Make Space for Grief
Four years ago, my hero left this earthy soil and became my guardian soldier in heaven.
I miss him daily.
It’s important to honor our grief, to say their name, and normalize the pain that accompanies anniversaries.
Losing a loved one can be one of the most devastating blows to our foundation in recovery, regardless of how strong it is. The pain of losing someone will throw us off our center of gravity into an uncomfortable and painful place. The loss brings up fear and abandonment for so many of us.
In recovery, we gain so much self-esteem and self-awareness and we learn new tools on how to cope with past trauma and loss. It really isn’t until we are faced with a fresh wound to care for that we realize how powerful our tools in recovery can be, and must be if we are to continue a path of long-term recovery.
When we begin to apply the principles of our newfound recovery to a new and painful situation, we learn that we truly can overcome the once thought unthinkable. That doesn’t mean it is easy. In fact, in recovery, we walk around like live wires, truly feeling all our feelings; this can make the process of grief that much harder for us. Because we feel. Because we acknowledge instead of run, deny, or hide in a bottle or drug.
Grief is worn like a heavy winter coat. It weighs us down. Depending upon the impact of the loss in your life, it can feel heavy for a long time.
Normal grief can and will likely last for months. I was over 10 years clean and sober when I lost one of the most important people in my life, my best friend and cherished sponsor. I walked around in a daze. I went through the mechanical motions of my day, went home, and sat on my couch staring blankly at the television while mindlessly eating pint after pint of ice cream.
I was numb. I was using food to fill my void. It was the first major loss I suffered in recovery, and it impacted me in an intense manner. I pushed people away and could not talk about her death with anyone.
After many weeks of this behavior and about 20 pounds of weight gain, I realized that I was not being healthy. I began to reengage therapy. I increased my meeting attendance and I began to write. I went back to the very basics of my recovery. To the simple steps that kept me from picking up a drink and drug at the beginning of my recovery.
Now, with almost 20 years of recovery, I am faced yet again with a devastating loss—my father, who died in January. He was my rock, my hero, my most important person. Ever present and always supportive. I walked through his illness with him and was there when he died.
The gift of long-term recovery enabled me to fully be present for him when he needed me most, just as he was when I was sick and suffering. His loss has created a significant void in my life and my heart.
This time I knew better what to expect and have been allowing myself the freedom to grieve in a healthy way.
In recovery, we must understand our emotions and the way that we typically respond to them. We must know what we need to cope in a healthy manner.
Here are 10 tools that work for me and can be useful if you are struggling emotionally.
1. Suit Up and Show Up.
You must wake up and make the choice to get out of bed. It’s far too easy to pull the covers over our heads and check out into our pain. Put one foot in front of the other and show up for each day.
2. Meditate or Pray.
Spend a few moments of each morning in a quiet state where you are simply seeking or asking for guidance for the day ahead. This can bring up a lot of emotions.
3. Cry, Scream, Laugh—Just Let it Out.
Allow yourself to feel every feeling that is coming up inside of you. Doing so allows you to fully process each feeling. Feelings aren’t facts; they will pass.
4. Go to More Meetings.
Meeting makers make it; people in the rooms care and will be there to offer supportive guidance in your process.
5. Get your Body Moving.
Whether you are a runner, a cycler, or you aren’t super active at all, getting your body to move helps in supporting emotional well-being. It engages vital endorphins in your brain that naturally help you feel better. If you do not like to exercise, try adding a brief walk into your day. Walk your dog. Find a friend at work to walk with at lunchtime or ask your spouse, partner, or children to walk with you at night.
6. Monitor your Diet.
We truly are what we eat; be mindful of what you are eating. If you are overeating or denying yourself food, be aware of that. Food can be just as damaging as a drink or a drug for many of us.
7. Seek Professional Help.
Sometimes, the pain is significant, and we need to process it out with someone safe. There is no shame in dipping back into therapy to help guide us through tough times.
8. Support Groups.
There are grief support groups everywhere; some are run through hospice services and some are run through local hospitals. Google one in your area and find a place that is specifically for the emotional challenge you are facing.
9. Attend Events that Help you Process your Grief.
Many communities offer events that allow us to process our grief, like butterfly releases, grief yoga, grief walks, writing, memorial gardens, and so on—events that allow you to honor your loved one with others who are experiencing loss as well. This is vital around anniversaries of any sort, as they are sometimes the hardest to face.
10. Be Gentle with Yourself.
Grief is hard and painful; it is a normal part of the cycle of life, and no one does it perfectly. Give yourself the time and space to heal.
If you embrace the process of grief and loss, you can walk a bit taller and allow yourself to surrender when you need to retreat inward to find healing. You cannot run from the pain; it will follow you wherever you go. It must be felt and processed for it to find its way out of your mind, body, and soul.
Some days will be better than others. You will get to a point where you can walk around all day and almost forget that you are in pain and grieving, but then something always comes up to remind you. A familiar smell, a memory that jars your senses right back into the raw and real pain of your loss. This is a normal part of grief and loss. As the days go by, these events lessen a bit, but they never truly go away.
Our feelings are like an ocean, constantly in motion, falling and rising, sometimes crashing into us suddenly and, other times, peacefully floating in serenity. They are ever-changing.
Just remember that every tide that rushes onto shore must also retreat again. No one feeling or emotion will stay with you all the time. Understanding and knowing this is half the battle; it makes it easier to deal with the rough undertow of grief when it pulls you back under. Allow yourself the freedom to fully embrace the emotions, knowing they will subside.
Just as there is dark, there must be light.
Experiencing all your feelings is purposeful in aiding in a deeper understanding of your own pain so that you may arrive back into the light stronger.