The unthinkable has happened. You may have known that your loved one was using drugs but couldn’t have imagined that they might overdose. Now you’re feeling flooded with some heavy emotions. You might feel anger, deep sadness, shock, or feelings of missing your loved one. These types of emotions are normal to experience after losing someone suddenly.
An overdose is considered a sudden traumatic death and is quite distressing. This can have a significant impact on those who are left to cope with the loss. And if you are in active addiction or walking a path of recovery, experiencing this kind of loss could really throw you “overboard.”
It’s ok to just grieve
Grief is love. We don’t grieve someone, unless we loved them. There isn’t one way or a “right” way to feel. Everyone experiences grief differently. Every feeling that is coming up for you is valid and matters. It’s also important to remember that grief is a process that can take time. So, be compassionate and patient with yourself as you work through what’s happened.
Losing someone we love is incredibly hard. You might be struggling to deal with what you’re feeling. No one truly knows what they’ll experience in a situation until it happens. If you’ve never dealt with addiction, losing someone to overdose might cause us to feel shame or guilt about the value of your relationship with your loved one or not doing more. An overdose can be traumatizing or triggering, especially if you’re in recovery. You may find yourself struggling with your recovery goals as you cope with the devastating loss of your loved one.
The most important thing about grief is to allow yourself to feel and to know that you don’t have to just “get over it.” Seeking support can be helpful. Talking to a grief counselor or other loved ones, or joining a support group can bring some relief.
Your loved one was more than their addiction
There’s still so much that people don’t understand about addiction. Others might make assumptions or feel the need to share their perspective on addiction. It can be hard to hear those thoughts as you’re grieving. It can help to focus on who your loved one was as a person and what they meant to you.
Addiction was something your loved one experienced, but it certainly wasn’t who they were. It’s okay to set boundaries and let others know that what you need at that time isn’t to focus on addiction. Instead, let them know that you need support in learning how to live without them and carry them with you.
Take care of yourself
Grief can impact your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Tough emotions can come in waves and lead to isolation, changes in your eating and sleeping habits, and trouble getting through each day. Your mental and physical health are connected, so it’s important to focus on your overall well-being. This can be challenging, especially in POC communities, where culturally, mental health isn’t as openly discussed. Prioritizing self-care is a major step in the healing process and it looks different for everyone.
Here some ideas for places to start:
- Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings about the loss
- Use coping skills that already work for you like journaling, being in nature, doing something creative, etc.
- Seek help from a therapist
- Join a grief support group
- Ask for what you need
- Be kind to yourself
- Eat regular meals and stay hydrated
- Make time for sleep, and if that feels difficult, rest
- Allow yourself to grieve
You understand yourself and your needs better than anyone. Listen to your mind, heart, and body. Make time each day as you grieve to focus on self-care.
Find a way to honor them
Your loved one’s life was about so much more than how it ended. When we lose someone, we often become inspired and seek ways to honor them in meaningful ways. It’s perfectly okay to tap into that. How you choose to carry them with you is a personal choice. Again, grief isn’t something you just “get over,” but something you learn to walk with each day.
Look for small ways to honor them. Write a letter. Put up your favorite photo of them. Share stories that bring you joy. Put on their favorite song and dance. Celebrate their life in a way that works for you.