Loss is a challenging but unavoidable aspect of life. Even from an early age, we experience the loss of people, animals, or objects that are important to us. Whether you’ve recently lost someone important to you or you’re curious about the process of grief, understanding what it is can help us move through it with some more ease.
Grief is defined as a person’s reaction to loss during or after a traumatic event, which can include the loss of a life or drastic changes in routine or ways of life that were previously comfortable or happy. As defined by Dr. Andrew Huberman, an American neuroscientist, grief is a process, a motivational state of yearning and desire for something. It is not just about sadness, but both a state of pain and wanting.
Misconceptions and Stages of Grief
Grief is not depression. Grief and depression are two separate things. Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. On the other hand, grief is essentially not a sad feeling. The process of grief is an attempt to reach out and get something you really want.
According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there are 5 Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Denial is the initial stage of trying to survive the loss by thinking nothing makes sense and going numb. Once denial starts to fade away, we start to live in reality again and anger might start to set in. This is the stage when we blame others for the cause of our grief. Sometimes, the anger is redirected to family and close friends. The next stage is believing we can avoid grief by engaging in some sort of negotiation. Bargaining usually sounds like “If I had done xyz, then everything would be different”. The desperation to go back to how everything was before the loss is so strong, that we are willing to make drastic changes just to get things back to normal. Depression is the most accepted form of grief. We may find ourselves not wanting to talk and be surrounded by other people, or at its worst, experiencing suicidal thoughts. The last stage of grief is acceptance. This is when we come to terms with the new reality and recognize that we’ll be okay.
Three Dimensions of Relationships
Understanding the dimensions in which we map our relationship to persons, animals, and things helps us understand why it hurts when these are no longer accessible to us. Dr. Huberman, in his podcast on The Science & Process of Healing from Grief, has identified three dimensions of relationships: Space, Time and Closeness (Emotional Attachment). Space is the physical proximity in which we can identify a particular person (animal or thing). Time refers to the amount of time it would take to reach this particular person (animal or thing). Closeness refers to the emotional attachment we have to these people, animals, or things or how bonded we feel to them.
Having a relationship with someone usually entails predicting where and when we can be with them in order to feed our emotional attachment. However, when we lose access to them the ability to compute the space (where) and time (when) to reach them becomes destroyed while the closeness (emotional attachment) remains. This is incredibly difficult for the brain to comprehend and this is where the process of grief comes in.
Re-mapping the Dimensions and Coping with Grief
Our brain has created a “memory bank” for everything with which we have a relationship. When we think about seeing someone, our brain immediately predicts where and when we can see them. However, it becomes disorienting if we are still emotionally attached to someone who we can no longer locate in space and time.
According to neuroscience, the best approach to grief is to remap these three dimensions to help us move through the grieving process. This can be achieved by acknowledging the emotional attachment while accepting that we will no longer be able to “locate” this person. We keep the sense of closeness, but we must separate it from the other two dimensions.
This can be achieved by acknowledging the emotional attachment whenever the pang of grief hits. People have different ways of doing this: journaling about the thoughts and feelings that arise, writing a letter to the person we have lost, practicing mindfulness to move through the emotions. This last one is one of my favorites because I can practice it anywhere at any time. What I do is close my eyes and place my hand over my heart. I notice where I’m experiencing the emotion in my body (tightness in my throat, heaviness in my chest, tension around my eyes) and I practice taking big, deep belly breaths until I notice a change.
In order to effectively help the brain remap the loss, it’s important to stay focused on the present and not fall into “what if” thinking. What does it feel like RIGHT NOW? Even though this person, animal, or thing is no longer present in my life, how am I experiencing my love for them IN THIS VERY MOMENT? How am I experiencing their love for me at this moment?
The loss of a loved one can be overwhelming, but many people get through it with the help of family and friends. Take care of yourself, accept offers of assistance from those around you, and seek counseling if necessary.
