With addiction and mental illness comes something that we often don’t want to look at, which is grief and the deep sense of loss that arrives when we or a family member steps into recovery. Drugs and alcohol and/or mental illness are often viewed as the villains in the aftermath of addiction. But the underlying weight of grief often gets shoved to the side or bypassed entirely.
Father’s Day came and went, but I was struck by the aftermath of the day, nonetheless, when my son sat in the midst of his anger and disappointment after his own father didn’t show up for him. When my son said, “Not only did my dad not show up, he only spent 2 minutes with me on the phone,” I felt his deflation. I felt the letdown and longing for a father that would never be. And I had a visceral memory of what that was like. However, as a parent, my role isn’t to project my past onto my son’s present. Rather, my role is to hold space for him to feel and experience that which ails him, allowing his emotions to safely ride though his body. As a parent, I have to do my work on my own. Not via my son.
New trauma and despair is front and center in the US as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting unveiled the deaths of 20 children and 6 adults. The death of children is always shocking. The innocence and futures lost are rapidly exonerated from our grasp, leaving us breathless and frozen in grief. Families will begin to face the emptiness of their loss and the depth of their grief as the days continue. Additionally, the survivors, both children and adults, will potentially suffer from PTSD as a result of seeing and surviving such horrors. There will be deep sadness, depression, and self-doubt. There will be mental-health issues that need to be tended to, whether we like it or not. Remember, grief is a staged process with no specific order or end date.
What is grief? Is it death? Is it abandonment? Is it the fading of Summer? Thinking of it in this broad way makes me realize it can be anything that makes us feel the pull of grief and loss: that deep sadness which tends to anchor us to darkness.
Over the years, I have become more in touch with how much grief effects behavior. Grief might really be the underlying riptide we try to manage with drugs and alcohol. It might be the very thing that drives a mental illness into overdrive: our anxiety, depression, impulse control disorders, et al. At the same time, grief doesn’t need to be managed; It needs to be faced, held, and allowed to breathe, despite our natural inclination to attempt to suffocate it.
We’re barreling toward Father’s Day faster than ever, and I was struck by the quintessential Hallmark perspective of things, which celebrates the idealized dad and not necessarily reality. Not all of us have the exemplary dad on the receiving end of a card, which might beg the question, “Do I send one anyway?” While those who have a wonderful father in their corner aren’t stuck in a canyon of hurt feelings around this holiday, I thought it was more valuable to address the kids whose dads are in absentia.
It takes more strength to feel your feelings than it does to hide them. As counterintuitive as it may seem, I’ve found this to be true. Because we encounter so much anxiety and depression in our lives and in our recovery, it ‘s appropriate to also notice the element of grief which often acts as the undercurrent and silent driving force. If there’s a history of abuse or abandonment, neglect, or bullying, there is grief. If a parent suffers from a mental illness and/or addiction, there is grief. If there’s social anxiety, there is grief. It’s a pervasive feeling, and one which we often ignore or pass off as a phase, something that happens in passing. But in recovery, be it from addiction or mental illness or both, we need to address it.
“To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness” Erich Fromm
Grief is an experience, and while it differs from person to person, one thing is certain: there isn’t a predetermined end time for grieving. It is, in and of itself, a process.
Details are already emerging about Corey Haim’s tragic death this morning, and it appears the actor may have died of a prescription drug overdose.
Law enforcement is reporting that Haim collapsed in the bedroom of his mother’s apartment in Los Angeles around 1:30am this morning, and authorities recovered four prescription bottles at the scene.