One of the hardest parts to swallow about addiction is that it is a dangerous disease that can very likely end in illness or death. Addiction always poses a danger to one's physical and mental health. Sometimes this can result in the untimely passing of a loved one who has lost their battle with addiction. Often it can leave us reeling, and questioning what more we could have done to help.
A wide range of emotions come into play—guilt, sadness, despair, regret. We ask ourselves questions such as, Was there anything we could have done to help? Should we have done more, gone out of our way? Did we not take their addiction seriously enough? Some of us may have unfinished business with our loved one as well. We may have distanced ourselves in order to create boundaries between us and the addict, or have had arguments or harsh words with them.
Wherever you are in processing the death of our loved one, here are 3 things to know in order to cope and move forward in a healthy way.
1. You are not to blame.
Addiction is a personal matter in that the addict is the only person who can find the strength in themselves to quit. We can't do it for them, no matter how hard we try, plead and beg. We can influence them with our support, care or concern, but ultimately, it’s up to them to make the decision to get clean. It requires a lot of strength and willpower to finally kick the habit and to admit that they are suffering from a very powerful disease that has them in its grip.
So the first step in this healing process is to understand that it is not our fault. The disease of addiction is quite powerful. It is not for us to take on the responsibility of our loved ones who suffer from addiction. Even a parent suffering the pain of an addicted child is not to blame. They may assume the burden of their child's suffering is their own, and although this is something normal for a parent to feel, ultimately all they can do is try to guide their child to recovery and support them as best they can while making the best decisions they can for their child's health.
2. Focus on your own recovery.
For those of us who are recovering addicts, the death of our loved one from addiction can hit us quite hard. Dealing with death is one of the most difficult things anyone can do in their lifetime, and for addicts it can be especially troubling. Staying committed to our own recovery during this time is important, knowing that we cannot give in to the very same demons that plagued our loved one and ultimately ended in their untimely death.
We may choose to supplement our own recovery programs with extra care and support. This could mean attending bereavement groups, finding positive hobbies and activities that we enjoy in order to keep us busy, talking to friends, family and, if needed, professionals who can help us find our way through the forest of difficult emotions that can spring up.
3. Spread the message.
Spreading the word about recovery is one of the most beautiful ways we can honor our loved one's spirit. Using this time to help others who are struggling with addiction can be a powerful way for us to give back to the world in a positive way, perhaps passing along the tools and knowledge that we have to another person and giving them the strength to find their way to recovery, just like we did. This positive feedback loop can help you feel like you're doing something valuable and important, giving purpose to what you’ve experienced through your loved one’s addiction journey.