“This isn’t right. It’s not like this. We have to go back.”
Go back where? Back to the present in which my dad is gone? My grandfather long passed.
I awaken. Heaving gasps of panicked breath. The only time I will hear my father’s voice again or feel his all soothing embrace again is in my dreams. How can I verbalize the emptiness of waking up every day to that reality? How can I cope? I am certainly not alone in that my dreams and loneliness are difficult to articulate even to the ones we love and who want to support us.
I not only have to allow myself to grieve, but I also need the self-awareness to recognize the signs of it becoming something more. Grief is a powerful trigger for addiction relapse. It can also turn into an all-compassing depression that can be difficult to pull out of.
Here are the things that have helped me cope during this process:
- Talking to my dad. I talk to my him every day. I tell him about my day. I cry for him and myself. I tell him how much I miss him. How the family is doing. I am fortunate that he is physically nearby so I can go there. I bring a lawn chair. I have some long conversations. I hope he hears me.
- I see a psychiatrist weekly. I have been seeing him for about 15 years so he knew it was coming and it helps to hear his perspective on what I am going through. I also make sure I am vigilant taking my prescribed anti-depressants. When grieving, it can seem like the medication is not working. The goal of my meds is not so that I do not feel and I need to be self-aware of that.
- I stay in close contact with my family and especially my two brothers. They are grieving like me. I feel so fortunate that our dad instilled the bond of family in us like his parents did with him. I talk to my wife. It is important for those who love us to understand the process so they do not feel helpless or guilty.
- I try to keep my mind occupied. I have begun working on my third book. This time, fiction. It is hard for me to write when the mind is in a grieving fog. I compensate by spending a lot of time reading and listening to audio books about the art of writing so I stay engaged in some way. I have also decided to work hard on refining my public speaking skills. I recently presented at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting. I had to change my recovery presentation because of my father’s passing. Something that may seem so minor was very emotional. The fact that he lived next door to me was integral to how family played a role in my addiction recovery. I know there will be many of these “firsts.”
- I force myself to stay in my exercise routine. I love Flywheel. When it’s hard to get out of bed, it’s hard to motivate to exercise but I always feel better after a good spin session.
- I share photos and videos of my father on my Facebook page and Instagram. I personally have found that type sharing/ expression helpful.
That’s how I personally have been traversing the process of grief. There of course is no blueprint, plan, tweet, or YouTube video that will tell me how to grieve but there are ways to cope as we go through the process so that it does not become something more. I reached out to Kelly Jameson, PhD, LPC-S. I hope you find it helpful.
Grief is hard (like, really hard) and we avoid it all costs because it is straight up pain-pain in its purest, most emotional form.
To grieve simply means that you have loved, but even more that you have loved, but that you were somehow changed because of the love. Grief is about the loss of a person, but also how that person made you feel about yourself. This sounds selfish, but it’s true. Most often, we are affected most by the people who made us feel intensely, either good or bad. Of all the people in our lives, it is no surprise that parents are responsible for our biggest, most intense feelings early on and throughout our life. I bet if you give yourself a minute to really think about your parents, you can still remember how they made you feel about yourself, either good or bad. This is not a coincidence, parents are our first and most important attachment, and that bond only intensifies as we age.
When a parent dies, we are forced (whether we want to or not) to process ALL of the emotions they made us feel about ourselves. That is the primary reason the loss of a parent is so profound on us. Did your parent make you feel like the most capable, confident version of yourself? Maybe they made you feel small and bothersome? Did they teach you about forgiveness, gratitude, unconditional love, or self-love even when it was difficult? Of course they did, sometimes with words and sometimes actions. No matter what style of parenting you received, they shaped you. When that attachment is just a memory, it is like a part of you is gone, because it is. Like many things in life, we don’t necessarily appreciate something until it is no longer available to us. Then grief can transform into regret and guilt – but only if you let it.
As a therapist, I often work with people who are sitting in grief. So many times, a patient will say, “Is it weird that I wear his clothes around the house?” or “Is it normal that I want to rearrange her make-up table over and over?” Because we try to avoid grief at all costs, we are totally unfamiliar the behaviors that are associated with this emotional process. People want to know, “Am I doing this grief thing correctly?” The answer is always yes. Grief has no handbook. You want to wear his clothes around the house? Ok. You want to listen to her favorite song 1,000 times before you go to work in the morning? Great. Whatever helps you though the pain is a definite yes. (Side note: I’m only approving positive behaviors here. The misuse of drugs, alcohol or tobacco is always a solid bad idea in my book. If you are using these things as a way to numb your grief, please get some help. This avenue will undoubtedly lead you to more pain.)
People spend so much time avoiding pain and grief, that when we are forced to sit with it, we assume other people have been here before and have spent time figuring it out correctly. Outside of experts like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (The Five Stages of Grief) and her successor David Kessler, not many people are out there spending extended amounts time with grief. So guess what? You forge your own path on this one. Only you know what makes you feel better and only you know when you are feeling really stuck in your grief. If you are struggling, help is out there.
If you feel like your grief is overwhelming your day-to-day life and, in your heart, you know it’s becoming a larger problem, please call a therapist. We can help you sort out some of this and find a balance. For example, I might tell a patient to set aside time in the day to grieve. If you are having to go to school or work and your grief is overwhelming, I would tell you to choose a discrete time of day to grieve. For example, tell yourself, “I’m going to grieve tonight from 7:00-7:45 p.m.” If you are trying to get through your day and the grief starts to bubble up, you can remind yourself, “Not now. I’ll see you tonight at 7:00 p.m.”
Other ideas might include a personal ceremony you perform for that person, such as letting a balloon go into the sky, writing them a letter telling them how much they meant to you, plant a tree or bush in your yard so you can remember them every season when you see that foliage grow and change. These are behaviors that might feel foreign or ridiculous, but they can be so important for your mind to process the loss and also express gratitude for their impact on your life.
If you are looking for even more support, I recommend “What’s Your Grief” on social media. You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They also have a podcast and a website. www.whatsyourgrief.com. In the meantime, take care of yourself and keep on loving people, it’s all worth it.
Kelly Jameson, PhD, LPC-S, is a licensed therapist in private practice in Dallas, Texas. She works with teens and adults on life’s tough issues, both big and small. More info can be found at www.drkellyjameson.com.
Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at email@example.com.