What is grief?
Grief is a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one or a terminal diagnosis they or someone they love have received. They might find themselves feeling numb and removed from daily life, unable to carry on with regular duties while saddled with their sense of loss.
Grief is the natural reaction to loss. Grief is both a universal and a personal experience. Individual experiences of grief vary and are influenced by the nature of the loss. Some examples of loss include the death of a loved one, the ending of an important relationship, job loss, loss through theft, or the loss of independence through disability.
Experts advise those grieving to realize they can’t control the process and to prepare for varying stages of grief. Understanding why they’re suffering can help, as can talking to others and trying to resolve issues that cause significant emotional pain, such as feeling guilty for a loved one’s death. Mourning can last for months or years. Generally, pain is tempered as time passes and as the bereaved adapts to life without a loved one, to the news of a terminal diagnosis, or to the realization that someone they love may die.
If you’re uncertain about whether your grieving process is normal, consult your health care professional. Outside help is sometimes beneficial to people trying to recover and adjust to death or the diagnosis of a terminal illness.
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Grief is the final act of love: The stages of grief
A theory developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross suggests that we go through five distinct stages of grief after the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.
In the first stage of this theory, denial helps us minimize the overwhelming pain of loss. As we process the reality of our loss, we are also trying to survive emotional pain. It can be hard to believe we have lost an important person in our lives, especially when we may have just spoken with this person the previous week or even the previous day.
Our reality has shifted completely in this moment of loss. It can take our minds some time to adjust to this new reality. We are reflecting on the experiences we have shared with the person we lost, and we might find ourselves wondering how to move forward in life without this person.
This is a lot of information to explore and a lot of painful imagery to process. Denial attempts to slow this process down and take us through it one step at a time, rather than risk the potential of feeling overwhelmed by our emotions.
It is common to experience anger after the loss of a loved one. We are trying to adjust to a new reality and we are likely experiencing extreme emotional discomfort. There is so much to process that anger may feel like it allows us an emotional outlet.
Keep in mind that anger does not require us to be very vulnerable. However, it tends to be more socially acceptable than admitting we are scared. Anger allows us to express emotion with less fear of judgment or rejection.
Unfortunately, anger tends to be the first thing we feel when we start to release emotions related to loss. This can leave you feeling isolated in your experience and perceived as unapproachable by others in moments when we could benefit from comfort, connection, and reassurance.
When coping with loss, it isn’t unusual to feel so desperate that you are willing to do almost anything to alleviate or minimize the pain. Losing a loved one can cause us to consider any way we can avoid the current pain or the pain we are anticipating from loss. There are many ways we may try to bargain.
Bargaining can come in a variety of promises including:
- “God, if you can heal this person I will turn my life around.”
- “I promise to be better if you will let this person live.”
- “I’ll never get angry again if you can stop him/her from dying or leaving me.”
When bargaining starts to take place, we are often directing our requests to a higher power, or something bigger than we are that may be able to influence a different outcome. There is an acute awareness of our humanness in these moments when we realize there is nothing we can do to influence change or a better result.
This feeling of helplessness can cause us to react in protest by bargaining, which gives us a perceived sense of control over something that feels so out of control. While bargaining we also tend to focus on our faults or regrets. We might look back at our interactions with the person we are losing and note all of the times we felt disconnected or may have caused them pain.
It is common to recall times when we may have said things we did not mean, and wish we could go back and behave differently. We also tend to make the drastic assumption that if things had played out differently, we would not be in such an emotionally painful place in our lives.
During our experience of processing grief, there comes a time when our imaginations calm down and we slowly start to look at the reality of our present situation. Bargaining no longer feels like an option and we are faced with what is happening.
We start to feel the loss of our loved ones more abundantly. As our panic begins to subside, the emotional fog begins to clear and the loss feels more present and unavoidable.
In those moments, we tend to pull inward as the sadness grows. We might find ourselves retreating, being less sociable, and reaching out less to others about what we are going through. Although this is a very natural stage of grief, dealing with depression after the loss of a loved one can be extremely isolating.
When we come to a place of acceptance, it is not that we no longer feel the pain of loss. However, we are no longer resisting the reality of our situation, and we are not struggling to make it something different.
