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Letting Go Of Holding On

Issue 9

Grief and Recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID pandemic has resulted in a great deal of loss worldwide and as a result, many people are experiencing grief as a result. People in recovery from addiction are familiar with the grieving process, because healing often asks us to let go of A LOT. After all, we must release the way things were, to move towards something new. Even though the process of letting go is natural and normal, it can feel overwhelming, confusing, and scary. As the world changes because of the virus, The Five Stages of Grief™ model can help us understand our feelings about loss without trying to resist or escape them by using dangerous substances or behaviors.

If we were grieving before the pandemic, it may now feel compounded because of the added losses of employment, childcare, personal space, and the general loss of the life we had before the world was changed by the virus. Knowing that we are not alone, and that others are experiencing these feelings too can help us feel more comfortable with reaching out for support. We truly are stronger together, there are lots of people who want to help and none of us needs to navigate these times, or any times, alone.

Elizabeth Küubler-Ross, who was a Swiss psychiatrist, created a five-stage model for understanding grief after observing the process many people went through at the end of life or when dealing with the loss of a loved one. Her research and model have been helpful to so many since she first published it in 1969.

Originally published in her groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying, in 1969, The Five Stages of Grief™ are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. It is important to note that these stages—which also apply to coping with grief unrelated to death—are not necessarily linear and not everyone goes through every stage. The model shows that it is normal to experience these (and other) feelings after a loss. After all, feeling an array of different emotions is not a bad thing, it is part of what makes us human.

However, for people in recovery from addiction, grief can feel extraordinarily overwhelming. We have relied on substances or behaviors to numb ourselves in the past and it can be hard to learn how to “‘feel”’ again. We may be afraid that if we allow ourselves to feel things, we will become overwhelmed and have a setback.

The good news is that feelings are constantly flowing through us, always changing, and no single feeling lasts forever.

If we can learn to take care of ourselves during times of emotional intensity, we do not need to be afraid of having setbacks when we “‘feel”’ in a big way. Instead, big emotions can remind us that we need to lean into our support system more and pick up some of the tools in our toolbox. The more we learn to cope with feelings that once were overwhelming, the more trust we will have in our ability to heal.

In her 1975 book, Death: The Final Stage of Growth, Elizabeth Küubler- Ross writes: says “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

Ultimately, she maintains, even loss can contribute to our personal growth. Sometimes, the hardest experiences in life can be gifts in disguise, as they allow us to get clear about what really matters and to appreciate people and things we may have taken for granted. This is especially true now, when so many all over the world are adjusting to this strange, new normal way of life during the coronavirus pandemic.

We can use this time to cultivate gratitude for everything we still have and compassion for all those who are struggling, including ourselves.

We can use this time to reassess our priorities and become more intentional in how we live.

We can ask ourselves, “what really matters in my life?” and “how can I focus more on what really matters to me?”

We can find ways to be of service to others and to stay connected emotionally even if we are distant physically.

Above all, we can heal, and we can recover. We do not need to wait for the virus to go away, or for things to go back to “normal.” Instead, we can choose to seek healing and recovery here and now and we do not need to do it alone. We never need to do it alone.

Sarah Siegel
Sarah Siegel
Sarah Siegel is a recovery coach at Crossroads as part of an innovative project with Portland Recovery Community Center. She has been in recovery from opioid use disorder and substance use disorder since 2007 and from working the sex industry since 2003. Today she is a mother, interfaith minister, meditation coach and writer.

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