Losing someone you love is not easy at any time of the year, and no matter when your loved one passed, the holidays can be a dark and isolated time without them, especially the first time after their death. It is normal to feel that empty space more acutely than ever during the holidays, and if you are in recovery, it can be difficult to stay sober and experience that depth of grief without relapse.
The good news is that it is possible to stay sober no matter how overwhelming your grief may feel, and it is far healthier to process these emotions in sobriety. When you are sober, you allow yourself to go through the experience of grieving rather than postponing it or trying to escape it through relapse.
If you are struggling this holiday season because you are grieving the loss of someone you love, here are a few pointers to help get through it without drinking or drug use:
Give yourself permission to grieve. You may feel like you have to be “fine,” especially if it has been some time since your loved one’s passing, but it is perfectly normal to feel sadness during the holidays in the years following a loss. In fact, many who thought they had processed their loss and moved forward are caught off guard when it strikes during the holidays, making them feel raw and vulnerable, and unexpectedly at risk of relapse. Know that what you are feeling is more than okay and give yourself the time and space you need to go through those feelings at your own pace.
Focus on your recovery. If you have the energy to do anything this holiday season, do recovery. Show up to meetings. Talk to your doctor if medical support is needed. Be open and forthcoming with your therapist about what you are feeling and why. Spend time with friends after support groups, reach out to your alumni group, and stay connected to as many healing therapies and treatments as you can.
Give yourself a project. If you find that the downtime when you are outside of your recovery-focused groups and treatments feels empty and dark, pick a project to focus your attention on. It can be creative, a project that allows you to really explore how you are feeling or something you loved about the person who passed, or it can be methodical and organized, giving you an opportunity to right the chaos in your cabinets as you sort through all the emotions you are feeling.
Celebrate your loved one during the holidays. You do not have to pretend that the holidays are not happening in order to mitigate your grief during the season. Instead, make it a point to do some of the holiday traditions that you used to do with your loved one or to create a new holiday tradition that honors them. Even though they are not physically present, they are a huge part of your life, and there is no reason why you cannot acknowledge that during the holidays just as you acknowledge how much others in your life mean to you through gifts and celebrations.
Ask for help. If you feel that, despite your best efforts, the risk of relapse is looming large – or if you do relapse due to grief over the holidays – do not hesitate to reach out for help as soon as possible. The problem with relapse during a grieving period is that when the effects of alcohol or drugs fade, the grief remains. It can feel like there is no other choice but to return to the bottle, the pipe, or pills again and again to keep obliterating those crushing feelings of loss. But the fact is that it is possible to move forward after relapse, learn from it, and become stronger in recovery.
Are you living with the loss of a loved one this holiday season? How are you reconnecting with their memory in a positive way? What choices are you making that help you to stay sober even during the darkest times?