1 year, 3 months, and 8 days…

It has been 1 year, 3 months, and 8 days since my Uncle lost his battle to his heroin addiction. You’d think grief gets easier. It doesn’t. My Uncle’s death shook up our whole family (as most deaths do). Everything has changed…

But most of that is another story for another day and is way too much to get into on my first blog post.

I need this blog. I need this outlet.

I’m a substance abuse counselor. I’ve been in the field for about three years now. I run intensive groups with higher risk patients. Basically  my caseload consists of the ones struggling to make sobriety click. Of course the fact that I’m a non-addict I’ve gotten the:

“You aren’t an addict! You can’t possibly understand my addiction!”

To which I reply:

“I may not know your personal struggle, but I know all about losing a loved one to addiction. I know all about the other side of addiction and seeing it from the family perspective.”

At first they don’t get how that makes me able to relate, but after a while it clicks. One client in particular said something that plays over and over in my mind in regards to the other side and not realizing the other side could relate.  The patient had said:

“I had no idea that my wife could be as numb as I am in my addiction.” 

Those words were powerful. Those words (even though I shouldn’t need reassurance) helped me see that maybe some of what I say, despite our differences, can reach someone struggling.

Again, I don’t want to get in too deep in regards to what I do as of yet. I just wanted to kind of give a background on why I chose to write this blog. I’ve realized recently after breaking down in a co-workers office after a very intense group that I am still struggling with my grief and needed an outlet. Of course I knew that I was. But after crying at work I realized that it was much more than I thought.

Another co-worker, who runs more intensive groups than I do, was doing a Goodbye Letter group. If you aren’t familiar with what a “Goodbye Letter” is it is basically where the person struggling with their addiction writes goodbye either to their drug of choice or the lifestyle. When I discuss “Goodbye Letters” I encourage them to write the letter how they want to, whether it’s a letter…a poem…or a story. How you say goodbye is your choice. No real right or wrong answer. At least that’s my approach. Anywho… he had the room set up like a funeral. Picture the rows of black chairs divided so that there is an aisle run down the middle, dim lighting, and a cardboard casket. My co-worker, let’s call him Mr. J for anonymity, had obituaries laid out on each clients chair stating how they died with their drug of choice. Mr J had them each read their letters. Some struggled reading their goodbyes to their drug of choice and lifestyle, and others it came easy. Mr. J then had them place their letter into the casket. Almost as if they were burying their old lifestyle. Burying their addiction.

Now it wasn’t the set up that hit me. Yes, the funeral arrangement was kind of triggering for grief, but that wasn’t the reason. It wasn’t the letters that hit me. I didn’t really feel the tears welling in my eyes until my supervisor, who has always been tough and hard on the group, discussed her own struggles with being on the other side of addiction. My supervisor put it raw to them. My supervisor told them how much she was inspired by their perseverance to keep trying for their sobriety. My supervisor shared the hardships she experienced as the child of an alcoholic. As she spoke it hit me…It was March 15th, it was my Uncles Birthday, and it marked 1 year, 3 months, and 2 days since he died. I suddenly got lost in my head. I suddenly began thinking about the grief I was avoiding. The grief I was pushing aside by helping others. I felt the tears welling in my eyes. I sat there swallowing my tears. Swallowing my emotions. When I was asked if I had anything to share I even found myself at a loss for words. I never have a loss for words. The words were in my head…the words on the tip of my tongue:

“You inspire me too. As someone who has lost a loved one to addiction. As someone who is here today not able to wish their loved one Happy Birthday due to their death. As someone who had to endure condolences at a funeral from people who used and sold dope to my Uncle it’s tough. What you leave behind with a death like that is more heartache, confusion, sorrow, and chaos. Choose your life. The next hit could be your last.”

But I couldn’t articulate anything.  I didn’t say those words.

After I left the group I went to a co-workers office like a zombie. She took one look at me asked me if I was okay and I closed her office door.  As soon as that door shut I broke down. She listened to me discuss my struggles with my grief and how I didn’t think it would hurt me to come to work. I talked about my last words to my uncle. The last thing I had done before he’d died was accuse him of stealing $20 out of my purse. It was the day before he left for rehab. He’d denied it. Of course I didn’t want to keep accusing him. So, I said: “Whatever.” Thinking in my head: I know you did it.

He then left for 7 days in rehab. When he came back I didn’t get to see him. He died, I believe 2 days, after returning. My grandpa had found him in his room with a rock and a needle…

It’s hard to face grief. It’s especially hard to face the death of something, you unfortunately hate yourself for saying, you expected. It’s not that I expected failure. I wanted him to succeed so bad. But each day he got lost in his addiction…each relapse…each broken promise…the lack of sober support…and the lack of follow through in his recovery made me look at him as a man on the path of destruction. A man who would die by his drug of choice. Heroin.

I hate that I never got to say I love you, Uncle Billy. I believe in you. That closure will unfortunately never be there.

As a counselor I tell people all the time that there is no set time line for grief. It’s okay to go through the emotions. It’s okay to feel. It’s how you live with it that counts. Live with the good memories. Don’t dwell on the negative. It’s how you learn to move on with your grief. It almost becomes apart of you. That as much as people say GET OVER IT you can’t just get over it…and that it’s okay not to just as long as it doesn’t hurt your day to day functioning and you don’t let it lead you to your own path of self-destruction.

I’m no expert in grief. Everyone internalizes it differently. But what I do know is this blog is for my release. It’s my therapy. If it helps someone through their own grief then that’s even better.

So if you managed to read through this long post of possible half ramblings… just know… whether your loved one died from cancer, a car wreck, old age…or like me you lost someone to addiction.

If you struggle with grief. If you can’t get over ityou are not alone.

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