Should you need help going through the grieving process, here’s a list for you to check out:
Have you noticed the buzz around buzz-free alcohol? Maybe your favorite Instagram influencer is posting about Monday Gin or the Athletic Brewing Company. Has an alcohol-free bar opened up in your neighborhood yet? If so, you can thank the Sober Curious movement.
Sober Curious is a phrase coined by author Ruby Warrington in 2016. According to her interview on ABC News, Ruby wanted to create a term that was non-judgmental and open-ended enough to really give herself permission to explore questions about drinking.
Sober Curious may have had its origins in the existing month-long sobriety challenges like Dry January and Sober October. What makes Sober Curious different is its focus on one’s relationship with alcohol as a personal choice. There’s a common misconception that cutting out alcohol means life becomes uninteresting, unpleasurable, and less fun. The Sober Curious movement tries to see this change from a different perspective – could my life be better without alcohol? Curiosity allows for flexibility without forcing oneself to commit to a change. Perhaps the Sober Curious movement has become a trend because people can experiment with sobriety while breaking from the stigma long associated with it. In other words, you don’t have to be an alcoholic to try sobriety.
There’s a fear that sobriety comes with loneliness. Alcohol goes hand in hand with being social and people who want to stop feeling lonely often rely on drinking. However, studies show that loneliness can be intensified with drinking and increases the risk of alcohol misuse.
Most of us are aware of the potential negative effects of alcohol to our bodies and yet it remains a compelling way to celebrate or escape. According to research, alcohol consumption in the US increased during the COVID 19 pandemic. COVID has made this impact due to stress triggered by financial difficulties, social isolation, uncertainty about the future, and boredom. It’s no secret that most people lean on alcohol to destress, socialize, celebrate milestones, and cope with challenges. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 85.6% of people ages 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime and 25.8% of these people are reported to engage in binge drinking in the past month. Each one of us has a different relationship towards alcohol but being able to take a break from drinking might help you realize it’s not really necessary for you to have fun or manage stress in general.
If you aren’t dependent on alcohol but just want to evaluate the impact alcohol has on your life, the Sober Curious movement might be right for you. With Sober Curious, there’s no timeline for when you should start or end sobriety. The idea is aimed at helping validate your questions about drinking and creating a community for those curious about sobriety.
Anyone can benefit from being Sober Curious. You might want to address your drinking habits even if you don’t have a drinking problem. You might have noticed that drinking doesn’t really do much to address your problems anyway and often leaves you feeling more anxious, something known as Hangxiety. You may not feel a need to quit entirely, but you recognize that taking a break might help you find more productive ways of managing life’s challenges.
Going Sober Curious gives you the opportunity to see how sobriety or moderation might fit into your life – it is not a permanent change, at least not necessarily. Some people choose to avoid alcohol for two weeks, one month, or even up to a year. Others don’t set any time limit but commit to going without “for now” or “indefinitely.” The beauty of this strategy is in its flexibility.
You might decide to have a drink on occasion after weighing what you like and don’t like about alcohol. Many Sober Curious people who notice troubling patterns with their drinking often find that a few weeks or months of sobriety helps them practice more moderate and mindful drinking in the future. And what about all the health advantages that come with sobriety? Consider them a bonus!
We can extend the concept of Sober Curious beyond drinking to other behaviors as well – use of recreational drugs, smoking, and other potentially addictive behaviors. Being curious about our own tendencies, patterns, behaviors, and motives can be the game-changer. We tend to become fixated on a coping strategy when we believe it’s the only solution to our problem. Use curiosity and creativity to explore other ways of feeling better. You might just surprise yourself.
Should you want to learn more about Sober Curious Movement, here are some helpful resources:
- The Verywell Podcast
- Sober Curious Books:
– Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol
– The Sober Curious Reset: Change the Way You Drink in 100 Days or Less
- Youtube videos:
– Being ‘Sober Curious,’ an approach to not drinking with better wellness in mind
– Ruby Warrington: Sober Curious | Commune Podcast
– The ‘Sober Curious’ Movement: What Is it?
