With a growing drug epidemic sweeping across the United States, more and more Americans are dealing with overdose-related grief and loss. This is a problem that indiscriminately affects all demographics and geographical areas. It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that the average life expectancy for our country has gone down for the first time in decades. While addiction itself needs to be addressed at a nationwide level, today we’ll tackle the topic of associated grief. Many people seem to take this loss harder than others. Here are some of the reasons we commonly see:
Accepting another’s passing is always difficult, regardless of the circumstances. Whether the loss results from illness or accident, you’re still left facing the absence of a loved one. In instances of overdose-related deaths, those left behind often see the loss as preventable. It’s as if this whole situation didn’t have to happen, which only compounds the confusion and grief among loved ones. If you’re focusing on all of the what-ifs that could have averted this death, then you’re not able to deal with the loss itself. Remaining in denial will firmly prevent you from moving on to acceptance.
Whether you knew about the addiction or not, it’s common for those closest to the person struggling with drug use to feel guilty. If you didn’t know, you’re likely to blame yourself for missing the telltale signs of addiction. However, if you did know, then you may feel even more culpable for not doing more to help them put a stop to the problem. In many ways, this is similar to the wave of emotions experienced in the wake of a suicide; yet, it’s distinct as well.
For example, some people suffer guilt that those closest to them even struggled with addiction in the first place. Worse, if it was a prolonged and destructive battle with the disease that touched those around the addict, they may feel relief at the passing—which only prompts more guilt! It’s important to remember that all of these reactions are normal in the face of a sudden loss resulting from a drug overdose. Obsessing over them, though, will do nothing to help you cope or undo the actions of another.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to differentiate shame from guilt; the emotions are so similar. However, many find it helpful to distinguish between the root of the emotion, rather than the feeling itself. Often times, guilt is described as an internal or personal sensation. It’s related to our perception of ourselves and what we could have or should have done. Shame, by contrast, has an external source; it’s caused by our impression of what others might think about us.
So, you may feel judged or shunned by others for being so close to someone suffering from addiction, or enabling them in some way, or for not doing enough to prevent their overdose. You can even experience some sort of transference of shame on behalf of the person who passed. Whether or not others are actually judging you during your time of grief and loss is typically moot. Your perception of judgment can be enough to inspire similar feelings of shame.
As a result of all of these sensations, you may be reluctant to speak out about your feelings. Yet, the circumstances of another’s passing are largely irrelevant when dealing with grief and loss. You’re still allowed to mourn them, even if their death was related to their addiction. If you’re struggling with your bereavement, or know someone who is, please reach out to our experienced staff at The Family Center. They can give you tools to navigate this difficult time and put you in touch with others in the same situation. With the growing number of addiction-related losses, we need to come together to tackle this problem now more than ever.