Dealing with The Death of a Family Member Sober

Woman struggling with grief

Contributor: Paul Loosemore, MA, PCLC, and writer for Addiction Hope.

Dealing with death is a painful experience that often overwhelms the most emotionally intelligent of us. Death feels so wrong we often want to ignore it—especially when pain overtakes us!

How do you enter the process of grief at all, let alone without your familiar medication? Here are a few thoughts and tips.


Authenticity is the elephant in the room. Addiction is the enemy of authentic, vulnerable experience. If you have learnt to mask pain or deal with emotions through your medication of choice, you may be deeply afraid of grief.

Senior couple looking out their windowYet author Ken Gire (1996) shared that, “So much is distilled in our tears, not the least of which is wisdom in living life.

From my own tears I have learned that if you follow your tears, you will find your heart.”

Staying sober feels like risking your heart, yet your sobriety is a place where tears can flow and you might find what makes you alive, and life worth living.

Honesty in emotional pain is an unpleasant prospect for many, and it is authentic engagement that allows you to integrate someone’s passing into your life.

Control is something we often grasp for. Again Gire (1996) has great insight from his own emotional distress: “Another fruit that came was the bittersweet knowledge of how little control I had over life… how little control any of us have over the storms that come into our lives.”

When will we admit that we cannot control this world or the events that transpire?

The roller coaster of emotion is unavoidable, and when we ride it we are free from being the all-powerful sustainer of everything we know. When we let go of control, we are freed to engage life.

Expectations are a funny thing. All too often we assume we know the path from its description. Grieving is more of an exploratory ramble than a well-trod path.

You may have heard of grief’s common stages: denial, shock, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Do you know what it means to experience them? They can be disorienting and scary, and that is okay.

You may get lost, move backwards and circle around as you deal with death. This is common and feeling overwhelmed is a natural response. I urge you to stomp around and muddle through.


To help you make it through:

  1. Make small, small plans: When a loved one dies we often inherit tasks. Break them down into the most manageable pieces you can. Delegate tasks and consider what can wait. Write these things out when you can and have your small plans to guide you through short moments.
  2. Self-care: When we are feeling vulnerable it is easy to neglect our own care. Make sure you take regular showers, eat meals and exercise most days. Keeping a good sleeping schedule will reduce your vulnerability and help you regain energy. Many people feel they shouldn’t enjoy life in a season of mourning. You can, and it will help you to mourn well. Engage your hobbies and find things you delight in.
  3. Portrait Of Happy Laughing ManLearn to sit (and maybe cry): Find a comfortable place and sit without distraction for 1 minute. Increase the time by 1 minute per day until you can sit with your thoughts and emotions without “medicating” them. Let your emotions flow in that safe place. Be honest with all that you are going through and experiencing.
  4. Talk: Find a friend, family member or counselor who can hear your confusion, distress and “unacceptable” thoughts. Being honest in relationships is therapeutic, and it will help you feel connected to others.
  5. Have a safety plan: If you have struggled with addiction you will know the temptation to return during strong emotions. Write out a safety plan that you keep in your wallet, purse or pocket that states the steps you will take if you feel tempted. For example:
    1. Call …… to talk
    2. Use my small plans list to engage something
    3. Leave the house and walk
    4. Go to ……. store and buy healthy meals
    5. Contact my sponsor
    6. Attend a meeting

    Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

    Have you experienced the loss of a loved one during your recovery from addiction? What recovery tools did you utilize? Who did you reach out to for support?

    Paul LoosemoreAbout the author: Written by Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—He is the founder of

    The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

    We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

    Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 20, 2015
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