4 Ways to Help Yourself and Others Through Grief in Recovery

Recovery is hard but not as hard as having an addiction. We are addicts for the same reason – we find something to numb out uncomfortable emotions. When we no longer have our trusty tool we start to feel again and that can bring up truckloads of guilt and shame, and all the other feelings we’ve been trying to suppress with the only tool we knew how. Here’s how to deal with your grief feelings in recovery, and how to support a loved one.

At some point, all of us will be touched by grief. It can be unexpected, like a knife flaying our hearts into tiny parcels on the floor. It can be long and enduring. It can be expected or anticipated, but unless you’ve had something disappear from your grasp, the experience evades you. Until you’ve been left in a state of zombie like shock, energetically disemboweled and moving through life in a daze, no one can tell you what it feels like.

It’s a strange experience and I hear it everyday – friends who’ve lost parents and siblings, marriages that have shattered and severed, or diseases that never cured. Life gives us close bonds and then one day one person is left holding the string while the other moves on into what awaits in the big sleep, or what awaits in the world of possibility. In the aftermath . . .

Most of us have heard of the five stages of grief:

Denial
Anger
Bargaining
Depression
Acceptance.

My favorite comic relief example is from the Simpsons:

However, grief isn’t a fine line where we check off each stage and move through like the perfect, little humans we are. Grief is messy. Grief is shattering and we might bounce back and forth through the five stages like popcorn. In one second, our mouths might be held in open-mouthed laugher and five minutes later we could be lying on the kitchen floor in the fetal position overcome with tears. All these are normal, unpredictable, and completely part of the process. Although you might feel like a crazy person, you absolutely are not. You’re grieving, and that’s ok.

There’s no wrong way to do grief. There’s no magic timeline to which you should be able to function and put it all behind you. There’s no line of demarcation from which we go from tears to wearing a bright smile. We are multifaceted humans. We’re simple and complicated. Emotions are sticky and beautiful.

Healing takes as long as it takes and whatever time line you’re on, is yours. No one has the right to tell you differently. It’s your life. You heal when you heal, and you learn and grow along the way.

4 things to help you move through the grief process and be kind to yourself.

1) Surround yourself with loving, supportive people.

Grief has a curious way of weeding people out of our lives. It also has a beautiful way of showing us others who step up, and are solid, loving, and kind. Surround yourself with those people. Remember to give compassion to the people who “get it wrong,” who don’t know what to say. They love you, that’s why they’re showing up and being awkward, and sometimes saying the “wrong” things.

2) Seek out a therapist and/or support group.

Sometimes the most helpful thing is to know that we’re not alone. When we have someone safe (and trained, in the case of a therapist) to help process our grief, it can be a precious relief to have that safe space. There are therapists that specialize in grief and there are various grief support groups in most areas. Get online and start looking in your area.

3) Talk to God.

God can handle anything you have to say. Pour out your heart, your rage, your disappointment, or your sorrow. God can handle. Take long walks, go into nature, scream in your car, and talk to God.

4) It’s okay to have fun.

Sometimes, in grief, we can feel guilty for enjoying ourselves, for laughing or connecting with others. In moments of joy we can suddenly remember our situations, and it can be jarring because of a strange loyalty to the sadness. Grief can hold both. It can tear our hearts out and fill us with gratitude. Sorrow and joy can exist in the same sphere. Being joyful, and happy, doesn’t mean that we’re forgetting the person or the situation. Joy can be a way of also honoring them and yourself.

If you’re a support person, here are 4 helpful things to remember:

1) Don’t worry about getting it wrong.

Even if you say something weird or awkward to the grieving person they will most likely forgive you because they know that you care and that you’re making an effort.

2) Ask before giving advice.

Often times, it’s uncomfortable to watch others suffer and so we try to fix it in some way. Often this has more to do with our discomfort than it does with the person suffering. Simply being there and saying something like, “I’m so sorry this happened. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be.” You can also just be there and listen.

3) Don’t pretend you know what the person is going through.

We’ve all been in situations where you share a pain and the other person says, “I know exactly what you’re going through,” and then tells some story about their life that doesn’t feel the same. The result can be the grieving person can feel more isolated. Even if your father passed away too, you don’t know exactly what their grief is, because we’re all different. Instead (if the person wants to hear) share your experience of what it was like for you. This is why support groups are so helpful. People feel less alone and this is helpful.

4) Ask how you can support the person grieving.

They might not know how at first but they’ll figure it out, and then they’ll tell you. Then you can actually support them in a way that feels best for them instead of trying to jam a circle into a triangle hole, and both of you getting frustrated in the process.

Forward Locomotion:

If you’re going through a season of grief, let yourself experience it fully without shutting off. It’s always my belief that we go through the hate to get to the love, through the pain to get to the joy, through storms to appreciate the sun. The full human experience has it all. No matter how much we may hate it, and we all do, there is still so much beauty. Look for the light.

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