I receive quite a few requests to discuss grief, and it’s, unfortunately, a topic that I’m extremely familiar with. Something I learned a long time ago is that every shitty thing that happens us can eventually be used to help others. As you’re about to read, I’ve experienced more death than most, but I’m hoping my experience can assist you in the grieving process.
I remember when I got sober 7 years ago being excited that I finally found a group of people who understood me, but within the first few months was the first time I had someone I knew in the program relapse and die. From there, it happened on a regular basis, and I thought to myself about how getting sober is like entering this war, and you never knew which of your friends would be dead the next day.
Before this, I had three close deaths happen in my life. In high school, one of our friends that we grew up with was in a car accident with her brother on their way back from Disneyland. He survived, and she sadly passed away. Not long after high school, one of my good friends from school who I played football with passed away from a freak health incident, and he wasn’t even 20 years old. Lastly, was my ex-girlfriend who died at 24 from complications of alcoholism.
When I was three years sober, I was able to get the job that changed my life: I got a job at a dual diagnosis rehab. This is when I really got the passion to help others. Each day, I was working with people who struggled with addiction as well as mental health issues. During my three years of working there, I was able to literally help thousands of people because we had such big facilities. The hardest part of the job was dealing with the deaths. During my time there, I had over 70 people die from overdoses, health issues as a result of their addiction or suicide.
Appreciate the Time You Had
The one person I didn’t mention in the intro who passed away was my grandma, who I called “Nana”. She was my everything and passed away a few years ago. As a kid who grew up in a family of addiction and felt extremely unloved and neglected, Nana was always there for me. She was the one person in my life who always made me feel loved and that I mattered.
Although she gave me unconditional love and truly showed me what it meant to be a good person, the damage inside of me outweighed her love. My trauma, depression and anxiety led me to start abusing alcohol and drugs. She never gave up me, but I know I was breaking her heart. She was a teacher her whole life, and she was so proud of me for doing well in school and graduating, and then everything came crashing down when I became addicted.
One of the twisted parts of addiction is that you drink and use, it affects the people you love, you feel like shit, and then you just drink and use more. It’s this sick and twisted cycle. I felt so terrible that Nana had such high hopes for me, and I was throwing it all away.
Luckily, I was able to get sober 7 years ago, and I actually got sober in Fresno, California, where Nana and the rest of my family lived. I was miserable in my early sobriety, but Nana was so proud of me. I had a ton of doctor appointments in early sobriety because I did so much damage to my body, and Nana took me to all of them. Each day, she saw me staying sober one more day and getting a little healthier.
In the coming years of staying sober, I was able to rebuild my relationship with her, and I was even able to bring my son to visit her multiple times so he could witness all the glory that was Nana. We’d visit her in California, and play board games with her just like I did when I was a kid, and I’m so grateful for that time we all got to spend together because a couple of years into my sobriety, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
A few years ago, Parkinson’s ended up taking her life. But she was a badass and didn’t go down without a fight. Up until the Parkinson’s progressed really bad, she was still gardening on a daily basis, taking care of her turtles and cats. I remember my family telling her she needs to take it easy, and one of the most gangster things I remember her telling the family was, “I’m not going to stop gardening and taking care of my turtles outside. If I die face first in the planter, at least I know that I went out happy.”
( I told you it was pretty gangster)
When I first got sober, I told my sponsor that if she ever passed away, I’d probably relapse. When she eventually passed away, I didn’t.
One of the ways I dealt with the grieving process was appreciating the time that we had together. I try to give more weight to the time I spent with her growing up and after I got sober, but I don’t shut the door on those years where I was in my active addiction. But, I stay in gratitude.
I’m so grateful that she was able to see me sober before she passed away. It means so much to me. While working in treatment, I can’t tell you how many people got sober after someone passed away and the difficult grieving process they had ahead of them. I try to remind these people that whoever that person is would be happy that they’re finally taking care of themselves, and they too should be grateful for the time they had together.
I also take this gratitude for the time I had with Nana and use it in everyday life. A pet peeve I have is when some massive tragedy happens like a shooting, and everyone talks about how it’s a reminder to tell the people in your life you love them.
Life is precious, and we never know what’s going to happen. Tell the people in your life how much you love them every day and not just when tragedy happens. I don’t even let my son go to sleep or get out of my car when I drop him off at school without us telling each other that we love one another because I’ll be dammed if something happens to me and that’s not one of the last things he remembers me saying to him.
Use Grief to Live a Life of Meaning and Purpose
Depression is a bitch, and one of the main symptoms of depression is a lack of motivation. Our depression wants us to lay in bed all day and isolate. It also takes motivation to make healthy decisions such as taking care of your mental and physical health. Depression wants you to get a case of the “fuck its” and completely self destruct. It wants people like me to go back to drinking and using drugs. For others, it may want them to go back to self-harm or their eating disorder. Some people just have extremely toxic behaviors that are easy to turn back to when feeling depressed.
The way I stay on the right path is to use my grief as a way to live a life of meaning and purpose. Some of you know that I had a really rough year, and I recently made a video about how I wasted six months of my life. In the video, I discuss how I finally pulled my head out of my ass and remembered my own advice.
If you’re looking for affordable therapy from the comfort of your own home, I personally use BetterHelp online therapy. I have a badass therapist, and I highly recommend this easy-to-use service. By clicking here to sign up, it helps support the work I do as well.
Originally published at https://www.therewiredsoul.com on November 7, 2019.