Few emotions are as complicated as grief, and each one of us deals with it differently. A greater challenge to recovering from grief is when people can’t seem to move through it and choose maladaptive behaviors such as using drugs or alcohol to cope. But there are better ways to heal.
What Is Grief?
According to Merriam-Webster, the literal definition of grief is a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.” But anyone who’s experienced grief understands it can manifest for numerous reasons, not just from the death of a loved one. The University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center outlines some of those, which we provide verbatim:
- Loss of a close friend
- Death of a partner
- Death of a classmate or colleague
- Serious illness of a loved one
- Relationship breakup
- Death of a family member
- Leaving home
- Illness/loss of health
- Death of a pet
- Change of job
- Move to a new home
- Graduation from school
- Loss of a physical ability
- Loss of financial security
Although it’s only natural to mourn a companion, a lifestyle shift, or an extreme change from what was stable or familiar, it seems we’re expected to follow other people’s guides to evaluate the depth of our loss. But grief simply isn’t the same for everyone.
Different Types of Grief
- Absent: when someone experiences a sudden, unexpected loss, they may be in more shock or denial rather than actually grieving.
- Abbreviated: conversely, this is when grief seems to pass quickly, either because a person has substituted something for the space left by loss, or has actually processed the loss effectively.
- Anticipatory: this kind of grief often happens to someone before a major loss, such as a loved one with a terminal illness or impending layoffs.
- Chronic: years after a loss, someone still has intense emotions involving their grief and can’t seem to find peace.
- Collective: similar to what society expresses in the wake of the pandemic or after a terrorist attack, there doesn’t have to be a direct effect on an individual to share in this grief.
- Complicated: often someone feels a variety of conflicting emotions, a sense of obligation, or guilt combined with grief.
- Cumulative: usually the result of many losses over a short period of time.
- Delayed: in this instance, a person might not experience grief for quite a while and only after triggered by something else.
- Disenfranchised: defined as when an individual is denied the opportunity or right to grieve, especially when the loss is misunderstood or viewed as insignificant by others.
- Distorted: some people have a more intense emotional reaction to grief, which often includes angry or hostile behavior.
- Inhibited: classified as a person not grieving outwardly but instead distracting themselves with other things while perhaps also having physical symptoms of grief.
- Normal: what we commonly think of as grief after the loss of an important person or life circumstance.
Timeline for the Grieving Process
A timeline for the grieving process is also hard to pinpoint. For example, experts state that most people experience normal grief for approximately six months to two years. However, even that isn’t an accurate barometer of how long someone “should” grieve, as there are dozens of variables impacting how a person feels and recovers.
Furthermore, grief is often fluid—one minute, you might not notice the same symptoms of it as before. Then, before you know it, you’re consumed by a wave of them. It’s not a linear emotion with defined beginning, middle, and end points. This is why some people turn to substances to help them cope: they’re trying to numb themselves or avoid facing the pain.
Healing from Grief
Building resilience isn’t easy, especially after a loss. And it’s even more challenging to recognize that you or someone you love needs help when you’re dealing with grief and perhaps a drug or alcohol problem at the same time. So start healing by addressing the primary concern first: the loss, and how it makes you feel.
You might have heard of the five stages of grief, first outlined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. These were later redefined as seven stages: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. While there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to grieve, medical experts have tried to use these updated stages to help people understand the process of healing from grief. It’s still not a linear process, but these stages at least help provide some explanation of the experience.
The journey is often easier with the help of a therapist who specializes in grief recovery. This professional will:
- Guide you through recognizing the depth of the loss and the emotions you have.
- Provide effective coping mechanisms.
- Help create a path for healthy grieving.
A certified grief therapist can also address co-occurring conditions that might make healing more complicated, such as a history of adverse childhood experiences, as well as anxiety and depression. This specialized treatment is also helpful for people, especially veterans, suffering with PTSD.
It’s not about “getting over it” but more moving through this aspect of the human condition we all experience, and visualizing what the future might hold.
Willingway: Helping You Gain the Life You Deserve
If in your grief examination you recognize that substance use is diverting your healing, our board-certified professionals can help. Please reach out right away to learn more.