Dealing With Grief Anniversaries

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Loss is a devastating experience that can take a long time to heal from. What many people forget is that even if they feel healed now, they might not have the coping strategies needed to deal with reminders of their loss. Let’s take a closer look at grief, its close relationship with addiction, and how to establish coping strategies so your client doesn’t derail their recovery.

What Are Grief Anniversaries?

After a major loss, there will come a time when your client will be reminded of this painful memory of losing someone or something they cared about. This period of time can easily bring up old emotions and flashbacks of the event. It may even feel like an undoing of all the progress they have made since then. These feelings can resurface during the physical anniversary of a loss (such as the date it happened) or when they feel a hole where their loss used to be, such as holiday time or a tradition that included them.

Loss doesn’t always mean the death of a loved one. It can also include losing someone after a divorce, losing a house or a community after a natural disaster, or even losing an important family heirloom through circumstances beyond their control. Even after a long period of time, when your client thinks they are fully healed, feelings of grief can be unearthed any time they are reminded of their loss.

Acknowledge What Isn’t In Our Control

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to control the passage of time. The day that will remind your client of their grief will come, whether they like it or not. The First Step in the 12-Step program – “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable” – asks us to admit that we don’t have control over everything. This can be applied to many other parts of life as well, such as the anniversary of a terrible event. The only thing in our control is how we prepare for the inevitable.

Spend Time With Your Support System

The best thing a client can do for themselves is to make sure they are surrounded by their support system on this difficult day. Isolation can bring out the worst in us during times of sadness and depression. Having their loved ones around them during the holidays or a death anniversary can make it easier to deal with the pain. Remind your client that they might not be at their emotional best because of how this time makes them feel. Being open and honest with their loved ones might lead to greater understanding, especially if they express emotions that others resent or take personally.

Prioritize Self-Care

This is the time for your client to focus on their physical and emotional needs. If your client is due for a grief anniversary, they need to make sure that they care for themselves during this time. When people are going through emotional distress, it’s easy for self-care to get thrown by the wayside. Neglecting our physical needs often contributes to poor mental health, creating a vicious cycle that only makes things worse. During this time, encourage your client to get plenty of exercise, sleep, healthy food, and water so their physical health does not suffer.

Make the Day Special in a New Way

Grief anniversaries are difficult and can feel sacred to some. One thing your client can do during this difficult time is to use the day to honor their loss. For example, during the holidays, traditions that once included their loved ones can feel empty without them there. This is an ideal time to start a new tradition that honors the memory of who or what is missing. During the anniversary of the loss of a loved one, dedicate the day to their memory. Spend time with other loved ones telling stories and sharing memories about the person they lost. If they are grieving loss after a divorce, spend the day lifting themselves up, doing something they enjoy, and reflecting on how things have changed for the positive. Through their grief, they will hopefully see things that were gained by their loss, whether it enabled change within themselves or ended an unhealthy or toxic situation.

Accept the Entire Range of Emotions

Grief isn’t just about feeling sad. Grief comes with an entire spectrum of emotions when a person feels the loss of something they care about. The same is true for a grief anniversary. It’s common to feel angry, anxious, depressed, fatigued, guilty, lonely, sad, or even numb. It’s also normal to experience insomnia and crying spells. By preparing for a grief anniversary ahead of time, your client can avoid potential relapse and safeguard their recovery.

An anniversary might feel like an undoing of the progress your client has made since their loss. Even if they feel the same way they did when it first happened, all hope is not lost. Grief anniversaries can easily cause flashbacks of the feelings and events that occurred. Your client might remember everything that happened in vivid detail, including the pain and trauma they felt. If your client has a grief anniversary coming up in the near future, this is the time to make a plan for the day that considers the realities of grief. At Jaywalker Lodge, we constantly remind the men who come to us for addiction treatment that they are not alone and they have the support of people who care about them. Many of us here have felt the same pain and trauma they are going through now, and we’re here to guide them through it. To learn more, call us now at (866) 529-9255

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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