creating a tribute to your lost loved one can help you to feel close to them even when they are gone. Some find it helpful to leave all the deceased’s possessions exactly as they were, but this can be a prolonged exercise in denial — holding onto hope that the loved one may reappear.

It’s best to get rid of unneeded items that make you sad about your loss. Instead, hold onto a few special souvenirs, such as photographs and possessions that convey your loved one’s personality and make you smile. Donate other items to a charity they supported, or causes dedicated to providing care, research or support for their condition, if they had one. Knowing you are helping others on behalf of your loved one can give you comfort during a difficult time.

You can also think up your own tribute, rather than hanging onto material goods. To honor someone special’s existence, you can do many creative things, from naming a star or a park bench to planting a tree or getting a remembrance tattoo.

Change Your Attitude About Death

Death is a natural part of life; no one is exempt from it. Although your loved one is no longer here physically, their impact on the world has not been erased. Think of the good things they did while they were alive, who they helped, gladdened, touched or inspired.

You are still here to carry that person’s spirit, everything they taught you and the love and special memories you shared. None of that is gone — it lives on within you.

Even if you had a difficult relationship with the deceased, remember that you have learned something from those interactions – they may have made you stronger, more determined to be someone better, more committed to your sobriety and steering clear of any mistakes they made.

Finally, death can be a helpful reminder to the living to make the most of every day and be the best person possible. And that’s something you can only achieve if you remain sober and committed to your recovery!


Written by Beth Burgess