How Grief Impacts the Recovery Journey: To experience love is to one day endure grief.

“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” – John Green

Ask anyone with a few years under their belt. A family member or close friend, even a stranger. Grief and loss, pain, they all demand to be felt. Sadly, there is no way for any of us to escape the pain that grief brings.

But there are coping strategies that can help us endure grief with greater ease.

Grief impacts our lives so often we all spend time finding ways to cope with raw emotional states. Some of us may choose to embrace the happenings of daily life, and others resort to long periods of self-reflection. We all experience and cope with grief differently.

Some people cope with grieving better than others. Individuals who struggle with drug or alcohol use may find it incredibly challenging.

Are Grief and Intense Sadness the Same?

As human beings, we experience a wide range of emotions. Some of these feelings are happy, occurring when we enjoy life or recall a good memory. Other times, we may feel depressed or numb, reacting to the death of a loved family member, pet, or friend.

Human emotion is wildly complex.

And grief impacts can have us feel angry, guilty, or even depressed at different intervals.

So, even though grief is very similar to and comingles with feelings of sadness, intense feelings of sadness and grieving by definition can be slightly different, although challenging at times to tell apart. The difference between grief and depression specifically concerns the duration they last. Over time, an individual moving through the grieving process after a significant loss will begin to experience less intense emotional symptoms. They may still feel sadness from time to time, but their emotions no longer derail their mental or physical wellness. Once they work through the stages of grief, recovery can begin. And gradually, they will notice they feel completely normal.

But sometimes, grief and loss intermingle with feelings of intense sadness and mental illness. Even though grieving may experience periods of intense emotions, someone who is struggling with a mental health issue like depression is likely to suffer for more prolonged, re-occurring intervals.

Why Do We Grieve? 

Grief is a normal reaction to loss in life.

The natural human reaction can occur for various reasons, although the intensity of the emotional response generally occurs after a significant loss the individual endures. Grieving triggers are numerous, and since we all experience grief differently, we are all subject to different onsets of the emotional experience. Some of the most common causes of grieving include:

  • Death of a loved parent, grandparent, friend, spouse, sibling, etc.
  • Loss of a beloved pet
  • Experiencing the end of a relationship we hoped would go further
  • Having to move suddenly, without proper time to mourn or say goodbye
  • Losing a much-anticipated life or job opportunity
  • Finding out we, or loved ones, have been diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness

Grieving is natural and even healthy.

We don’t need to feel guilty, allowing ourselves to grieve. Mourning something we lost can help balance our energy, creating the opportunity for us to mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually heal after we say goodbye to something or someone we love. We grieve to remember, honor, and find peace. But, it is also possible for our grief and loss to grow out of hand if we aren’t careful.

Grief and Loss, Common Symptoms We Experience When Wrestling with Intense Feelings

Everyone grieves differently. There is no right or wrong way to mourn. But, our sadness can cause us health problems if we don’t correctly process it or extend well beyond its initial period. Some of the most common symptoms of grief include:

  • Experiencing guilt
  • Feeling anger
  • Having a difficult time connecting with others
  • Identity loss
  • Developing apathy towards life
  • Loneliness
  • Being more irritable
  • Losing one’s appetite
  • Feeling numb
  • Losing interest in beloved activities
  • Having a hard time sleeping
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Social withdrawal
  • Concentration problems
  • Feeling heavy
  • Experiencing moments of intense sadness when reliving good memories

Sometimes our spiritual beliefs can help us work through the worst stages of grief. We have to ride out our sadness other times until we feel normal again. And in some cases, we may even need more psychological, social support to help us make it through our most challenging morning stages.

But what do we do when society says what we are mourning isn’t worth our grief?

What to Do About Disenfranchised Grief?

What It Is, What to Remember if You Experience It

It doesn’t happen often, but there are moments in our lives, due to societal, cultural, social, or familial perceptions, a loss we experience may be disenfranchised. Grief that is disenfranchised by definition is a deep sadness we endure that the ones around us may not determine as legitimate.

Having someone disenfranchise our grief can make us feel angry.

It can also make us feel isolated alone and can damage our physical and mental health.

