We receive questions from our friends in recovery quite often, and a recent question came from a young man who was heartbroken by a breakup with his long time girlfriend. The two had been together for years and when the split finally happened, he spiraled into a depression that seemed to last weeks. It was a huge blow to his resolve and he was considering going back to drugs just to have something that would help with the pain.
These kinds of struggles are common in early and mid state recovery. Every day is a challenge to remain sober and when a tragic life event throws you a curveball, it seems natural to reach for an old familiar salve. Breakups are some of the worst. Going through a breakup feels like the walls might collapse in on you. A sickness creeps into your stomach and you give up on eating or sleeping. There is a hole in the heart that desperately aches to be filled. It’s difficult– but important– to remember your addiction training and counseling and remind yourself that the drugs won’t fill the void. They’ll only make it worse.
The Stages of Loss
When we experience a tragic loss, we go through a roller coaster of emotions from grief to anger and sadness. The first wave of reaction is often shock. It’s hard to believe it’s really happening to us. The shock soon gives way to anger and despair, a point at which dark and sometimes suicidal thoughts creep in. This is a vulnerable stage because you’re blindly reacting to grief with raw emotion. But eventually this gives way to a sense of defeat. This defeat is a kind of malaise or depression where the heart feels like an empty cavern.
It’s after these emotions have run their course that we can finally arrive at some form of acceptance. It happened. She’s gone. Now we move on. Life goes on. All of that comes to be clear and rational once the raw emotion subsides like a tide. Acceptance is part of the healing process and the first step to the more important take-aways of the breakup; recognizing what you learned and where to go next.
Healthy Ways to Cope with a Breakup
Loss in general is something that leaves us feeling helpless and lost. When you’re in the dumps and reeling from a kick to the chest, it’s important to have two things;
- Someone to lean on
- Something to distract you
Often, as recovering addicts, we try to answer these two demands with drugs. We think it will prop us up like an old friend and distract us from the pain. But we all know where that path leads and we aren’t interested in going back. No, the real cure for a broken heart is good friends who can make you laugh, and maybe remind you of all the other fish in the sea, and healthy distractions like hobbies, sports, career projects, and new experiences.
It’s never easy to lose someone you love and tragedy can be a big trigger for relapse so it requires all of our focus and attention to remain centered in our own strength and sobriety. If you need a crutch during rough times, remember your sobriety community. Contact LEAD to get some advice and resources for staying sober while feeling low.