- Online articles:
– The rise of the sober curious: having it all, without alcohol
– The Beginner’s Guide To The Sober-Curious Community
If you believe your relationship with alcohol is problematic and you need more support, there are plenty of resources that address alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. Self-help resources like How to Change Your Drinking, Responsible Drinking, and Power Over Addiction (shameless self-promotion) can help you address problematic drinking. (Full disclosure, I make a small commission if you purchase books via these links).
If abstinence is your long-term goal, free community groups like AA, Refuge Recovery, and SMART Recovery are widely available. If you prefer to try moderation, check out Moderation Management groups or look for a harm reduction therapy group in your area. Meeting regularly with people who share your experience creates a sense of belongingness, understanding, and compassion and these have a huge impact on improving one’s relationship with alcohol.
If your history with alcohol is chronically problematic or if you’re also coping with depression, anxiety, or trauma then psychotherapy sessions – individual therapy and groups – can be especially helpful. Find a licensed professional who specializes in addiction or alcohol treatment and who will support you regardless in either moderation or abstinence.
Let us know if you decide to go Sober Curios. We’d love to hear how it goes and provide any additional resources you may need.Learn More
Counseling? Rehab? Support groups? How does one know where to start when it comes to choosing a substance abuse treatment program?
First, you’ll want to get a formal assessment from a licensed professional to determine which treatment option is appropriate for you. Some substance abuse treatment options to consider are support groups, inpatient, and outpatient treatment.
AA, NA and other 12 Step programs
Support groups led by peers that focus on helping a person abstain from substances or behaviors.
Pros: offer additional support and can be a good place to find additional resources and information, free, many locations, various meeting dates and times
Cons: Abstinence is the only treatment goal option, lack of clinically trained support staff, religious undertones, little to no treatment for underlying psychological issues
Inpatient substance abuse treatment
Patients are required to stay in a facility for a pre-determined amount of time varying from 15 to 90 days or more.
Pros: safe, contained environment, trained professional staff, 24/7 support, sometimes the facilities are relaxing and luxurious, intensive treatment, various modalities including individual therapy, group therapy, expressive arts
Cons: expensive (plus you’ll have to take time off work), limited contact with outside support system, intensive treatment, there may be limited availability in your area
Outpatient substance abuse treatment
Patients attend treatment once or several times per week and address underlying issues plus addiction.
Pros: individualized treatment, local, clinically trained professionals, choice of abstinence or moderation, various modalities to choose from including individual therapy, group therapy, partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient
Cons: some treatment options may be expensive, may not be enough support or treatment for your needs, availability may be limited in your area
A partial hospitalization program involves daily treatment for 6 to 8 hours per day for one to two weeks. This is a good substance abuse treatment option for those who cannot afford inpatient treatment but would like intensive therapy or who live far away from an outpatient treatment program that specializes in the care they need. Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) involves daily treatment for 1 to 2 hours per day and can last up to several months. This option works well for those who need substance abuse treatment more than once per week or who have time commitments that prohibit them from seeking more intensive treatment. IOP can even be done in the evening after work.
Some people will need to go through medical drug detoxification before starting substance abuse treatment and in some cases it may be a prerequisite for admittance into a program. If you are dependent on a substance, (especially alcohol, opiates or benzodiazepines) it is advisable to detox under medical supervision to avoid complications and discomfort from withdrawals.
Never stop using alcohol or benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan) cold turkey! The withdrawal effects can be severe and life threatening. It is necessary that you detox from these substances under medical care if you have been using them daily and at high dosages.
