Grief is a universal emotion, albeit an intricate one, and its journey varies significantly from one person to another. Today, we aim to deepen our understanding of grief, including its stages, complications and how it interplays with mental health and substance abuse.
Grief: A Journey Through Complex Emotions
Grief is the emotional response to loss. While often associated with a loved one’s death, other significant life changes – such as divorce, job loss or a diagnosis of severe illness – can also trigger it. Grief is complex, encompassing a range of emotions from profound sadness to anger, and it affects everybody differently.
The Five Stages of Grief
Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined five stages of grief in her seminal 1969 book, On Death and Dying. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Grief is not linear, and you won’t necessarily progress through each phase in a set order. You might find yourself moving back and forth among them or experiencing several simultaneously.
- Denial: This typical initial response to loss serves as a defense mechanism to buffer the immediate shock.
- Anger: As the reality of the loss sets in, you may feel frustration and anger, sometimes directed toward others or the situation.
- Bargaining: This stage tends to involve a lot of “what-if” and “if-only” statements as you try to negotiate your way out of the pain.
- Depression: As your loss becomes undeniable, feelings of intense sadness, regret, fear and uncertainty can arise.
- Acceptance: Acceptance does not mean that you are OK with the loss, but rather, that you have begun to understand and acknowledge what’s happened to you.
Sometimes, grief can intensify and persist, putting your life on hold. Also referred to as persistent complex bereavement disorder, complicated grief is intense and enduring. Those struggling with complicated grief may find it incredibly challenging to manage their daily activities for extended periods – ranging from several months to years. They may isolate themselves from social interactions, lack the drive to fulfill routine tasks or even entertain thoughts of ending their lives.
Grief is a personal journey, and everyone traverses its stages at a different pace. You could be experiencing complicated grief if still cannot reconcile with your bereavement for more than a year after your loss, constantly dwell on your sorrow to the exclusion of all else or struggle to form new relationships.
Grief’s Effects on Mental and Behavioral Health
Grief can be a trigger for mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Moreover, people dealing with grief may resort to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. They might use drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, leading to a cycle of addiction that compounds their emotional pain and potentially leads to physical health problems.
This detrimental cycle exacerbates mental health conditions and can also lead to physical health complications. What starts as a form of self-medication can ultimately become another source of pain and struggle, creating a layered challenge to healing and recovery.
Effective Treatments for Grief
Societal norms perceive grief as a private emotional challenge, and something you should try pushing through as quickly as possible. However, if your complicated grief leads to feelings of insignificance, hopelessness or suicidal thoughts, you may be grappling with depression. In such instances, a licensed therapist can suggest therapeutic strategies to help ease your suffering. Reach out to a health professional if you experience prolonged despair or persistent suicidal thoughts due to grief.
At Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat, we acknowledge the profound impact grief can have, and we offer hospital-grade diagnostic services and individualized treatment plans to help our clients process their grief and cope with its aftermath. These include therapy, medication as necessary and programs designed to help manage co-occurring conditions such as substance abuse or depression.
Through compassion and understanding, we aim to help clients navigate the complexities of grief. It is a journey, and while it may not be a smooth one, it is possible to find hope and healing at its end. We’re here to support you through each stage of your grief, manage any complications that arise and to guide you on your healing journey. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you are struggling with grief and its associated challenges.