What is Grief?
Grief can be described as an intense feeling of loss. It is an emotion we experience when something major happens in our lives such as a bereavement, divorce, or loss of a job. We can think of grief as on a spectrum somewhere between sadness and depression. It is far more intense, and usually longer lasting than sadness, and it differs from depression in that it doesn’t have such a negative impact on our self-esteem or self-confidence.
The symptoms of grief can include:
? A feeling of numbness
? Our thinking is preoccupied with the loss
? Inability to obtain pleasure from things we usually enjoy
? Low energy and feeling tired
? It may feel as if there is something pressing down on our chest
? Other physical symptoms such as headaches or body aches
5 Stages of Grief
Grief is a natural process that we seem to need to go through in order to adjust to a loss in our lives. The 5 Stages of Grief is a model proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross that provides a good description of what the process can involve. Of course, we all experience grief in our own way, but the following 5 stages are common:
- Denial – this is a mechanism to protect the ego from devastating news. It can be an effective strategy in the short-term as it gives us some space to adjust to what has happened.
- Anger – when we realise that it is not going to be possible to maintain our state of denial, we can start to lash out at those close to us like a wounded animal
- Bargaining – now that we are faced with the reality of what has happened, we try desperately to find a way out of it
- Depression – we realise the hopelessness of the situation, our attempts to bargain with the universe haven’t worked, and we feel powerless
- Acceptance – we open up to our pain, and we begin to heal
The speed by which we proceed through the stages of grief will depend on our ability to cope (e.g. some people can get stuck at the depression stage for weeks, months, or even years). Practices that help us to develop compassion (such as mindfulness) greatly increase our ability to deal with grief.
Grief and Addiction
Alcohol and drugs can appear like an attractive option at those times when we feel overwhelmed by grief. Getting drunk or high can temporarily allow us to avoid this pain, but it is still going to be waiting for us when we are sober. In fact, this type of self-medication is ultimately going to make the situation worse, and it can easily lead to addiction.
Grief and Recovery
Grief is a part of life, and it is something we all need to face in our lives. The risk for those of us who are in recovery is that unless we have sufficient coping strategies for dealing with such intense emotion, we are going to be at high risk of relapse. This is why practising mindfulness, building a strong support network, and being honest about our feelings is so crucial in recovery. If these things are not in place before disaster strikes, we may not have the resources we need to deal with grief smoothly.
If you are struggling to come to terms with grief, you may benefit from the program we offer here at Hope Rehab. Please contact us to find out more.
Stages of Grief by Paul Garrigan