Widower: Avoiding Downward Spirals

Grief can pummel you physically, emotionally, and mentally in ways that make you feel as if you will never be able to live a normal life again. The physical pain can drive you to your knees. At times you may just sit on the stairs and sob. Mentally, you can find yourself incapable of processing the simplest thoughts. Often, I would sit in front of the television and replay a scene multiple times because I could not recall the beginning of the one minute conversation. 

We often ask, “How can I survive this?” During these times, the siren call of alcohol and drugs may be strong. I was very tempted to drink more, to try some weed, or to take some pain pills. I thought this would help ease my pain and let me forget what I was experiencing.

Usually when I managed to keep my intake to two glasses of wine or beer, it could calm me and take a little of the edge off my stress. However, when I allowed myself to have a third glass, I would find myself wallowing in self-indulgent sorrow and loneliness that led to more aggravated symptoms of grief. Even though I recognized what was happening, I could not pull myself out of it. 

Research shows that alcohol or drugs can lead to complicated grief, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. The National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reported that widowers over the age of 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism in the U.S.  Widowers all have a higher risk of alcohol related problems, especially during the first two years of grieving. If you have anger issues (e.g. anger at a doctor or hospital) alcohol may only fuel your anger further, contributing to a downward spiral of anger and depression.

Grief can introduce all kinds of life-threatening stressors and these can often trigger accompanying unhealthy old and new bad behaviors. Self-recrimination, self-doubts, and questioning your core self-image can lead to self-destructive behaviors. The temptation to go deeper and deeper into the depression is powerful. If you had problems in the past with addictive behaviors, it is even more critical that you avoid alcohol and drugs.

What helped me to deal with this behavior was to remember my wife, kids and grandkids. I knew this was not the behavior my wife would have wanted to see in me, and that now my kids needed me more than ever before.

When out with friends I learned to keep my intake down to two beers or glasses of wine and avoided mixed drinks altogether. I made sure to have food with my drinks and to spread them out over longer periods of time. At home I worked on identifying my triggers and keeping strict limits on my intake. If still tempted I would call friends or family to talk or go outside and take a long walk. Over time I learned to adhere to these limits and enjoy myself while keeping the reins on my grieving and depression.

If you are having challenges with this, talk to someone (counselor, friend, men’s group, church, or Alcoholics Anonymous). Whatever you do, don’t hide in your home and consume alcohol or drugs alone. If not addressed, this is a recipe for disaster, digging a hole that becomes increasingly difficult to climb out of. The sooner you meet this challenge the easier it will be to regain your well-being.

1) Alcohol Use in the First Three Years of Bereavement: a National Representative Survey by: Pilling, Thege, Demotrovics & Kopp

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