Sadness and regret can still be present in this phase, but the emotional survival tactics of denial, bargaining, and anger are less likely to be present.
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Types of Grief
As we consider the five stages of grief, it is important to note that people grieve differently and you may or may not go through each of these stages, or experience each of them in order. The lines of these stages are often blurred—we may move from one stage to the other and possibly back again before fully moving into a new stage.
In addition, there is no specific period suggested for any of these stages. Someone may experience the stages fairly quickly, such as in a matter of weeks, whereas another person may take months or even years to move through to a place of acceptance. Whatever time it takes for you to move through these stages is perfectly normal.
Your pain is unique to you, your relationship with the person you lost is unique, and the emotional processing can feel different to each person. It is acceptable for you to take the time you need and remove any expectations of how you should be performing as you process your grief.
Grief is the final act of love: 10 Tips for Coping With Loss
1. Facing the Loss
Depending on the intensity, a loss can be tough to deal with. We try our best to avoid confronting our emotions. People resort to increased drinking, drug abuse, excessive use of the internet, or oversleeping after experiencing a loss. We try our best to dull the pain by any means necessary.
Running away from reality might seem the best approach, but it will never truly heal you. After some grieving, you have to face your truth. Stretching the pain over a prolonged period will only increase its intensity. Facing your loss and moving on might be a hard pill to swallow, but it will be beneficial in the long run.
2. Give Yourself Time to Grieve
Let your tears out. Grieve openly and adequately express your emotions without trying to restrict yourself. Get your feelings out, bury your face in a pillow, and scream at the top of your lungs. Grief can be a complicated emotion to handle, and it’s completely normal. We do not have to restrain it or try to hide it.
As long as you’re not harming yourself or others, expressing your grief in any way possible is valid. Grieve without any pressure and give yourself time.
3. Share your Feelings with Others
Grief can make us resort to loneliness and isolation. Some amount of solitude is fine but cutting yourself off from others will make it only that harder for you to cope with your loss. Grief can be a complicated emotion to handle on your own, so never hesitate to seek support.
Talk to a family member, a friend, or even a therapist. Join a support group. Expressing yourself will help you dump out your emotions and get help from family and friends. Any caring friend or supporter won’t mind, and sharing will help you put your thoughts into perspective.
4. Be Gentle With Yourself
Often after experiencing loss, our mind starts thinking all sorts of “I wish I could have…” thoughts. Mulling over the past again and again won’t change anything, and it will only add to your pain. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Feeling sad, lost, and vulnerable is normal, but you should never be too hard on yourself.
Understand that your past is past, and it cannot be changed. The only thing that you can control is what you can do now that the event has happened. Learn to process your emotions and move forward.
5. Distract Yourself
Inactivity and isolation are fuels for depression and negative thoughts. The more time you spend alone and unoccupied, the more your mind will think distressing thoughts. Stopping activities after a loss or giving up on friends and family can make your racing mind even worse.
Distract yourself by doing different activities, both mental and physical that keep your mind occupied. Join a support group, and engage in your favorite hobbies such as playing video games, exercising, or anything that keeps your mind away from negative thoughts.
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6. Look at All the Positives in Life
Grief can consume our minds to ignore even the best in life. Losses can be pretty intense when they occur, but they never strip our lives of all their colors. There are other things in life too, that could have been worse but are working great for you.
Think of all the good things that are still making your life worth living. Think of all the good friends and family that helped you in your tough time and how this loss doesn’t mean the end for you, and you can still find happiness in the future.
7. It Won’t Stay Like This Forever
Grief will feel overwhelming for the time duration. We can even develop depression because of how negatively we were impacted by it. Depending on the intensity of our loss, we can also go into a downward spiral, thinking that this is how life is going to be for us from now on.
You have to understand. Although grief can be hard to deal with, remember that with time you will adapt to the change and it won’t feel as painful as it does now. Grief is hard at the beginning, but it always gets easier as time passes.
8. Join a Support Group
Sometimes, going through grief can feel lonely. Being the only one in your circle, going through a specific loss can feel alienating. Not having someone else who understands our problems and whom we can share with can further increase our trouble.
