Coping with Death in Recovery

Kelsey Ferrara
Man and woman hugging and coping with grief

The death of a partner, a parent, or a loved one can be devastating. And if you lose someone you leaned on during your recovery – a sponsor, a mentor, or a friend – you may be reeling with raw emotions and unanswered questions.

Grieving is one of life's most difficult experiences. And grieving while in recovery has its own unique challenges. In the past, you may have used substances to deal with stressful situations. If you're sober now, you might be struggling to resist your old coping mechanisms. Take comfort in knowing there are ways to navigate this difficult time. 

1. Lean on your support network 

We live in a society that values positivity so we often feel shame for experiencing sadness or “not moving on quickly enough.” And this leads to more suffering.

Text your friends, call a family member or reach out to your sponsor. If it feels right, you can tell them you're worried grief might push you to use again. 

Here’s one strategy you may want to try: ask a loved one if you can text or call them whenever you get the urge to use. Doing this will allow you to acknowledge and confront what you’re feeling. This can take the power out of your cravings and it’ll give a loved one the opportunity to support you. 

When you see how deeply others respect and care for you, you can move through grief at your own pace and experience the full depth of your emotions. This will help you heal.

2. Attend Support Meetings 

During this emotionally turbulent time, support meetings can provide a safe space to discuss your grief and the challenges you’re facing.  Chances are, other people who attend recovery meetings have been through a similar experience. They can walk with you through the darkness and provide comfort and advice.

3. Seek help from professionals 

Speak to a therapist or counselor who specializes in addiction recovery and grief counseling. These professionals can help you untangle difficult emotions and make sure you’re staying on track in your recovery. They can also provide you with coping mechanisms and strategies to help you navigate this difficult time. 

Finding a therapist can feel daunting. We recommend using Psychology Today to find one that fits your unique needs. 

4. Maintain healthy habits 

Stick to your daily routine as much as possible. This means trying to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep. 

When you're in the midst of grief, doing these simple things can feel enormous and exhausting. Remember that the person you lost would want you to take care of yourself, just as you would want them to take care of themselves if the situation were reversed. 

6. Practice mindfulness and meditation 

Incorporating mindfulness techniques helps some people stay grounded, reduce anxiety, and provide clarity during difficult times. Even meditating for just a few minutes per day can help you calm the storm.

Meditation encourages you to observe wandering thoughts without attaching to them. To do this, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Deepen each inhale and exhale. Then gradually scan your body and focus on releasing tension. 

If traditional meditation isn’t for you, you can also try guided meditation and walking meditation

7. Engage in hobbies 

You can find healthy outlets for your grief by participating in hobbies, interests, or events that you enjoy. Distract your mind in positive ways to avoid dwelling on negative emotions that could trigger a relapse. Remind yourself that there is still good in the world, and it is possible for you to feel joy – even while in the grieving process. 

8. Journal your thoughts 

Consider keeping a grief journal to document your thoughts, feelings, and memories of your loved one. Writing can be a therapeutic way of expressing yourself and processing your emotions. This might be a good way to document your feelings and memories of your loved one. 

9. Remember your progress

Reflect on how far you’ve come in your recovery journey. Remind yourself of the hard work and dedication you’ve invested in maintaining sobriety, and let that motivate you to stay strong during this difficult time. 

Above all, be kind to yourself. Grief is a natural process that everybody will go through at some point. Seek help when needed, and don’t hesitate to ask for support. Surround yourself with positive influences and focus on your recovery goals. With determination, support, and a few healthy coping strategies, you can navigate through grief while staying sober. 

Remember, you are stronger than you think. 

Women in a support group

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