A note about harm reduction and abstinence: Harm reduction is at the core of all substance abuse treatment programs – abstinence based and moderation management. Harm is reduced by abstaining from the problematic behavior or through reducing negative consequences associated with it.Learn More
Are you thinking of taking a break from drinking? Maybe you overdid it over the holidays or you’ve noticed that your alcohol intake has steadily increased since the pandemic started. Perhaps you just aren’t getting the same enjoyment from a glass of wine or you’d like to get a healthier start to the new year. Whatever the reason, the perfect opportunity to take a break from alcohol is Dry January.
What is Dry January?
Dry January is a public health campaign that encourages people to abstain from drinking alcohol for the whole month of January. It’s an opportune time to take a break from drinking after the excesses of the holidays and usually lines up with people’s intentions to start off the new year with healthier habits.
This is the most popular of the month-long sober campaigns, so you’re sure to encounter lots of resources and support. You’re more likely to be successful if you plan ahead and share your intentions with others. Find an accountability partner who will either participate in Dry January with you or check in about it regularly.
Is Dry January worth it?
Dry January lets you have a taste of sobriety without feeling overwhelmed by the idea of giving alcohol up forever. It’s a useful experiment for folks who are sober curious and a great way to establish healthier drinking habits.
In addition, you’ll save some money, get better sleep, and improve liver and brain function. 31 days may seem like a long time if you’ve been drinking regularly and the first two weeks are usually the hardest. But if you can commit, there’s a lot you can learn about your relationship with alcohol.
Without the ability to cope with alcohol, you can uncover hidden feelings and unmet needs. Do you always have the urge to drink after work? What does this mean about your job, the work environment, or your work-life balance? Do you only overdrink in social situations? Could this indicate that you’ve been drinking to self-medicate social anxiety? Use Dry January to learn about changes that could improve your quality of life.
How do I know if Dry January is right for me?
A lot of us use alcohol to cope with boredom and stress or to have fun. But if you’re getting less enjoyment from drinking, it’s a strong indication that you should take a break. Are you feeling shame or guilt after drinking? Have others expressed concerns about your behavior? Are you having trouble keeping commitments?
It’s also a good idea to take a break if you’re drinking more than you’d like, more often than you’re comfortable with, and you find it increasingly difficult to stop yourself. Physical signs that you should drink less include shakiness or tremors (known as delirium tremens), redness in the nose or cheeks, frequent injuries, gastrointestinal issues, and brittle nails and hair due to chronic dehydration.
If you notice that reducing your alcohol intake leads to trembling, altered consciousness, hallucinations, or an irregular heartbeat contact your doctor right away. These are signs of severe alcohol withdrawal and they could lead to death. It’s actually better for you to not stop drinking completely and to go through a medicated detox instead.
How to Stop Drinking for Dry January
Want to give this challenge a try? Here are some tips and suggestions to succeed at Dry January:
1. Hide your booze
If you’re going to try Dry January, you might want to consider keeping alcohol out of sight and out of mind. Start by putting your alcohol stash away. Not that you have to throw it out, but you should place it somewhere where you can’t see it in plain sight – when you’re watching TV or working at your desk. You might try storing the alcohol in places where it’s hard to get to – like on the top shelf of a cupboard, in the garage, or even at your friend’s house. The moment you feel that it’s effortful to grab your beer, it might trick your mind that it’s not worth it.
2. Build some new social rituals
Focusing your mind on something else is also a good way to distract yourself from drinking alcohol. You might want to consider recruiting a partner for this challenge. Not only will going in on your alcohol-free month with a companion hold you more accountable, you’ll also have a built-in buddy to do non-drinking activities with. This person can be your support system, someone who can remind you why you signed up for the challenge.
Come up with healthy, compelling alternatives to drinking: long hikes, rock climbing, surfing, or biking – which are more fun if you have a buddy with you.
3. Make sure you have tasty, non-alcoholic beverage options
There’s a booming trend of non-alcoholic beverages ranging from alcohol-free beer and wine to gins. These mocktails might scratch the itch if you’re really missing the taste of hops or the herbaceousness of a terroir. Check out Monday Gin, Seedlip, or one of Athletic Brewing Company‘s delicious craft non-alcoholic beers.