Although there are more traditional forms of grief that people generally experience, there is no reason for someone else to determine your feelings as illegitimate. The best way to combat disenfranchised grief is to learn new coping strategies. And don’t feel rushed to “get over” the sadness you are feeling.

Although you should try to move forward from grief eventually, if you don’t take the time to mourn what you have lost, you can cause your body and mental health more harm than good. With disenfranchised grief rates on the rise, world psychiatry specialists see more cases of mental illness and substance abuse developing.

Complex Grief, Complicated Grief, and Different Types of Grieving, Abnormal vs. Normal Reactions

Loss is distressing. And, as typical as it is, we all still find it challenging to move past. For most individuals going through mourning periods, it is common to experience several stages of rotating emotion. But just as we all have ways in which we grieve differently, we may encounter different types of grief, some with more classic symptoms and others with abnormal side effects. Different types of grief include:

  • Anticipatory grief – when an individual begins to mourn loss before the physical absence occurs. It does not affect everyone
  • Standard or “normal” grief reactions -when an individual begins to mourn soon after a loss. Different from depression, normal grief eventually subsides with time
  • Complicated grief – generally lasts longer than normal grieving. Usually involves the emotional side effects of acute grief

Anticipatory and normal grief often go away on their own with time. They leave an individual with the capability to look back on fond memories with their friends or family members without constantly feeling deeply sad.

But an individual who suffers from complicated grief may find it much more challenging to conquer their emotions.

How They Look Moving Forward

Regardless of its type, the impacts of grief can have severe effects on our mental health, body, and other emotions. In some instances, grief impacts us so hard we may have difficulty processing our feelings on our own. Sometimes, getting past our grief involves us simply moving forward into the next chapter of our lives. But in other cases, we may need to seek the help of a licensed professional for our grief recovery to begin.

Individuals who struggle with complicated grief cases experience all of the general symptoms involved with grief and loss. But, their feelings are often amplified, making it difficult for them to focus on anything else than the major loss they’ve endured.

The condition can be brought on by many factors, characterized by symptoms that cause extreme distress and do not improve over time on their own. Complicated grief is so all-encompassing that it makes it almost impossible for a person to live their normal daily life. Even spiritual beliefs may be of little comfort to them if they can’t shake their intense distress.

And although complicated grief is not the same thing as depression, clinicians can treat it like other forms of mental illness with the help of a grief counselor.

The Definition of Grief

Grief is the natural reaction humans have to lose in life, and it could develop resulting from the permanent departure of loved ones. Or people can feel it over the loss of a pet or the sudden diagnosis of a major illness.

Everyone encounters grief in their life—some more than others. The general emotions associated with the experience of grief include shock, denial, anger, confusion, intense sadness. Individuals may even feel numb after a grieving period begins.

The Five Stages of Grief

Even though grief can hit us like a ton of bricks, suddenly and what feels like all at once, the grieving process follows a set of five stages. In these five stages of grief, emotions are subject to dip and change periodically. But if our feelings of grief follow normal parameters for the experience, the intense feelings we encounter while going through it eventually get easier to live with. The early stages of grief include:

  • Denial – Where we unconsciously or consciously try to refuse the truth of our trauma as fact
  • Anger – When we become angry with ourselves or others for not someone doing more, feeling distraught over unfinished business
  • Bargaining – Generally occurs where spiritual beliefs are at play. Individuals may beg God to bring back loved ones, or in other cases, a husband may try to tell his wife he will stop drinking, going out, gaming, etc. to convince her to stay
  • Depression  Not referring to the mental illness specifically or affective disorders, but points to the portion of grief recovery where an individual’s emotions of fear, regret, etc. are beginning to settle in
  • Acceptance – Where we finally come to terms with our situation, realizing there is nothing to be done but remember what we lost fondly and move forward with life

Grief is heavily complex; the emotions we experience depend on the situation and who we are as a person. But over time, and with support from our spiritual beliefs and remaining loved ones, we can heal.

Grief Affects Us Physically

Impacts of Grief and Substance Abuse On Mental Illness and Physical Health

Although grief is a normal reaction to loss, when we have a hard time shaking off our sorrow, we can suffer from more adverse symptoms. Generally, loss affects our mental health. But, chronic distress can grow beyond our emotional state and begin to affect us physically.

