Healing After Loss from an Overdose

February 5, 2020. Article by: Government of B.C.

Losing someone to substance use or an overdose – whether a friend, child, parent or other family member – is deeply traumatic and painful. It can leave you with many unanswered questions and a space in your life where the person used to be. It can leave you with feelings of grief and all the ways that grief presents itself: shock, sadness, anger, fatigue, appetite changes, and many other forms. 

There is no rulebook when it comes to coping with this kind of tragic event. We grieve intensely because we love intensely.  

Five steps to help with healing after loss

The Navigating Grief and Loss (PDF) handbook explains different emotional and physical reactions you may have and gives guidance on how to cope with what you’re experiencing. Here are some things that may help:

  1.  Find a counsellor. A counsellor can help you process and understand your grief, as well as your feelings towards your loved one and their substance use. Find a counsellor in your community on the CounsellingBC online directory.
  2. Practice self-care. Self-care is when you do things to limit stress and nurture your physical and mental health. Eating nutritious food, seeing friends and family, and getting enough sleep are all good methods of self-care.  Doing an activity you enjoy like spending time in nature or listening to music are other ways to care for yourself.
  3. Let yourself feel what you need to feel. Some people try to fight big, painful emotions, or resort to negative coping mechanisms such as using drugs or alcohol to numb their pain. It’s a bad idea to try and deal with grief in this way. Facing it head on may seem like the hardest thing to do, but it’s necessary to process your grief in a healthy way.
  4. Ask for help. Family and friends are there to support you. Ask for help when you need it and be specific in letting the people around you know what you need from them. 
  5. Grieve together. Remember: you’re not alone. Consider joining a support group for people that have lost someone to substance use. Search for services in your area using the HealthLinkBC service finder. Moms Stop the Harm is a network of Canadian families that also provide support and community for people who have lost loved ones to substance use. 

Just as there is no rulebook for how to experience grief, there is no timeline for when it ends. It may not seem possible during dark moments, but in time, the intensity of your emotions will subside even though the grief will remain. With time, support and the right tools, you will learn to live with your grief.

Navigating this new reality will always come with hard days. But as you journey forward, there will also be good days on the horizon.

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