Feelings Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Trauma

Acknowledging and Honoring Grief

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.


The truth is, grief can be crippling. It can take the wind out of us and make us feel like we’ve landed flat on our faces, gasping for air. When we ignore it, or devalue the importance of the grieving process, we suffer more.


Mental illness and/or addiction may have ripped your family at the seams. It may have poked holes in your belief system, and placed a shadow on your hopes and dreams for your family. The truth is, everyone suffers: the one with the disease and the ones close to them.


I grew up with a parent mired by the tragedy of her own childhood, which was fraught with a mentally ill mother and a stoic father. Now, I see this same parent as an adult and it affords me the opportunity to recognize the untended grief and loss she’s endured and the great suffering that has resulted. A large portion of our existence in a scenario like this revolves around survival and learning how to endure the shame and fear associated with our circumstances. It’s not uncommon for the grief we feel to be ignored or for us to feel as though it is something to endure.


How can we stand tall in the midst of suffering while honoring our grief?


Talk about it. Develop a relationship with someone you trust that can help you process your feelings. It could be a counselor, a therapist, a psychologist, a good friend. What we hold onto holds onto us. Processing grief is part acknowledgement and part letting go. It evolves and becomes something we can hold with care instead of treating it like a hot stone.


Practice self-care. Take walks, meditate, do yoga, surf, get a massage, take a bath. Indulge in yourself. Healing is hard work; it’s important to nurture ourselves in the process.


Lean toward your difficulty. As counterintuitive as that may sound, this is ultimately the way out. That which we fear, can hold us back. We have to find a way to feel our feelings, touch our own hearts with kindness and compassion, and begin the process of finding acceptance and letting go. Take baby steps here. You don’t have to take on the high dive just yet.


Grief is present all around us. In adolescence, we grieve the loss of childhood and the inference of responsibility. In recovery, we grieve the person we were, the things we missed, and the damage we did. We also grieve the perceived “fun” guy/gal we thought we were. Be patient: recovery will afford you many more fulfilling ways of having fun.  This list goes on, but it doesn’t have to be daunting.


My experience has shown me that when I lean toward the thing I fear, the fear lessons. When I acknowledge the shadow side and hold the difficulties with compassion, the light starts to trickle in. I suffer when I turn away, and when I ignore the suffering, it becomes more unbearable.  The work in recovery teaches us that we can walk through difficulties with grace, we can begin to feel our feelings and we can crack open the barriers around our hearts. With our feet planted on the earth, and our minds open to possibility, the plight of suffering has a place to fly free.

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Healing the Heart: Father’s Day

Healing. (Photo credit: WolfS♡ul)

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.


Father’s day, like Mother’s day, can elicit a varied set of emotions for our kids and for us as parents. They can range from untended loss, or expectations, abandonment, and deep grief rising internally around parents that were never available for us, be it physically or emotionally. When I first became acutely aware of this in my own life, I did what many of us do: I spiritually bypassed the situation and filled my time with practices of avoidance. At that time, my outsides appeared to be ok, but my inner voice remained devastated. The scary part is finding our voice amidst that loss. Sometimes it wobbles. Sometimes it screams. But it’s there, waiting to come out.


My son found his voice yesterday; he used it well. He leaned into his resources and shared his frustrations and sense of loss. He really discovered how available his step-dad is for him, finding grounding in the emotional presence and support that has been made available to him over the last 5 years. I had the honor of baring witness to such splendor.


Sometimes, we find ourselves grappling with the reality of having what we need but still wanting something we cannot have: my son wanting his father to be a dad but having a step-father who gives him everything he needs. On Father’s Day, we ventured to the beach, and when Joseph dried him off and kissed his head, my son giggled and said, “My dad would never do that.” It is in these moments where we hold space for that grief I was speaking of; here is where we can allow this young man the time to process the weight of his loss while reveling in the joy of the experience itself.


Parenting is a process and being a kid is a process. Somewhere, we meet in the middle, knees and hearts bruised along the way. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: our hearts have a tremendous capacity to heal. The heart, I know, is a muscle of great resilience. It can even open to the tumult of holidays, learning to forgive and/or navigate the foibles of clumsy parents and the awkwardness of adolescence.

