One of the biggest triggers for drinking or drug use is dealing with loss or grief. This is especially true during the holidays when families are getting together and distant relatives are returning to town to celebrate the season.
Navigating Through Grief and Loss
But what happens when your family is grieving, or if you’re feeling the loss of a loved one. It can be easy to let those feelings convince you that drinking or getting high are the better choices. In fact there are many people who drink for years after their mother or father has died. Grief and loss is a difficult life challenge to move through.
However, with the right amount of support, it doesn’t have to be. With the right amount of support from friends, family, a sponsor if you have one, and mental health professionals, it can be easier to get through the holidays.
Stages of Grief
It might help to know the typical stages of grief. Experts have outlined various models of grieving and stages of emotional responses to loss. For instance, the psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, developed the stages of grieving described below. Initially, she formulated these stages as a result of observing adults suffering from a terminal illness. Later, she found that her theory also applied to anyone who has experienced a major loss, such as a death of a loved one, loss of a job or income, divorce, drug addiction, incarceration, or other losses, even minor ones.
These stages are:
- Denial – The first stage is a sort of defense mechanism that helps with managing the shock of the event. The one who is grieving will often completely disregard of the event or loss. Thoughts might include, “I feel fine,” or “This is not happening to me.” There is a tendency to block out any signs that point to the fact that the event took place. Ignoring the event is a way to handle the intensity of the loss.
- Anger – Moving into the second stage indicates that the reality of the event is beginning to have its impact. However, anger arises from an inability to accept the loss. Intense emotions develop as a result, leaving the griever feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed with feelings that he or she cannot manage, and helpless. The result is anger that gets directed at close relatives, family members, strangers, and even inanimate objects.
- Bargaining – As the feeling of helplessness continues, an individual who is grieving will attempt to regain control by bargaining with a higher power. Thoughts such as, “If only I had sought medical attention sooner,” or “If only I were a better person”. This stage is a move closer to accepting the loss, but the painful emotions remain.
- Depression – The intense feelings that have accompanied the loss finally settle in. This stage might include intense crying, isolation, and withdrawal. Although it might be tempting to try to cheer up anyone who is grieving, the better support is to provide the space they need. It is important that the emotions that arise, which might include sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty are actually felt. Finally feeling these emotions is a way of accepting the loss.
- Acceptance – The last stage is an experience of finally coming to terms with the loss. A thought that might accompany this stage is “It’s going to be okay.”
Understanding This Process Is Not Linear
Keep in mind that you’re not going to smoothly run through each of these stages in order. You’ll likely go back and forth through these stages a little bit at a time. However, it might help you to determine where you are in your process of losing someone you love. Knowing this can be helpful when you are deciding what you need to stay sober this holiday season.
For instance, if you know that you’re still in the angry stage. Then you can let anger be your warning sign. Perhaps in the past anger has been the trigger to your drinking or drug use without you really knowing it. Yet, during this time of year, when you feel anger, you might also notice a craving to drink or get high, but instead of acting on that craving, you can make a different choice instead. Of course, this can be true for any time of the year, not just the holiday season.
Grieving doesn’t have to be a trigger. In fact, it can be the impetus to stay sober. Besides, it’s likely that the person that you’re grieving over would want you to stay healthy and happy during the holiday season and throughout your life.