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Letting go of grief over your child’s substance abuse

Photo of Ricki TownsendFor parents whose children struggle with substance abuse, the New Year gives us an opportunity to start fresh and welcome new, healthier attitudes or behaviors. But what happens if we find ourselves clenching grief or loss so tightly that we cannot embrace happiness or joy? Ricki Townsend, a family counselor and interventionist who helps families work thought grief, shares some ideas about letting go.

“We have dreams and hopes for our children as they grow and discover life. Then one day we wake up to find they have become involved in the battle of addiction. And so our life as we hoped it would be has changed. As parents, we may find we have trouble sleeping, we may start to have health issues, we may find ourselves crying or even angry over the simplest of things. Please look at the possibility that you are grieving the loss of your child as you knew him or her.

Grief and loss are naturally interwoven into addiction. Grief is different for each one of us, but please don’t discount it. We put so much energy into getting back our child that we often forget about ourselves. Here are some ways to deal with your grief:

  • If you acknowledge that you are grieving, I invite you to work through the grieving process with a counselor who will help you understand your losses and deal with them in a healthy and constructive way.
  • Grief can feel suffocating.  A good exercise to release grief is to take a very deep breath, hold it tightly and then release it slowly. You will feel your body calm down. It is also therapeutic to cry in the shower or yell in the car or smash pillows with a tennis racquet—anything physical to vent your sorrow, your anger, your disappointment.
  • You might also want to write a letter to whatever is running your life—addiction, fear, remorse—and tell it that you are taking back your life.  You can also write down your sorrows and regrets and burn them in a fireplace or “burning bowl.”  The important thing is to symbolically purge your “if only’s” so that you can free yourself to live more in the moment.
  • There are also some great books that will help support our recovery. Check out The
    Grief Recovery Handbook
    by John W. James and Russell Friedman or The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson.

It is up to each of us to ‘push the clouds away’ in order to be happy. Don’t sit on the sidelines and don’t become a victim—you have the power to reclaim your serenity.  Best wishes for a healthy New Year.”   

Ricki Townsend



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2 Responses

  1. Hi Ricki,,

    These are wonderful suggestions for letting go of grief. It is so difficult as a parent to let go of the dreams we had for our children. Sometimes the child realizes that they are destroying your life and seek recovery, and other times with drugs such as alcohol or marijuana, it continues on for decades.

    Writing has helped me let go of my inner feelings. I try and write three pages each morning and it helps to release my angst about whatever situation is bothering that day.

    Thanks for an inspirational post and I will check out the books!

  2. I lost my son 12/16/15. This has been the hardest thing I have ever gone through. I feel the only way I can get over these feelings is to try and help addicts get better. It helps with the grief.