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Grief and Mental Health: Picking up the Pieces

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.


Mental health is once again in the headlines, screaming at us to pay attention and dive in to find a solution to a problem which is no longer able to sustain its place as the “elephant in the room.” The list of tragic and heinous events where someone possibly suffering from untreated mental health issues and acts out in egregious violence is getting longer and longer. We blame guns, we blame the parents, we blame the circumstances surrounding the events, but mental illness tends to be an afterthought or worse yet, an excuse. Parents who sit in denial of their child’s mental illness is a problem; poor circumstances and/or degenerative environments are a problem; and untreated mental illness is a problem. There are solutions to all of these problems, especially when we address them early on.


In the midst of our deep grief, it’s time to find a way to look at the causative factors that drives a human being to take the lives of innocent children. Our cultural denial and stigmatization of mental health is detrimental to the ultimate well being and healing of our society. In the 1980s, when the government closed several mental health facilities, placing many on the streets with their illnesses left untreated, we had a first glimpse of what mental health looks like when left out in the open: unaddressed and swept aside. This denial lends itself to putting our blinders on when it comes to the imbalances of our minds, pretending they’ll “work themselves out.” They usually don’t. The field of psychiatry has made great strides to discover and treat the varying mental illnesses that affect individuals, but the greatest barrier is typically the denial of the illness by families and the individuals themselves. We have to begin by asking for help. We must begin unraveling the stigma wrapped so tightly around mental illness and replacing it with treatment.

Some signs to watch for in your kids:

  • Often angry or worried
  • Feel grief for a long time after a death
  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Withdrawal from favorite activities
  • Harming self or others
  • Recklessness
  • Destroying property: yours or others

The only stigma left is the stigma of denial.

SAMSHA also lists the following as types of people and places that will make a referral to, or provide, diagnostic and treatment services.

  • Family doctors
  • Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors
  • Religious leaders/counselors
  • Health maintenance organizations
  • Community mental health centers
  • Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
  • University- or medical school-affiliated programs
  • State hospital outpatient clinics
  • Social service agencies
  • Private clinics and facilities
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Local medical and/or psychiatric societies
Visions is just a phone call away. We are here to help!
Committed to the Family; Committed to the Future: 866-889-3665.
Mental Health Recovery Self-Care

What is Grief and What Do We Do About It?

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.

Grief, in its very nature, can be defeating, but I don’t believe this has to be the case. Recovery and treatment provides us with an opportunity to nurture the emotional safety we need to process and heal from our grief. We begin to build a wider net of loving, compassionate support through the recovery process. We begin to gain confidence in ourselves, becoming better able to lean into our pain instead of persistently recoiling from it. When I was newly sober, and significantly down on myself, I was instructed to write post-its with accolades on them and stick them in common places: bathroom, kitchen, bedside table, car, you name it.  It was one of those simple things that actually made me feel better, despite how silly I thought it was. Now, 19 years later, I found myself doing writing myself notes again. And you know what? It still works. It reminds me that I am enough, I am awesome, I am loved.

If you needed to hear something encouraging, what would it be? Grab a pad of post-its and start writing! Feeling down on yourself? Lift yourself up with words of gratitude and write that accolade or affirmation you need. Make sure you stick it somewhere you visit regularly. The bathroom mirror is always a good one. It’s a step in the direction of loving yourself and practicing self-care, both of which are integral to walking through the grief process.

As someone recently said to me, “We so often recognize all the weeds around us, but we forget there are flowers to look at too.” You are a flower, rising above those weeds!

Mental Health Recovery

Facing Our Fears & Meeting Our Grief

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.

How do we face our fears—especially when they are paralyzing? How do we defy this part of being human which urges us to avoid pain at all costs? We eat to feel better, drink and smoke to feel better, have sex to feel better, live on our phones to feel better, surf the Internet to feel better, ad infinitum. We do whatever it takes to go as far as possible from that nagging pain in our guts. With the addictive personality, this behavior is even more pronounced. If there’s a mental illness co-occurring but not acknowledged, the desire to resist the fear and feelings might be even greater. It can get pretty darn lonely, especially when one’s ego and fear kick in, coupled with a refusal to ask for help.

