Drug and alcohol addiction is one of the never-ending disasters of the 21st. Century, as many people look for new ways to lose or self-medicate themselves in a vain attempt to simply feel better. Like the synthetic opioids and methamphetamine manufactured in home-kitchen laboratories, it’s all too easy and all too quick, stealing away our loved ones before their time, and leaving us left stranded on the sidelines, not believing what we are seeing or feeling.
If someone you love has become another of those whose life was ended by substance addiction, you will undoubtedly be feeling immense heartache, anger and frustration, and, above all, grief – all-powerful, all-enclosing grief.
These feelings are entirely understandable, and you are not alone in experiencing them.
Thousands and thousands of people are, right now, just like you, having lost their own loved ones recently to substance addiction. Last year, over 80,000 families lost one of their own through an opioid-related fatal overdose, with as many lost from alcohol-related causes. As we said, it’s a never-ending disaster – it just continues.
“Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor. You get used to the weight, how it holds you in place.”
– Sarah Dessen, U.S. novelist, and author of “The Truth About Forever”
The Different Stages of Grief: You Will Be OK
When we lose a loved one, either because we know they will pass soon or because it happens unexpectedly, such as an accidental death, like a drug overdose, it plunges us into a period of grief (and for an unknown length of time too), and it’s important that we not only acknowledge it, but that we understand why we feel as we do as we work through these different stages of grief.
There are five distinct stages of grief to be experienced, each with their own emotions. For some people, the death of a loved one in an unexpected way can make the grief seem worse, but it is still raw grief nonetheless. However difficult each stage may seem, you can and will be able to cope and manage them – remember, it is a natural process, and it takes as long as it takes.
Here are the stages of grief you can expect to experience, as well as advice on how best to deal with each one:
1. Isolation & Denial
This is the stage of disbelief, where you attempt to isolate yourself from the grief by denying the full and awful truth of it all. Deaths from substance addiction are usually sudden, and, at the beginning, the sheer shock of it all will literally suspend your belief. However, this feeling and this stage passes quickly, and the real process of grief begins.
2. Anger & Frustration
When a death is sudden and without warning, you will be incredibly angry. You will look to target that anger, so you look for a culprit – someone or something that took any control away from you. Many people simply blame everyone in sight – your loved one’s drug dealer, friends, people who actively took drugs with them, even society for allowing it to happen… And, of course, you will blame yourself.
It’s wrong to do so, but it’s human nature – we can’t help it.
Everyone will be to blame in some way, but people hardly ever blame the real reason for what happened – your loved one. You need to accept that your loved one’s behavior, their desire to use drugs or drink excessively, is not a reflection of you, and it is no-one’s fault but their own.
As strange as it may sound, and after your anger has abated (as it will), you will want to make sense of it all, and in some way control the grief you feel by “bargaining” with it. You will constantly wonder if you could have made a difference yourself – if you could have helped in some way, and avoided all of this, if you could have gotten them into addiction treatment, and if you could have led them towards a sustainable recovery from substance addiction.
You need to understand that is impossible – it’s impossible now, and it was likely impossible before they died. Drug addicts and alcoholics are the only ones who can find their own recovery from addiction. There is nothing you can do to change what has happened. I know.
I was once a drug addict, hopeless and desperate. No-one could help me, and I made sure of that by rejecting every helping hand that came towards me. If it wasn’t for fate, I would never have found the recovery that saved me. Months of addiction treatment, beginning at a Phoenix detox center, and the future was clear – change, and if possible, change everything. I did, and I’m now over 6 years clean and sober.
This is possibly the hardest stage of grief – through some sense of acceptance, and the dissolution of your anger, there is the fundamental heart of it all – depression. It’s reason is simple – loss, unexpected and sudden. If this stage is too much for you, confide in your closest friends or even speak to a professional. This is when you need support – don’t discourage it.
How do you finally accept the loss of a loved one, unexpected and sudden? This is where time really is the great healer – as life goes on around you, and with you being a part of it, you will finally find true acceptance, although you’ll never lose the scars. Maybe, in the future, you will wear those scars with pride – pride of the time you shared with your loved one.
Certain people find it in themselves to reach out and offer support to others in a similar situation to yours. They join, or even begin self-help support groups. Completely your choice, but many receive comfort in finding something good to come out of it all.
Whatever you choose or decide to do, take care of yourself. Grief can be immensely difficult to take, but you will be OK. You will survive, and move on. With your scars, yes, but you do move on.