The day my husband died unexpectedly, the bottom dropped out of my world. While he had been suffering from many health problems, all of his doctors felt he was stable, so it was a huge shock to find him unresponsive one morning shortly after New Year’s. In fact, I went through such a panic that I wasn’t sure I could stay clean and sober.
I cried myself numb every day for a month until I realized that I was making myself sick. No longer numb from crying, I wanted a drink so badly. How else was I going to rid myself of feelings of despair, sadness, and guilt that overwhelmed me? It was simply too painful to endure. At the same time, I was ashamed of myself for considering risking 17 years of sobriety. That’s when I picked up the phone and called my sponsor.
Helen had only two years of sobriety in when she lost her husband. Somehow, she managed to stay sober even during the darkest depths of her grief. I wanted to learn from her how she did it, because as much as I wanted that drink, I wanted to keep my sobriety even more.
She explained that our grief affects our ability to think clearly, which is why so many addicts relapse during that time. However, she emphasized that relapse is not inevitable.
How to Cope
Helen explained to me that I had already taken the first step: reaching out for support. Calling on a member of your support group is critical, because it is all too easy to retreat within yourself and that’s when temptation strikes. Being all alone with that temptation is dangerous. Other important steps include:
- Express your Feelings – Grieving involves a range of emotions that evolve over time. It is very important to acknowledge those emotions such as sadness, guilt, or anger rather than stuffing them deep inside. Expressing them helps you to deal with them.
- Attend more Meetings – It is just as important now to surround yourself with people who understand your cravings as it was when you were newly sober.
- Find your Creative Side – It may sound like the last thing you want to do, but engaging your mind with a creative activity can be very therapeutic. Start keeping a journal or plant a tree in your loved one’s honor. I made a cemetery wreath for my husband’s gravestone.
- Call on your Higher Power – Prayer or meditation is an excellent way to express your emotions and draw strength to resist cravings.
- Remember, You are Not Alone – Read about other addicts who have gone through the grieving process and learn how they made it through. Their stories will remind you that there are many addicts who have made it through the grief process.
- Take Care of Yourself – When you are grieving, your emotions take over and you can forget to eat, lose your appetite, or suffer from insomnia. If you are now eating alone, make arrangements to eat with others for some of those meals, and if you are having trouble sleeping, contact your doctor or therapist.
- Consider Grief Counseling – A professional counselor is experienced in helping people deal with death. They can guide you through your emotions, including cravings that can lead to relapse if left untreated.
While all of the above tips helped me navigate the myriad of emotions that I was experiencing, they did not completely take away the pain. It did, however, make that pain manageable. Remember, there are people who care for you and want to see you succeed.