Author: Justin Mckibben
The life of an addict is a desolate and despairing world to live in, and too often it is a landscape riddled with shattered relationships, selfish isolation, and death in its most tragic design. A majority of addicts and alcoholics are no stranger to the concept of death. Many of us find ourselves teetering on the edge of sanity, using drugs or alcohol as an escape from facing what we are afraid to accept; that we cannot cope without causing more hurt to the people we love.
In recovery death can translate differently. I know first-hand. In the past year sober I have lost a handful of friends, most to the disease of addiction. These were some of the most amazing and passionate people I met in my sobriety. Just almost 2 weeks ago I went home to be present for a funeral of a close family member, and on the way back heard that an old friend had died of an overdose. The world keeps turning, and today somewhere someone will lose their life, probably in the time it takes you to read this article, to the disease of addiction.
While the loss of a loved one is still an injurious experience, it is one that is an essential piece of life that must be endured by those of us that live on. In sobriety one of the various gifts we are given is the clarity and emotional sobriety to get through our grieving without poisoning our minds and smothering our spirits.
Grieving is healthy and important, but it is important to see when it can become destructive. The black veil of mourning we take on for our lost loved one can sometimes blind us from the truths that we need to see to survive, so we must learn to not get tangled up in that grief, and to step out of the shade of grief to live in the moment.
Accepting death as a necessary transition is never easy while wrapped in the throes of mourning. But whether we like it or not, we all eventually leave this plane of existence, and move on to whatever waits for us beyond the fine line of the life we know. Time waits for no man, so spending too much time dwelling on this inevitability is futile. As my father put it- they don’t need our pity, because they will never suffer again.
People in recovery who use the 12 Steps are familiar with the idea of acceptance being the answer to life’s problems. Some would extend that to their spiritual understanding of what it means to have acceptance and turn your will over to a power greater than yourself.
When we lose someone we love, accepting it is hard. Sometimes it doesn’t even hit us right away that it’s even possible we have lost someone we care for so much. But once we do embrace the impact of those feelings, we open ourselves up to a new level of learning to let go (and some would say- bring God into it) to grow.
Another salient part of lifting the black veil of grief is having some appreciation. Not everyone is able to be graced with as much love and togetherness in their lives as some. When you lose someone you love, it is always easier to endure if instead of obsessing over their passing, you appreciate their life, and every fragment of it you were allowed to share with them.
Appreciating their time, their affection, and their connection is something we can do at any moment to honor their memory. Whether someone dies from their addiction, if they die from natural causes or anything in between, they deserve to be appreciated for what they shared with those they loved enough to share it with.
In my understanding, part of my appreciation means respecting their memory. Too many times people, myself included, have used the death of a loved one as a reason to use drugs or drink.
As I understand it now if I love and cherish someone, and then I use their death as an excuse to get high or get drunk, I dishonor their memory. It is absurdly selfish of me to justify my addiction with the life and death of someone else. I no longer cheers my beers to a dead friend. I pray for their families and express gratitude for their presence in my life, in any way I can. That gets me through, knowing that the love was there, and remembering them as someone close to my heart.
As with most things in recovery, you need some action if you expect to create some real results and grow any as an individual. We talked about gratitude, and that is an action word. There is always a way to put in work.
One way to put in work while coping with the loss of a friend is by being available for others who are struggling with the loss of that loved one. Just to be able to be there for friends and relatives can change everything. It gives you a chance to step outside of your own heartache and share some strength with others who care with the same conviction as your own.
Sharing yourself in times of need is not an exclusive thing you can only do with people you know. There are grief support groups all over the country. Some are specific for parents who have had a child die, some specifically for those who have a loved one who was an addict or alcoholic, and other groups that are generic and can be found by an internet search. Grief support groups can be invaluable in the short run. Long term serenity comes with further action, which may proceed the understanding.
Either way, speaking openly and honestly about how you are getting through this time can mean a lot. None of us, addict or not, has a monopoly on suffering and depression. We all get swallowed up in our sorrows sometimes, and we all remember how easy it is to forget how we hurt others when we don’t cope by constructive means.
Feel Those Feelings
In the end sometimes crying is all you can do. Letting yourself feel whatever it is you have to feel and having that raw emotion and vivid catharsis in sobriety can change your perspective on what it means to hurt. Some say that a broken heart can hurt more than any physical pain, but when we can face it and experience it at its fullest; we let new strength flow into the heart.
Every experience only means to us the meaning that we give it. We ultimately create the connection of an event or a memory to the feeling we will associate with it. We give power and priority to the tiniest pieces of our time-line and to the beautiful people that make up our peers. Allowing ourselves to create an empowering connection can be instrumental.
Getting past the black veil of grief is not easy. Human beings are easily ensnared in a matted mess of emotions, which sometimes end up conflicting with our actions because we are trying to put up walls, or begging for help in a voice even we can’t hear. I do not mean to say that feeling the pain of a loss is bad for sobriety, it is actually the opposite.
Feeling those feelings and slipping past the black veil into the sunlight of your own spirit is a transformation that can breathe new life and purpose into your sobriety. Death is not an excuse to keep killing yourself; it should inspire you to live free.
People who struggle with drugs and alcohol die every single day from the disease of addiction, and others are left to try and make sense of what that life meant. Every life, addict, alcoholic or otherwise is worth so much. Don’t throw yours away. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.