Loss and Grief: How Veterans Can Maintain Balance in Sobriety

Grief and loss can throw up roadblocks to healthy living. For veterans who are in active recovery, a new loss or emotional hardship can not only reanimate the specter of wartime grief but can also trigger cravings and relapse.

On August 30th, people across the country are taking part in National Grief Awareness Day. On this day, those who are struggling with grief due to trauma, loss of a loved one, or loss of any kind come together to share their stories and support one another in recovery. For veterans, it is one tool among many that can be helpful in managing feelings of grief, depression, and sadness, and by using this tool, veterans can help themselves to avoid relapse at the same time.

Managing Grief

When a loved one dies, a divorce occurs, or there is trauma of any kind, there is an expected and healthy grief period that follows, allowing for processing and growth. Without this time, as painful as it may be, those unprocessed feelings are left to stagnate, often popping up and coming out in unexpected ways, like a sudden urge to drink or get high.

Though it is impossible to avoid grief, there are ways to manage the painful feelings that follow and potentially even use those experiences to grow and become stronger in recovery. Here’s how:

  • Allow yourself to think about and meditate on your loss. When you allow yourself to focus on what has happened, you give yourself time to process. You can focus on how the loss has impacted you, what you have been through before and since, and vent all the feelings that have resulted.
  • Write it out. When you are ready, take the time to write. Write about what you experienced and how you feel. Even if it feels like you are writing the same thing over and over, write every day and continue to process the changes, the loss, the anger, and the sadness you feel. This can even take the form of a letter to the person who is no longer with you, a short story, or a prose poem — whatever feels most authentic.
  • Give yourself permission to be uncomfortable. Even years after active duty service, many veterans feel uncomfortable acknowledging that they feel pain, anxiety, depression, or grief. Trained to keep going no matter what, it can be difficult to admit that grief is a daily struggle. Giving yourself permission to feel however you feel without judgment can go a long way toward helping to improve the healing process.
  • Ask for help. If difficult and painful feelings persist and it is difficult to function in day-to-day life after six months of continued, heavy grief, it is time to seek help. If grief symptoms trigger relapse at any time, an immediate reconnection with treatment services is needed. Connecting with a therapist, medical professional, and substance abuse treatment expert can help to arrest the relapse and begin the process of working steadily forward toward stability in recovery.

Is a veteran you love struggling with grief today? How can you help?