Certainly, there is an imperative to face these fears and the grief associated with them, but we can’t do it all at once. Since it requires us to look deeply within, I have found it far more beneficial to do in pieces. Even in a therapeutic environment, one doesn’t address every single issue at once. The trouble is, addicts and alcoholics don’t like to do anything in pieces. It’s usually all or nothing. It takes a new outlook and a commitment to slowing down to start to change that perspective. But it is possible.  Keep in mind, alcoholism and addiction are oftentimes symptoms of a much greater problem. The question is, are we brave enough to determine what that problem is?  If it’s a mental illness, do we have the courage to take care of it appropriately?

Instead of attempting to lift a tree to see its roots, try lifting one leaf at a time. Eventually, when it’s time to lift the tree, it may not be as heavy.


Mental Health

The Process of Grief

“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

Image via Wikipedia

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.

We often hear this process of grief described in stages:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

This grief cycle, which is often referred to as DABDA, was described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her famous book On Death and Dying, written in 1969. She did not, describe this cycle as a rigid depiction of grief, but rather as the framework with which to view and work with the process of grieving.  It’s also important to note that this isn’t a linear process. In fact, everyone who’s experienced loss may not experience each of these factors; if/when they do, they certainly won’t experience them in any particular order. In fact, if you are grieving, you may notice that you transition between these emotive states from moment to moment, much like the ebb and flow of the tides.

Adolescents process grief differently than adults. While they may be feeling a wide array of emotions, they may not exhibit them outwardly. For teens in particular, the vulnerability brought about by the onslaught of emotions associated with death and dying is sometimes too much. Developmentally, they are in the process of discovering their autonomy and independence, so cleaving to family in times of loss may seem “uncool” to a teen, regardless of need. That said, teens tend to do particularly well in peer support groups, which provide an ideal environment where kids help each other as they stand on common ground.

This doesn’t mean that adults can’t help their teen during this time. As Dr. J. Earl Rogers writes in his book The Art of Grief, “Most teens will respond to adults who choose to be companions on the grief journey rather than direct it.” This, then, requires a role change, one that may prove difficult for some parents, who are accustomed to presiding over most situations. Still, what is paramount, regardless of our role as parent or peer is to actively and deeply listen. Summarize what you hear, and repeat it back; Listen deeply, without judgment; Retain a regular schedule and routine. Remember, there is great comfort in regularity, something that death defies in its very nature.

We know that death can be sudden or expected. A sudden death can be described as an accident, homicide, suicide, drug overdose. The feelings associated with this type of loss are varied and often intense. You may experience:

  • The shock and disbelief last longer;
  • Sudden death can be more confusing, bringing up many feelings to process all at once;
  • There is not time to say goodbye;
  • You may have strong feelings of guilt because:
    • Of something you have or have not said about the person that died
    • Of something you thought or felt or wished about the person you died
    • You think you  could have prevented their death
    • You survived and your loved one didn’t
    • Wanting to feel normal again
    • This may seem unfair, especially if the person is young;
    • You may experience reoccurring thoughts, dreams, or flashbacks. These are normal and should decrease. If they don’t, ask for help.
    • You may feel the need for more information about the incident to gain a better understanding of how the person died. Be sure you can handle this. (It’s my experience that what we think we can handle and what we can actually handle are two different things.)
    • You may feel vulnerable or jumpy and nervous.

Someone dealing with expected loss, as in a death of  someone who’s been fighting cancer or another terminal illness may find themselves:

  • Grieving little losses along the way (not being able to do the same things or go to the same places with your loved one)
  • Experiencing symptoms of grief even before a loved one has died;
  • Having strong feelings of guilt because
    • Of something you said or didn’t say about the person who died
    • Of something you thought or felt or wished about the person that died
    • You think you could have prevented the death
    • You survived and your loved one did not
    • You want to feel normal again.

In the case of an expected death, you may also have had time to prepare and honor the wishes of your loved one. You also may have been able to say goodbye, which would give you a sense of closure.
So, as we begin to sit with the discomfort of death and loss, hopefully, we can also take the opportunity to recognize its transformative nature. Instead of regretting the past, perhaps we can remember the footprints of those who have left our sides, allowing them to blossom in our own hearts as we continue to forge our own paths.

Remember to be kind to YOU in this process.

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