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Family Support Blog Series: National Recovery Month

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day and September kicks off National Recovery Month.  Now is an important time to acknowledge that mental illness and substance abuse touches us all in some capacity. Despite increased awareness of its widespread impact, both mental illness and addiction remain stigmatized throughout our society.  As a result, grief associated with losing a loved one may be compounded when death ensues as a result of addiction.

Photo: International Overdose Awareness Day/Penington Institute.

Photo: International Overdose Awareness Day/Penington Institute.

Addiction is comprised of an entire series of losses that begin way before the death. Often, the losses start when the individual first succumbs to substance abuse. You watch helplessly as the person you know and love transitions into someone completely unfamiliar. New undesirable behaviors, interests, and people enter into focus. Plans and expectations for the future no longer seem feasible. Trust may be challenged and likely broken. The dynamics of your relationship change or dissolve completely.  Although your loved one in essence is still physically present, you may find yourself mourning the person they once were. It may feel strange to grieve someone who is still alive, but the associated emotions are real and valid. It may be a relief to know this common yet confusing experience has a name! It’s called ambiguous loss. Click the link to learn more.

Families and friends often feel powerless when their loved one is under the control of addiction. There’s a sense of foreboding as they venture further into destructive behaviors. You begin to prepare yourself and accept that this may invariably end poorly. Each of their absences from a social gathering reminds you of their potential void. Every time the phone rings, you flinch and wonder is this “the call?” The process of expecting the loss of a loved one is known as anticipatory grief. Many of the emotions of anticipatory grief (sadness, anxiousness, anger, or regret) are the same feelings one may experience after a loss. Watching someone suffer through the illness of addiction while adjusting to the reality of losing them is exhausting. Often there is a sense of relief when the death actually occurs. Although this relief may seem wrong and may trigger feelings of guilt, this experience is quite common. It’s important to remember that this relief does not minimize the love you have for the person you lost.

Surviving loved ones often feel as though their loss and grief is disenfranchised. Disenfranchised loss may arise when the circumstances of the death are stigmatized or possess negative connotations. Survivors may feel like they don’t have the right to grieve because society’s message is that their loved one’s death was preventable, shameful or their own fault. You may feel as though you cannot openly mourn due to the constraints of “societal rules’ and keep your grief hidden. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed as you internalize cultural beliefs around addiction.  But it is imperative to remember that no one has the authority to dictate who, how, what, when, or why we grieve. Addiction is not a choice, it is a disease.FB_master-V03

As we close on International Overdose Awareness Day and recognize National Recovery Month, it is important to remember that how a person dies does not define the person’s life or character nor does it diminish the suffering experienced by those left behind. In tribute to those who have lost their fight to addiction, we invite you to share a favorite memory of your loved one. Let’s put a face to this disease, advocate for recovery, and reduce stigma together.

Thank you to our friends at What’s Your Grief for their incredible postings! If you have lost a loved one to addiction, or knows someone who needs support, check out the below links for additional resources and information. Please feel free to post other helpful resources available in your community.

Support for a Loss:

Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP)

Spread the Love

Advocacy:

National Recovery Month

International Overdose Awareness Day

Broken No More

PRO-ACT

Support for those still fighting:

The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania

Angels in Motion

National Hotline

Narcotics Anonymous

One Response to “Family Support Blog Series: National Recovery Month”

  1. Amanda says:

    My brother and I did one thing very well together: laugh. Bobby was never without something witty to say and their were times we laughed until we couldn’t breathe and had tears running down our faces. Someday we will laugh together again 🙂

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