By Gigi Veasey, LCSW, LISAC, CCBT


Grief is insidious. It affects every part of our lives and brings endless unanticipated, and often overlooked consequences. Yet it is one of the most common experiences we share in life. Understanding the intricacies of the grieving experience, and identifying the ways grief shapes your life are the most important steps in your journey towards healing.

For those in recovery, grief may have not been top of mind when you think about your struggles with addiction. I have found underlying grief has initiated increased use of substances for those who may have been occasional drinkers or users and relapses back to use for those in recovery. In our attempt to avoid feelings or sometimes the opposite, be in touch with them, we can turn to substances for support. We tend to reach for what we know and substance use may have been a primary way of coping when life got complicated or difficult. Grief may create a sense of overwhelm, and bring up feelings that may have been stuffed for years. Using may seem like a reasonable escape as we fall back into old habits and seek solutions to feeling out of control or overcome by the pain of loss of a loved one.

The loss may be complicated; meaning sudden, unanticipated, happening to the last person you would suspect. This can cause us to feel unprepared and off balance. Loss may create a sense of no closure with your loved one; perhaps not being able to be there at the time of death or being absent from a service or celebration of life. Further complications may occur if the relationship itself was tumultuous. Angry last words or unresolved relationship issues now have no opportunity to be repaired. The process of grieving can be tough.

In the recovery community the chances of having lost someone close to you due to addiction is high. I have worked with many clients who were unaware that grief was at the root of their recent relapse, or heightened feelings of depression, anxiety or loneliness. This is why I ask each person who sits before me “Have you had any significant losses in your life?” Some clients pause to consider this question and may have underlying feelings that arise, often not thought of for months or years.


Grief Waits to be Processed

It is important to note, that grief will wait for you, it does not just go away over time. Ungrieved losses will sit in the back of your heart and mind, waiting for their chance to be processed. We may dismiss these “old” losses, thinking the time has passed, or that “time heals all wounds”, yet this idea does not hold truth. I have worked with clients who have revealed stories of loss from up to 40 years prior, that continue to impact their lives. Unanticipated impacts on the way they see the world, decide what is important and not so important, and how we connect with others can all be influenced by our experiences of loss.

Mental emotional health is challenged when our world is turned upside down by loss. Increased symptoms of depression, anxiety and uncertainty may increase. New anxieties may arise and force you to second guess decisions, and commitments. It is vital to reach out to your support system which may feel counter-intuitive as you don’t want to burden anyone with your problems. Remember that you would gladly be there for others, without hesitation, this idea needs to work both ways.

Fears of losing another loved one can lead to avoiding close connections with others, hoping that distance will protect from or help you minimize the risk of painful loss. Some of us fear the loss of control that would come with being in touch with deep emotions. One client said to me, ”If I begin to really feel about this, I will cry and ocean”, I encouraged her to “try to cry a puddle.” It is a necessary part of healing to feel your way through grief. “The healing is through the feelings”.


There are no rules with Grief

Beware of any rules and self judgements you put on your loss. We can easily slip into minimizing what we have experienced, saying others have lost more, but whatever WE are experiencing is the most significant event in our lives. I say, “Grief is not a competitive sport”.

Self judgement, or fear of being judged by others can also be stumbling blocks to grieving, such as putting unrealistic timelines on ourselves and limits on what we decide we can show emotionally. We are individuals and will grieve differently than others and differently with each loss we encounter. This is all normal. Do leave room for all your feelings, not just the warm cuddly feelings, but the hard, painful ones too, this is all a part of healthy processing and healing when grieving.

I encourage you to take a closer look at grief and loss as you look at long term recovery in hopes that it will lead to rediscovering the unresolved pain and hopefully ah-ha moments as you connect loss to various challenges, and how you think about life. Avoid shying away from the feelings of loss, embrace the process as it will lead you to rediscover value in your life. Find ways to honor your love one, like staying clean and sober, reconnecting with solid support and letting loss illuminate a path towards joy, connection, balance and purpose. These are the gifts of grief, embrace them. After all, isn’t that what you loved one would want for you?


Gigi Veasey, LCSW, LISAC, CCBT is a psychotherapist in private practice in Phoenix, Arizona. She  is also the Executive Director of Alcohol Recovery Solutions, working with adults struggling with addictions. Ms. Veasey published her first book on grief earlier this year, “Me After You: Surviving the Loss of a Loved One”. Available on Amazon, at Gifts Anon and Changing Hands Bookstores.