Common Physical Symptoms of Grief

Initially, grief’s physical impacts can prove mild, resulting in the following symptoms.

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Having nightmares
  • Losing your appetite
  • Feeling physically exhausted with little activity
  • Suffering from swollen facial features due to excessive crying
  • Experiencing general aches and pains

Severe Symptoms of Chronic Grief’s Impact on the Body

These symptoms may not sound bad to deal with initially. But if an individual does not enter into the final grief recovery period, they can begin to develop serious physical health issues.

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Higher risk for clots
  • Heart disease
  • Higher risk of infection due to the compromised immune system
  • Physical pain
  • Drug addiction (trying to seek relief from physical or mental distress)
  • Inflammation

Acute Grief, When Sad Feelings Become Mental Illness

Major loss can have many emotional symptoms, and these emotional reactions can significantly impact our mental health.

Generally, the grieving process is meant to endure anywhere from 6 to 12 months. Anything after that is considered acute or persistent grief, and it can have significant implications for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Feeling sad after experiencing loss for a short time is expected. But when it takes over your mindset, you could be at risk of developing a severe mental illness or even end up diagnosed with a dual diagnosis.

Signs The Grieving Process is Damaging Your Mental Health

There is no getting through life without grief. But when grief begins to affect our mental health, we could be looking at more extensive, more long-term problems than the initial 6 to 12 months would present us.

  • Inability to focus on anything but the loss
  • Prolonged withdrawal from family members or friends
  • Weight loss as a result of disinterest in eating
  • Persistent acute feelings of sorrow or anger after the loss
  • Continued difficulty accepting the loss, even after time has passed
  • Daily periods where you feel sad or guilty for a prolonged amount of time
  • Withdrawal from activities you used to love
  • Neglecting responsibilities

In some cases, extended exposure to grief can develop even more severe psychological effects, like psychosis or depression. If either of these mental disorders occurs, the individual may acquire a dual diagnosis and attend treatments for grief recovery and mental health.

Can Intense Sadness Lead to Alcohol or Drug Addiction?

Naturally, when we experience grief in life, we look for a way to cope with the sorrow we feel. We may try to bury ourselves in work, withdraw from society for a while to grieve in stillness. We may even try to alleviate our sorrow by exercising our minds and bodies. In many scenarios coping strategies are healthy means for people to take care of their mental health. But, coping strategies can go awry.

It is possible for an individual experiencing grief to fall into alcohol or drug abuse.

Using substances like drugs or alcohol helps some people achieve the desired numbness. But giving way to abusing drugs or alcohol to perpetrate grief recovery can lead to varying substance use disorders.

Substance use disorders are serious mental health issues that impact individuals’ ability to control their impulses. Like chronic grief conditions, drug or alcohol use disorders are highly complex. To recover from a substance use disorder, grief condition, or dual diagnosis of the two, the individual struggling with the mental health issues will need assistance from counseling sessions, support groups, and various therapies to recover.

How to Manage Drug and Alcohol Rehab Alongside Grief Recovery

Addiction recovery and grief recovery can prove challenging. But with the support of friends, family, and the right substance abuse treatment program or grief counselor, anyone can overcome the effects of sorrow and substance misuse. But, that does not mean that the journey towards recovery through addiction treatment and counseling will be easy.

It is very likely the individual undergoing treatment for both grief and addiction recovery will suffer from a wide range of different feelings, thought processes, and reactions to side effects.

But, there are several ways individuals in addiction and grief recovery manage the onslaught of their co-occurring treatments, making the process more bearable and effective overall. Methods of managing sorrow in addiction recovery can include physical and emotional interventions.

Tips to Help You Cope with Physical Symptoms of Intense Sadness

People who suffer from addiction in mourning often find it extremely challenging to connect with others around them. They wrestle with physical pain, concentration problems, and many other symptoms. Even though physical activity may prove challenging for them to engage with emotionally and bodily, practicing even the smallest amount of purposeful movement can help propel the recovery process along astronomically.

