This Father Lost Both His Sons To Overdose — Here's What He Learned About Grief
Recovery, both for substance use disorders and grief, is a process, not an event. Many books have been written about various models of the process of recovery. Likewise, there have been countless books written about the process of recovery. What the vast majority of them share in common is an understanding that one does not "arrive" or "finish" either recovery or grief.
We metabolize our grief just as our bodies metabolize our substance. It becomes a part of us, and it changes our ways of seeing the world. Grief can even change our neurochemistry by lowering our serotonin levels, leaving us with the sense that things are not OK and the feeling that they may never be.
But in both substance use and grief, healthy choices over time help reawaken the life in us as our brains and bodies heal.
There is no recovery in isolation.
One aspect of the recovery process to remember is that the whole family has an opportunity to recover. If you had a member of your immediate family who developed cancer, it would affect everyone, and schedules would be disrupted. There would be anxiety and fear.
If the person with cancer gets better, the family will have to readjust and will be altered as they learn to move forward together once again. Even if the loved one gets into recovery, the family is altered. During my sons' active addiction, nearly everything I said or believed would "never happen to me" did. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to save my sons from addiction.
I lost my marriage. I lost both of my sons. For a time, I lost my way.
Just like in the case of substance use disorder, there is no recovery in isolation for the group. A burden shared is a burden divided. We are not alone, and we can help to bear one another's loads.
The importance of giving up control.
When our children are small, many of us suffer from a delusion. The delusion is that we can control them. One of the hardest lessons for me to learn was that this idea is absurd.
If you have ever had a teething child, then you probably have already encountered this truth. You do everything in your power to ease their suffering, but they still cry. Our best efforts fall short of being able to reach our desired outcome when that outcome is to change another person. Somehow as our children get older and as we love other people in our lives, we forget this lesson.
We start thinking that we can somehow change other people through our efforts. With regard to substance use, we believe that we can somehow out-parent, out-friend, out-demand, out-educate, out-legislate, or even out-counsel the addiction.
It's an important distinction because for me, at times, it was the difference between insanity and sanity. I am a fallible human being who loved my boys the best way I knew how. In the end, I lost them both. If love alone could save someone from their addiction, there would be no epidemic.
We can't control the disease and those who suffer from it. We will love them the best we know how to provide the best possible opportunity for recovery, but to own another's choices is to own the consequences of those choices. Just as the person struggling with their addiction will grapple with their "powerlessness," so, too, must those who love them.
Remember there is honor in grief.
One of the truths that it has taken me a long time to see is that there is tremendous honor in grief. One thing that is seldom acknowledged or understood is that we grieve most what we have loved most. The beings they were, the lives they touched, and the relationships that we shared. The degree of the grief is related to the degree of the love.
When we lose someone distant from us, the pain is remote. When we lose someone close, the pain is visceral and can seem insurmountable. When someone we love dies, part of what we miss is all the things we count on them to know–the inside jokes, the names of the places and people you can't recall, old recipes and phone numbers, the names of songs and movies, traditions, and stories. We miss the ability to revisit those memories and fact-check them against one another. We miss the parts of the relationship that no one else would understand. In short, we miss the "us" that we shared and the parts of it we can't experience without them.
When someone we love dies, they always take a part of us with them, and we always keep a piece of them close to our hearts as well. This is the honor that is intrinsic in the grief that we experience. We only grieve that which we love so deeply.
For me, part of my legacy consists of honoring their lives through how I live my own now, of ensuring that I do not waste one ounce of the pain we've endured. Our heartache becomes the broken spaces where we best connect, empathize with, and can encourage others that things can get better.
Adapted from an excerpt from Steve Grant's new book, Don't Forget Me: A Lifeline of Hope for Those Touched by Substance Abuse and Addiction, Morgan James Books.
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