THE ONES LEFT BEHIND
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One of the things they never prepare you for when entering into recovery is survivor ’ s guilt – a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress experienced by someone who has survived an incident in which others died . The truth of the matter is if you decide to enter into recovery , you will most likely have friends and acquaintances who continue to use .
When you get sober , you ’ ll make friends with other people in the recovery community , and the sad truth is that some of these amazing souls are likely to relapse , with tragic consequences .
I ’ ll never forget the first time I felt survivor ’ s guilt during my recovery . I was a few months into my recovery journey , and it was around that time that I experienced what many people feel when substances leave their bodies and their minds clear . I was starting to feel at ease in my new sober skin , and for the first time in a long time my entire body felt alive . The people and environment around me felt electric , and I felt like a child again – everything I was experiencing was like I was seeing life in colour for
20 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • OCTOBER 2022
Survivor ’ s guilt is a painful aspect of recovery that doesn ’ t get the attention it deserves , says Jamie Gratton
the first time . And in some ways , I was – so much of my life had been lost due to substances and mental health issues .
It was at this time that a great friend and peer mentor , Paul , who had been in recovery for about three years , lapsed due to life and family issues . He started to spiral out of control and very quickly we lost him . And the truth of the matter is , this is a very common story . This is when the survivor ’ s guilt first hit me . Why did I not see the signs ? I should have been there – it should have been me . And being truthful , I didn ’ t handle these feelings of guilt very well .
Even after 25 years in recovery , I still haven ’ t found a way to deal with this . Yes , I can cope and work through it , but every time it hits me . It brings doubts and raises questions like , ‘ Why me – why have I managed to get clean and someone else didn ’ t ? What makes my story different ? Why do I deserve to live and they don ’ t ?’
Your thought process spirals and you can end up analysing everything . Could I have done anything different ? Maybe if I hadn ’ t walked away from them , I could have saved them . If only I ’ d tried harder to get them in recovery . Now logically , I know that no one can be in charge of someone else ’ s recovery , and no matter how much you try to help someone , only they can take the steps needed . But the feelings of guilt , if not dealt with , could lead to lapsing on your own recovery journey , so it ’ s really important to not only acknowledge these feelings but to do something about them .
This is where I have found focusing on my emotional recovery comes into play .
Emotional recovery often includes establishing a self-care habit . Moving your body on a regular basis , engaging in calming or relaxing activities , eating well , and getting enough rest are all staples of self-care routines . Having someone to lean on while dealing with survivor guilt is also very important . A person might feel more understood by talking to others who ’ ve been through the same thing – joining a support group , or seeing a trusted mentor .
Even finding a method to remember or celebrate the departed may be therapeutic for some people . All these things help me deal with that guilt I get when someone I know passes away due to addiction . Now I ’ m not sure if I ’ ll get to the time in my life and recovery where I don ’ t feel like this , but if I am truthful , it ’ s one of the reasons behind what I do and why I ’ m passionate about recovery and shout about how recovery not only changes lives but saves lives .
So , I ’ ll leave you with this – survivors ’ guilt is a part of recovery , but you can also learn to control how you react to it . Remember that we may lose people in our recovery journey , but you are worth your recovery , you deserve your recovery , and you have control over your recovery , no matter what .
Jamie Gratton is operations director at Staywell Derby CIC
Your thought process spirals and you can end up analysing everything . Could I have done anything different ? Maybe if I hadn ’ t walked away from them , I could have saved them . If only I ’ d tried harder ...
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