Some ways people can move to induce healing in grief and addiction treatment include:

  • Doing morning stretches
  • Practicing beginners yoga
  • Take a 15-minute walk outside
  • Practice small exercise routines with a workout buddy
  • Eat healthy food
  • Participate in adventure therapies
  • Volunteer to work with animals

Anything that gets you physically active and out of the room can do wonders for your mental health in recovery. Physically engaging your body can help you clear headspace, improve your overall health, combat illness, and allow you to feel more receptive in counseling and therapy sessions. With each step you take, you are getting closer to long-term healing.

Tips to Help You Cope with Emotional Symptoms of Major Loss

There are emotional mental exercises you can utilize to help you encourage your recovery. Engaging in a support group can help you mentally and physically connect with others undergoing similar experiences to you, allowing you to not feel so alone in your grief and addiction therapy treatments.

Mindfully engaging in your counseling sessions can also help you along the recovery journey. But other forms of coping strategies you can utilize in treatment to help you manage your emotional response to major loss and addiction rehab treatment include:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Writing in a journal
  • Engaging with your support group
  • Working on remembering and celebrating the loved ones you’ve lost
  • Try to accept your new reality
  • Acknowledge the way you feel without letting your emotions overpower you
  • Mindfully engaging with your therapists and counselors
  • Set goals for yourself
  • Make taking care of your hygiene a simple, priority routine

Grief takes many things from us, and so does drug and alcohol addiction. But with time, proper treatment, and a lot of love and grace, we can all move past our grief, sorrow, and addiction to live a happy, healthy life again.

Signs It May Be Time for You to Seek Help Managing Sadness and Substance Use

No matter how well we think we handle grief, we all need to have some kind of support system available to us when we are in sorrow. Likewise, even if we think our drinking or drug use is within acceptable utilization standards, we must have friends and family around to help us when things get out of hand, keeping us accountable. Of course, this is always easier said than done.

If we suffer from addiction, we don’t want to admit we have a problem. And often, when we are sad, we want to be left alone. But unfortunately, allowing ourselves to hide our habits and isolate ourselves from others can cause us more harm than good. But how can we tell when it may be time to seek help for our use of drugs and alcohol? And how can we tell when our grief is growing out of hand?

Here are a few signs to look out for when considering grief counseling:

  • You blame yourself for the loss of your loved one
  • You are unable to enjoy even good memories of your loved one
  • You experience continuous numbness or denial of your loss past 12 months
  • Your grief and sorrow often turn into bitterness and anger
  • You wish you could die to be with the one you loved
  • You avoid people, places, and things that remind you of your loved one excessively
  • You constantly feel alone or distrustful of others

Here are a few signs to look for when considering addiction rehab:

  • You neglect your responsibilities
  • You suffer from financial issues
  • You have trouble at work or lost your job due to your use of drugs or alcohol
  • You withdraw from people and activities you love so you can be alone, having more time to drink or take drugs
  • You have inconsistent sleep and eating patterns
  • You suffer from continuous mood swings
  • You can’t control your impulses for taking drugs or drinking

If you think you may be suffering from an addiction or chronic grief, it may be time for you to begin seeking help for your recovery. To start looking for programs, counselors, therapists, rehab centers, and more, you can call your primary healthcare physician to determine what your condition is precise. Then move forward in finding a treatment program that works for you.

Grief Counseling at St. John’s Recovery Place

The Death of a Loved One, or Substance Abuse Problems, No Longer Need to Feel Overwhelming

At St. John’s Recovery Place (SJRP), we believe in cultivating a treatment program to suit the needs of the individual. Whether you suffer from a grief and addiction dual diagnosis or other forms of co-occurring disorders, we here at SJRP have your back.

Working to help individuals heal in mind, body, and spirit, our approach to addiction rehab includes alternative and traditional methods of accessing healing physically, emotionally, mindfully, and spiritually. Once a member of the SJRP family, you are always treated with love, dignity, and respect. Even after you graduate from our program, we are here for you regardless of your need.

Addiction is hard, and grief is painful. But at SJRP, you will find the love and support you need to get through anything. Feeling sad in addiction rehab is completely normal, and at St. John’s, we will help you turn your sorrow into motivation for healing. Call us today at 1-833-397-3422 if you are interested in learning more about St. John’s, our recovery programs, and alumni connections.

You’ll be happy you made the call. Your healing is just around the corner.