Coping with Addiction Loss: Grief in the Recovery Family

Updated: May 18

One of the many things I love about recovery is that for many, helping others is about sharing our experience, strength and hope. It’s not advice. It’s not condescension or lecturing. It’s about understanding. Listening. Being genuine. Telling our stories. Laura McKowen in We are the Luckiest says: “Nothing is such balm for a broken soul as this—to know you are not alone.”


I’ve had the incredible opportunity of connecting with women in recovery since I got sober a little over a decade ago. I can list countless lovely names of women who have left little imprints on my heart that are still there today. Women who laugh with me. Cry with me. Share secrets with me. We ask questions together and struggle with our doubts together. We work through traumas and shame that have kept many of us from connecting with each other and with God.


Being nestled in a recovery family is an incredible thing.


Hearing the News You Want to Un-hear

But there is another part of being in a recovery family that I’d like to talk about with you today, though a part of me struggles against this. It’s sometimes easier to focus on the sunny places and shiny parts of a healing journey.


“Have you heard?” –this is a phrase that I dread to hear in my recovery family. I’ve had far too many phone calls begin like this, with these three words that I want to immediately un-hear as soon as they are uttered and a hollow silence follows.


This happened last year on this day when I received a call from a friend letting me know that a mutual friend's seventeen-year-old son passed away unexpectedly. Tragically. My heart fell into my feet. And then the tears started. All day I stumbled in shock, unable to even imagine the pain that his father and loved ones were feeling.


I’ve also had far too many “I can’t believe this, no!” moments while I’m scrolling social media and see yet another obituary. Then another. And another. I go to the person’s page to see if this is really true—and yes—when I see the Rest In Peace messages and condolences and shock typed in brief sentences behind invisible tears I know it is.


When this happens, I want to scream and repeat to myself and to anyone who will listen: it’s such a waste. SUCH A WASTE! I want to cry loud enough for the world to hear. I want to cry for all of the people who are gone and for all of the people struggling with addiction and for their family members and for all of the people walking alongside them: the police officers and the parole officers and the social workers and the ER nurses. I want to cry for all of the people they were going to help and for the people like them and like me and maybe like you who have lived through things we shouldn’t have.


I want to weep for the waste of precious life and possibility and hope.


Chances are you have been impacted by grief from addiction loss or know someone who has lost their life to addiction or overdose. Let me rephrase that. “Lost their lives to” sounds too passive—like someone just succumbed and couldn’t find their life anymore. I don't like to say this because it’s not what happens. Addiction steals lives. It thrives on the blood of the innocent and struggling. Addiction devours and destroys families and homes. Addiction leaves an empty seat at the table. Addiction takes away so much from so many. It is more than heart breaking. Words fall short and break against the pavement like glass. If you ask a mother or father who has lost a child to addiction, rarely will they say “they lost their life to.” More times than not, there is nothing but gaping sadness and a hollow disbelief if you have courage and compassion to ask what happened.


This is a picture of Amanda and me.



Amanda is brilliant.


Creative.


Silly.


Compassionate.


Hard-working.


Friendly.


Hilarious.


Beautiful.


Resilient.


Gone.


Amanda is gone, yet will be forever with me.


Grief Can Transform Our Lives and the Lives of Others

Sometimes grief ebbs and flows like the tide that inches back to sea. Sometimes beyond the pain and the here and now, I can see towards the horizon. In the distance, I see something else, something new--and strangely, beautifully, it is not death but life.


For many of us in addiction recovery, losing our loved ones has lit a fire in us, an unquenchable desire to live for them and for the hundreds of millions who are walking the thin line between using substances and being destroyed by them. For many of us, this reality also begs us to ask unanswerable questions.


Why do bad things happen to those we love? How can just one more time be the end? Why can’t there be Naloxone on every street corner? Why do some survive their overdoses (like me) and some don’t? Where is God in all of this?


I wish I had an answer for these questions. I wish I had an answer for Bev and Martine and Pernecia and Anthony and Brigette and Lauri and all of the other moms and dads I know who have lost beautiful daughters and sons. I'm being real with you: sometimes I’ve tried to pray and ask God but I don’t hear an answer. This can make me even more confused and more devastated. Lead me to ask more questions. And despite the questions and doubts and silence, I wrestle with God anyways and tell Him that even though I don’t understand, I’m still going to show up.


I need to keep showing up.


We need to keep showing up.


I don’t know why some of my recovery family dies when women like me make it out alive.

What I do know is that I have a choice today about what I am going to do about it. I can do something with the life that I have. I need to show up for my recovery family because we need each other. It's a war zone out there. We need to stand together, support each other, go to meetings, make phone calls, build recovery homes, create recovery support programs, speak in schools, advocate for policies, and stand with those in recovery who are less privileged.


We need to show up for each other.


To Amanda and Kayla and Alex and Megan and Valerie and Gavyn and Chase and Archie and Amalia and Matt and Ben and Bryan, and Aaron and all of the other men and women who have gone before us to light the way, thank you for sharing your beautiful lives with us then and always.



Have you lost a loved one to addiction and need support? Check out this article from Shatterproof for more information.

You are not alone. Struggling? Reach out to me anytime or there is someone available 24/7 for confidential support at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


This article was written in memory of

Gavyn Alvarado.

April 30th 2003-May 17th 2020

Rest in Peace and Power

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