Provocative titles get more lookie-loos so, Welcome!
So… can we have an honest discussion? Can we have an honest discussion about the ways we cope with grief & loss and specifically, how we use things to get us through tough times? Sure, there’s therapy, there’s avoidance, there’s journaling and rituals, there’s even hospitalization if things get really challenging. But there’s also substance use both prescribed and street, that come into play for a lot of people. For some people, it’s beer or wine or hard liquor, for others it’s weed, for others it’s anti-depressants and for some, it’s prescription pills to cope with anxiety. I don’t really want to talk about “healthy” versus “unhealthy” because in some ways, that a judgment call, but I DO want to raise some awareness and generate thoughts & conversation about ways we cope.
We all have our own ways of coping. Sometimes those things are helpful or they can be harmful. Truth is, coping is really just how you deal with something. It’s not always helpful, healthy or useful, it just helps us get through whatever we’re going through at the time. For example, when I’m stressed, I tend to eat things that aren’t the best health-wise. I’m not a big candy eater but I do love chocolate and will down some brownies, hot chocolate, chocolate cake or chocolate cookies. One might say, “what’s wrong with that?!” Well, nothing is really, really wrong with it in my honest opinion BUT I am aware that I’m eating my feelings which is not necessarily the healthiest relationship with food. It’s emotional eating and it can lead to other issues that I don’t personally want to deal with so it’s important for me to be mindful. Ultimately, I’m not really dealing with the feeling, I’m just using this thing to give me pleasure because I feel crappy.
~Shittiest of the Shitty~
Speaking of feeling crappy, losing a child(ren) is like the shittiest of the shitty things to ever happen to a person. Usually, you tend to feel crappy more often than not and the word “depression” can get thrown around easily. Guess what, feelings of sadness and depression are totally normal following a loss experience. Being tearful, angry, melancholy, lethargic, “under the weather”, irritable and hopeless are all part of the grieving process. Here’s where I want to challenge you; there’s a difference between situational depression and clinical depression. I’ll say it again for the people in the cheap seats, THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SITUATIONAL DEPRESSION AND CLINICAL DEPRESSION! To be diagnosed with the latter requires a psychiatric or psychological evaluation by a qualified professional because there are certain criteria you have to meet. There are also very specific treatment modalities that go along with that which can include adding in medications (e.g. anti-depressants). The former is way more common and can require a very different approach to treatment. It’s a direct grief response to an immediate situation that will likely lessen/improve/decrease in severity over time. Medication (of any kind) may not actually be the most helpful course of action when dealing with situational depression. One problem is that some people are super pill-happy these days. A grief expert I’m familiar with refers to it as the “medicalization of grief”. Anytime a person says they’re sad or down, people automatically tell you to hit up your doctor for the latest anti-depressant. That isn’t always the answer so be wary.
Getting high or drunk is technically a form of coping but the question is, is it actually helping you move through your grief? Usually it’s just putting your grief on pause and once you’re not high or drunk anymore, the feeling comes back. So guess what happens next? You go get high or drunk again but never actually deal with the problem. I believe I’ve mentioned this before but grief is like a river (this is from a grief group I participated in) and at the end of the river, there is your healing. The river may be windy and have lots of rocks in it, a tree may even fall into it making it feel impassible but the journey to healing is never easy. There’s always going to obstacles & challenges but some forms of coping don’t help you move closer to your healing. They only aid in your staying stuck. If you numb out on drugs or alcohol, your ability to navigate the challenges is impaired just as it is in real life (hence why we have DUI’s and DWI’s as offenses).
I’m going to give you a quick list of 7 things to consider when thinking about coping with any kind of loss:
- Don’t automatically jump to taking something.
- Try a variety of interventions to see what sticks for you.
- Consult with a therapist, a medical doctor or both.
- Use your natural supports (family, friends, co-workers).
- Ask yourself whether what you’re doing is moving you closer to healing or nah.
- Remind yourself that you experienced a super challenging thing & there is no quick fix.
- Ask yourself, “am I using ‘x-thing’ to process my feelings or mask my feelings?”
I am NOT a medical doctor of any kind and if you have very specific concerns about this kind of thing, please seek help from the appropriate professional. Also, though I am a therapist, I am not YOUR treating professional! I don’t know your life and cannot/am not making specific recommendations for you in this post. This is geared to generate conversation and maybe even questions/talking points you can take to your specific helping professional to find out what’s best for YOU. Let me be clear, I’m not saying that meds can’t help people. What I am saying is that it would be beneficial for you to do your research, talk with professional, soul search and make informed decisions so you’re not medicalizing your grief too. Popping pills & bottles may sound like a good time and it may even sound like a much needed escape from your life right now. Just remember, “wherever you go, there you are.” You can’t run away from realities no matter how unfortunate and shitty they are. What you can do, is work on changing your reality through healing so you don’t have to continue trying to escape it. Think about it and let me know your thoughts in the comments. Sending <3 & healing.