Holiday Loss: Grieving Toxic Relationships
“As much as it may hurt to let go of friends and romantic partners who exert negative influences on you, it is a key to sobriety,” says Kenneth England, MFT, a Primary Therapist at Malibu Promises. “Part of the process of recovery is to place yourself as much as possible in sober environments and around people who support you.”
"As you let go of people from your past," he says, "it is natural to grieve. Honor those feelings so that you can move on."
Toxic relationships with people who encourage you to engage in harmful activities, or with people who abuse you or don’t treat you well, can cause heartache. But it also hurts your heart to let them go. Here are ways to grieve and begin to move on.
The most important part of the process is to end or severely limit physical or virtual contact.
• Remover their phone number(s) from your devices
• Delete their e-mail address
• Unfollow them on social media
• Stop hanging out in the same places
• Quit going to bars to socialize
• Avoid social or work gatherings where you’ll run into them
Allow Yourself to Grieve
The loss of any relationship, even a toxic one, can feel like a death in the family. It’s important to experience grief and loss in addiction as a way of moving beyond it. In order to grieve, you will need to take some quiet time with your thoughts as well as take healing actions that will help you release.
1. Admit your true feelings. It is normal to feel torn when you must leave a toxic relationship, even if you weren’t treated well. As feelings of loss and grief arise, allow them to be present. Don’t try to push them away and don’t try to pretend they don’t matter.
2. Express your grief. Perhaps you are not one to cry, or perhaps you feel you will not be able to stop once you begin. But feelings need to be released in the healthiest way possible. When you are going through grief and loss in addiction, you might find that watching a sad movie or listening to songs that touch your heart and make you tear up can help you reflect.
3. Seek spiritual solace. Not everyone is religious, but many people experiencing grief and loss in recovery find a deepened connection with their higher power. In the embrace of a source larger than yourself, you may feel a sense of safety to release some of the pain you are carrying.
4. Get emotional support. Don’t suffer in silence. Attend meetings and reach out to your sponsor and sober friends for a shoulder to cry on. Seek professional help if your grief is prolonged or unbearable to make sure you are not suffering from complex grief.
5. Release physical reminders. Giving up the things that remind you of or represent toxic relationships is an important part of the process. Let go of that t-shirt you wore to a drug-filled concert with your toxic date and toss the jeans that ripped the night you fell down drunk. Give them to charity. Take a garbage bag and fill it with reminders of those days, like the photo of the people you used to get high with. Mementos from substance abuse can trigger memories. You may feel sad doing these things but you may also begin to feel relieved.
6. Visualize a happier ending. You may never again see or speak to your toxic friend or lover, but you can visualize a conversation in which you say goodbye the way you wished you could have. Maybe it includes a hug or expression of affection. Imagine this person in your mind’s eye and tell them what’s on your mind. For example: “I love you but I can’t be with you because you’re dangerous for me. I choose to forgive you. Thank you for the lessons you provided. Goodbye.” See this person walking away, through a door that represents them being out of your life. Alternatively, you can write this scenario using a therapeutic method called virtual dream.
7. Take a healing shower. After episodes of sadness and grief, take a shower. Imagine the pain and the despair of the relationship, along with your loneliness and grief, going down the drain as you symbolically wash that person out of your system. In every shower, state, “I am free, clean, purified.” If you feel especially sad, take a cold shower. Studies show it can help regulate your emotions and restore you to balance.
8. Look forward to a new year. Grief will lessen over time and there will be a moment when you realize you are ready to be back in the world. Make a list of things that would make you happy and pick one for each week of the new year. Maybe there’s a play you want to see, a museum you want to visit or a famous place in your own hometown that you’ve yet to experience but would like to. It can be books you want to read and new friends you want to gather with. Add positive activities with positive people and make them a new normal in your life.