This is where Support groups come in. In a support group, you get together with a group of people that are going through grief or have gone through the same experiences as you have. It can help you vent out your emotions, listen to other people’s stories, and learn coping skills from how they helped their situations. Joining a support group can ease off a lot of your burden and help you go through your struggles easier.
9. Try to Feel Happy
Sometimes grieving can have us in a downward pull. In cases of the loss of our loved ones, we somehow think of it as disrespectful to try and enjoy life after their passing. This kind of belief can further isolate us from recovering and feeling better about ourselves.
Give yourself time to grieve, but also remember that your loved ones would choose for you to be happier. Try to have a laugh, part-take in exercise, or any activity you enjoy. Try to feel more comfortable and have fun in life.
10. Get Professional Help
If your grieving goes on for long and you find it difficult to cope with sorrow on your own, then it’s always an excellent choice to visit a therapist. Therapists have experienced sorrow and loss by listening to stories and know well about coping mechanisms and what helps people in the long run.
Seek out an appointment with your therapist and share all of your emotions and thoughts. Your therapist will help you devise a custom plan for yourself, so you can go through grievances more healthily and cope with strategies that best suit you.
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Grief and Addiction
Research shows that some forms of grief increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder. Several studies have shown a relationship between bereavement and hazardous alcohol consumption. One study found that men bereaved for two years are more than twice as likely to have an alcohol use disorder as men who are not grieving.
Other research shows that people suffering from complicated grief (a form of prolonged and unrelenting grief that occurs in approximately 10-20% of bereaved individuals) are particularly vulnerable to developing an addiction as they attempt to rid themselves of their severe and ongoing mourning. One recent study found that both men and women with major depressive disorder and complicated grief have significantly higher rates of alcohol dependence relative to depressed individuals without complicated grief.
Interestingly, research investigating the effect of grief on brain function found that complicated grief activates the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain’s reward center that plays an important role in addiction-related behaviors. Brain scans taken during the study demonstrated that activation of neural pathways occurred in the area of the brain associated with the longing for alcohol and drugs, suggesting that memories of loved ones may promote addictive behaviors in individuals suffering from complicated grief.
Dealing with death and grief in addiction recovery
Addicts and family members in the early stages of recovery may not consider the strong role that the grief process plays in their experience. There are obvious times when we consider grief to be a natural reaction to life circumstances like when someone has died or moved away or when an important job or possession is lost.
However the experience of grief is not only stimulated by losing loved ones or possessions, grief is also engaged when someone loses a way of living or a way of looking at themselves which had been a way of life. In the process of recovering from an addiction, grief emerges in reaction to the intense changes taking place in an individual and a family as the addiction problem is addressed. Understanding and accepting this process of grieving helps recovery to be less of a mystery.
Grief and addiction recovery
Carrying the emotional stress and pain from the death of a loved one can be a difficult burden. Loss is a normal part of life and there are healthy ways to deal with this pain. Therapy through a counselor or a support group is usually the preferred treatment for grief, although antidepressants can be prescribed for people suffering from clinical depression or complicated grief.
People struggling with grief and substance abuse will require additional interventions to address their addiction. Residential or inpatient treatment programs can help individuals address substance use disorders and process their grief at the same time.
Grief is the final act of love – Reclaim Your Life From Addiction at We Level Up Rehab Center
If you find yourself trying to overcome addiction while also dealing with the effects of grief, please take the first step toward recovery and contact We Level Up rehab center today to learn about the programs that can best meet your specific needs.
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 Stahl, S.T., & Schulz, R. (2014). Changes in routine health behaviors following late-life bereavement: a systematic review. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 37(4), 736-755.
 Sung, S.C., Dryman, M.T., Marks, E., Shear, M.K., Ghesquiere, A., Fava, M., & Simon, N.M. (2011). Complicated grief among individuals with major depression: prevalence, comorbidity, and associated features. Journal of Affective Disorders, 134(1-3), 453-458.
 (O’Connor, M.F., Wellisch, D.K., Stanton, A.L., Eisenberger, N.I., Irwin, M.R., & Lieberman, M.D. (2008). Craving love? Enduring grief activates the brain’s reward center. Neuroimage, 42(2), 969-972.