Stop the Pain: How to Avoid Self Medicating in Times of Grief

HopeXchange is proud to welcome guest poster Alice Munday. Alice is a freelance writer from Virginia Beach, Virginia. In recovery herself, she is dedicated to helping those who struggle with addiction.

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How To Avoid Self-Medicating In Times Of Grief

Of all the emotions we feel as humans, grief is among the most powerful and complex. The death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, and any number of other unexpected negative experiences can lead to times of sorrow during which feeling better seems like a downright impossibility. At low points like this, it is important to be conscious of behaviors that will be constructive and those that will actively undermine the healing process.  Self-medicating is undoubtedly one of the most potentially devastating behaviors for getting through periods of anguish. Using alcohol, drugs, or other means to self-medicate during harrowing times lures people in by offering relief with the cruel twist of it only being temporary and actually counteractive to coming to peace with traumatic events. To avoid going down this path, it is helpful to keep these things in mind.

Let Yourself Experience All Your Feelings

The pain of loss is a difficult thing to experience, but not going through the entire cycle of mourning makes you more likely to turn to unsafe coping mechanisms later on. It is vital to experience and express the emotions you feel and deal with grief adequately. Quickly replacing the loss with a substitute or even refusing to attribute your despair to its true source are telltale signs that you may be trying to accelerate the cycle.

Be Aware Of Grief Triggers 

As you work through your feelings, you can make the process easier for yourself if you identify and avoid things that you know will cause you to feel more extreme distress. There are several common factors that can elicit these feelings. When dealing with the loss of a loved one, for example, anniversaries of their passing or missing them during the holidays can easily bring on a wave of emotion. Similarly, being the same age as someone when they passed or certain places, smells, and rituals with strong connections to that person can all be challenging to face. Acknowledging what specific things trigger you can help you explore productive and healthy ways to deal with them.

Reach Out For Social Support

Friends and family can often show up in droves when a traumatic event first happens but then gradually fade back into the woodwork when you would still benefit from their presence. Identify the people who you can turn to at any time and who will help you whenever you need it. It can also be worth it to find a support group with other people going through a similar, specific grieving process so you can help each other along the way with an underlying empathy and understanding that you may not be able to find elsewhere.  Honor The Loss With Something Productive 

One of the hardest parts of going through periods of suffering is toeing the line between honoring a significant loss while also moving on with your own life without feeling guilty. Figuring out a way to pay homage with an activity that is productive for you can help you strike that balance.

Postpone Major Lifestyle Changes

Making big decisions in the wake of a traumatic event can lead to additional stress and anxiety that can prove to be too much to handle. If possible, delay making any major changes like moves, job changes, and other similar things until you know that you are ready to handle the added burden.

Seek Professional Help If Needed

If you have already found yourself turning to self-medicating measures, it helps to find a professional solution to help you as soon as you can. Integrated treatments for grief and substance abuse take a two-pronged approach and treat you both medically and therapeutically with detoxing and therapy. Achieving sobriety is the priority, and then a therapist can help you move through the underlying causes of your grief to avoid a relapse.  Grief can feel so overwhelming and unique to you that it can be difficult to find ways through it without turning to self-medicating, but there are always ways you can find respite without endangering your health. You are never alone, and people and places to help are never too far away.