“There are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part, so just give me a happy middle and a very happy start.” –Shel Silverstein
by Ivy Chase
My cousin Liz and I grew up together. She was only 5 months younger than I was. She was one of the best friends I’ve ever had. She had an older sister and her father was a pastor of a well known church in one of the nicer parts of West L.A. Her mother was a school teacher and a loving aunt to me. I always looked forward to summers, when they came up to Oregon to visit for a few weeks out of each year. I felt complete with my best friend by my side 24/7. We loved each other so much.
Lizzy was always innocent and sweet growing up. She loved people as they were and was good at school too. I guess that’s part of what makes addiction a disease and doesn’t exactly make much sense as to who experiences it or why certain people have to deal with it in their lives. During college, Liz lost her father to prostate cancer, it was at that time she discovered cocaine and alcohol abuse as a heavy medication for the pain of her father dying.
Late one morning, in January of this year, I received a phone call from my father who lives up in Oregon, he told me we had lost my cousin due to a drug overdose. My aunt had come home one night to find her youngest daughter cold and stiff; no longer breathing, laying in her bed – completely lifeless. My heart broke as I listened to my father explain the tragic event of the night that drug addiction took my cousin’s life.
“To Live in Hearts we Leave behind, is not to die.” –Thomas Campbell
The following couple months preceding my cousin’s death, I felt almost hopeless at times, continuing my recovery, but questioning the unanswerable questions of how this could happen to such a good soul. I don’t tend to dwell on those topics these days. I had to fight hard and take opposite action against my feelings each day to get out of the emotional pit that losing Lizzy brought me to. Here is a list of what helped me get through it, I promise you that if you apply these ideas to your life in a time of devastation or despair and loss, you will get through it to the other side, just like I have.
Taking Steps to Heal from Your Loss- What we refuse to deal with will end up dealing with us.
- Get Support. Unresolved grief and loss is a burden commonly carried. One loss can put us in the direct pain of any other past losses we have not yet grieved. This emotional turmoil can make us feel overwhelmed and cause us to function less daily, and even isolate. We have to take opposite action and keep ourselves in the company of loving and supportive others, sharing our feelings and experiences. Increase your contact with friends and loved ones, go to grief meetings and share from your heart, hold someone you are close to accountable by opening up about what’s going on inside of your emotions.
- Avoid Unhealthy Grieving or Holding Back. There’s no need to “be strong” for anyone other than yourself. Holding back your emotions and tears does not benefit anyone including you. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” To grieve effectively, you must share with others your pain and then release it. Shared joy is increased, shared pain is halved.
- Allow Yourself to Grieve in a Healthy Way. You will experience the stages of grief as being balanced and transformative.
- The denial will fade and the shock will decrease over time. Focusing on living in the present moment helps ground you through this phase.
- Allow yourself to be angry by expressing it in healthy ways. Once this is accomplished, identifying all your other feelings will be easier to cope with.
- Remember: you are powerless over what’s happened. You are now faced with the opportunity to trust in a Higher Power, to manage what you cannot.
- The depression is part of the process. Work through the anger and hurt, eliminating any chance for harboring resentments. Resentments create unnecessary distance between you and your loved ones when you need them the most.
- Acceptance will come, eventually, but it will come. Saying the serenity prayer will help with this stage.
- Honor Your Loved One’s Life, by Living Yours Well. The best way to honor the dead is to live the life they would want for us, or that they never lived themselves. The deceased wouldn’t want us remaining in self-pity or sadness. They would want us to let go, get our needs met, and love life. The silver lining of loss this big, is that we grow spiritually from it and perhaps even gain a new understanding. We put more faith into relying on a Higher Power to see us through the tough times in our lives.
Many are familiar with the famous and brilliantly conceived five stages of grief by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. She described the five stages as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Any attempt to deal with the loss of a loved one to addiction should include an understanding of this model.
Addiction is a deadly disease. It does not discriminate against anyone. It runs it’s tragic course throughout entire families and has destroyed many innocent lives. My cousin never spoke up about the amount of pain she experienced from her father’s death. Although she attended several different treatment centers throughout her life, I believe she never fully processed that loss. Because of that, it manifested into a deadly combination of alcoholism and heroin addiction.
Losing someone to addiction is all too common. Don’t allow ignorance regarding the severity of addiction and lack of education about this disease to take your own life, or the life of a loved one. Get educated about addiction, and avoid keeping a loved one’s addiction a secret even if you think you’re doing it to protect them. You could save their life.
“Walk on, walk on. With hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone.” –Rodgers and Hammerstein
If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction call Lighthouse Treatment Center today for help. We are also happy to provide information on our Family Involvement Program. You don’t have to fight addiction alone, we can help.