Avoiding Downward Spirals

Grief can pummel you physically, emotionally, and mentally in ways that make you feel you will never be able to live a normal life again. Physical pain can drive you to your knees. At times you may 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, try weed, or take 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 wallow 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.

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 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.[1] 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, often triggering accompanying unhealthy old and new destructive 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 previously had problems with addictive behaviors, it is even more critical to avoid alcohol and drugs.

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

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 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 with me 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, please 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.

© Copyright 2023 Fred Colby

All rights reserved


Widower to Widower is available through all major booksellers.

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


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