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Losing a Loved One to Addiction

There are no words to adequately describe the grief of losing a loved one to the disease of addiction. It’s a mix of intense sadness, raging anger, and a kick in the gut feeling of complete powerlessness. My heart goes out to you if you’re still trying to wake up from this nightmare.

Addiction is unnatural. It forces parents to bury their children. It takes away our brothers and sisters. It kills people who were only starting to live. Some are taken quickly. Others make a gradual descent into Hell while we who love them stand on the sidelines pleading, “Please just stop!” “Please just come home.”

Insidiously, addiction strips away a person’s free will. It takes away values, priorities, and boundaries. It slowly overshadows personality, character, and even love. It leaves only the shell of a person with an emptiness that demands to be filled.

Somehow we’re still questioning whether addiction is a disease or a result of poor will power. This is not a moral issue. Good people get addicted every single day.

If you’ve lost someone, the most important thing for you to know is that this was not in any way your fault. You did not cause it nor could you in any way control it. There is no human power that can match the compulsion an addict experiences to use.

Please do not be ashamed. The stigma of addiction is perpetuated in the cold judgment of those who understand nothing about the matter. Please be gentle in judging yourself. Your loved one was a good person with a bad disease.

Please don’t be “strong.” The myth that being stoic benefits our loved ones is as outdated as it is limiting. Suffering silently is not strength. Sharing our grief gives others permission to do the same.

If you don’t know the stages of grief, someone will inevitably share them with you. – Denial (shock, disbelief) – Anger (outrage at injustice, reaction to powerlessness) – Bargaining (Please, God…I’ll do anything, just don’t let it be true.) – Depression (the soul crushing response to loss) – Acceptance (I can’t fight this anymore. I let go – not of my loved one, but of the pain of losing them).

The lesser known T.E.A.R. model goes further than these five stages. It describes the process of what it means to “move on.” Reinvesting in our lives without our loved ones seems unimaginable, yet it is exactly what we must do. “Honoring” those who go before us means living the lives they would want us to have.

I defer to the experts of Nar Anon and Al Anon regarding how to have a life in the midst of loss and uncertainty. These amazing people support one another in a way that can only be described as heroic. They get it and will help you find purpose and ultimately, peace.

We all want our pain to have meaning. Tragedy can be a catalyst for positive change. I’m mindful of the incredible efforts of Corey and Christina Darveau. These parents have created a campaign to prevent others families from experiencing the of loss of a child due to a different but also fatal social problem. We will never know how many lives they save.

The heartache caused by substance abuse and addiction is immeasurable. Somehow we continue to fail at providing sufficient education and prevention efforts. Somehow we do little or nothing to target key risk factors for addiction. Somehow we tolerate obstacles to treatment. Only when we make our voices heard will this change.

If your life has been impacted by the addiction of a loved one, please speak your truth to those in power. Become a recovery ally. Advocate loudly and put a face to the statistics politicians see.

“Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Meade

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