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What is Ambiguous Grief and How Can I Cope?

What is Ambiguous Grief and How Can I Cope?

Lots of people talk about grief, what it is, and how to cope with it. But what about other types of grief, the kind that are harder to name or put a face to. Perhaps it is grieving someone who is terminally ill, or suffering from debilitating illness that robs them of memory or capacity to be who they once were. There are also loved ones who struggle with addiction who seem lost in the midst of it and cannot find their way back to who they were before. Ambiguous grief takes on many of these aspects of losing someone who is still here, alive, but not the same person we remember them to be. Learn more about what ambiguous grief is and how to cope if you are struggling with this challenging type of loss.

Lost But Still Here

There are times in life when someone we love becomes a person we barely recognize. They are physically here, but psychologically they are somewhere else, maybe even gone. There are many reasons for this, but addiction can really feel like this at times. The person you love is still there, breathing air, walking, talking, working, doing life, but they are sick and need help. Ambiguous loss is realizing the person you love is here but will never be able to be who you want them to be, at least in their current state, and with addiction, they are likely to never be the same person again.

Love Changes Shape

One of the things that helps in coping with ambiguous grief is realizing that love shifts and changes over time. As circumstances change, as people change, so does our love. We may never stop loving someone with addiction, but we can support and be there for them in a healthy way. The continued love doesn’t change how deeply we miss the person they used to be, the one we lost. We may not feel like the relationship to our loved one is the same, but there is a level of acceptance about what is now, rather than what was, and this acceptance helps us cope.

Feeling the Feelings

Part of grief is learning to just let all the feelings wash over you. These emotions may be complicated by sadness, yearning, anger, guilt, rage, or other various emotions. They might consume us as we are focusing on memories of the person, rather than who they are now. This is rarely recognized as grief. It is harder to open up about it with people because you’re not sure what to name it. Here are some tips to help you work through this challenging type of grief:

  • The present does not override the past. The person you loved is here, even if words or behaviors are difficult, even hurtful. Cherish positive memories, write them down, and focus on them when needed.
  • The person is not their illness. If your loved one has addiction, that person is not their addiction. Understand as much as you can about it, how it impacts your loved one, and try to divert feelings towards them back to your own feelings and find a way to deal with them.
  • Acknowledge grief and pain of loss. Give yourself permission to grieve this loss. Acknowledge it, don’t hide from it or ignore it.
  • Be open to a new relationship. It can feel difficult but accept the relationship is not what it was. Be open and seek gratitude to build a new relationship when possible.
  • Connect with others who relate. When many don’t relate, find a support group that will help. Seek out those who understand and share the challenges.

Finding people who resonate with us will help process grief. Maybe you even grieve who you were, your dreams, and hopes for the future. You can change, and it starts today. Call us if you are ready to change, quit drugs or alcohol and move forward with your life. Call us 24/7 at our toll-free number: 866-294-9401