4. Keep a journal
Keeping track of how you feel during Dry January can help you identify rewards that may not be obvious, like less conflict in your relationship or reduced anxiety levels. In fact, it’s best to start journaling now while you’re still drinking. This way, you can compare how drinking is currently impacting you versus at the end of a sober month.
Dry January encourages people to think about their drinking and engage in healthier habits throughout the year. Being alcohol-free for 31 days gives you the opportunity to experience enjoyment, relaxation, or socializing without booze and helps us develop skills to control our drinking. That implies we’ll be better equipped to make decisions about when and how much we drink for the rest of the year, preventing us from drinking more than we desire.
If you find that 31 days aren’t enough, you might want to consider seeking professional help. There are plenty of resources that address alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. Self-help workbooks like Responsible Drinking, How to Change Your Drinking, Over the Influence, and (shameless self-promotion) Power Over Addiction can help you interrupt problematic behaviors with alcohol. (Full disclosure, I make a small commission if you purchase books via these links).
Self-help groups like AA, Refuge Recovery, and SMART Recovery are widely available if abstinence is your long-term goal. If you prefer to try moderation, check out Moderation Management groups or look for a harm reduction therapy group in your area. Interacting with people who are going through the same experience as you is a big help. The sense of belongingness, being understood, and not judged is a big factor in one’s journey to improving their relationship with alcohol.
Psychotherapy sessions – individual therapy and groups, can be especially helpful if you’ve had a chronic problematic relationship with alcohol or if you’re also impacted by other psychological problems like depression, anxiety, or trauma. Find a licensed professional in your area who specializes in addiction or alcohol treatment and who will support your chosen goal of either moderation or abstinence.
Let us know if you decide to try Dry January. We’d love to hear how it goes and if there are other resources we can provide. We hope you have a restful holiday season and a healthy new year!Learn More
Often times, the people who I support are attempting to fill a parent-sized void with addiction. They have unmet needs from childhood or they’re survivors of trauma. Regardless of the degree of severity, addiction becomes a tool for coping with stressors and unpleasant emotions. Over time, the person develops a relationship to their drug or compulsive behavior of choice and an attachment bond forms. More often than not, this attachment is seen as a source of stability, predictability, and comfort — much like the attachment one expects from healthy parenting.
This is not necessarily bad and, in fact, can be seen as an adaptive survival strategy when a person lacks other tools. Without emotional regulation skills or the bandwidth required for self-reflection, it’s very easy for anyone to turn to problematic coping strategies. However, recovery from addiction is only possible when one cultivates awareness around these attempts to fill a void and responds in an intentional way.
Here are some indications of maladaptive coping:
- Feelings of shame following the attempt to cope
- I used ketamine to escape overwhelming feelings of rage but I’ve been trying to abstain from using it.
- Interruptions to work and relationships
- A fear of being judged by my partner leads me to drink in secret to cope with trauma symptoms
- Need for more coping due to the intervention
- After drinking too much to cope with loneliness, I feel hungover and turn to compulsive sexual behaviors for comfort.
The need to manage feelings of rage, loneliness, and anxiety is real and healthy. Your need for coping is not the problem, it’s the maladaptive strategies being implemented. What’s one small thing you can do today to become more aware of your emotional and relational needs?
- Meditate for 5 minutes
- Jot down all your feelings at the end of the day
- Journal for 5 minutes before bed
- Take 5 minutes to reflect on feelings of anger, resentment, or betrayal
The difference between surviving and thriving lies in the choice to make intentional, thoughtful, and empowered choices to cope versus impulsive, desperate, and destructive ones. Thriving means living your best life, being your best self, and managing your mental health despite the challenges life throws your way. It doesn’t mean life is perfect or easy, but it does mean that you feel confident, competent, and willing to tackle stress, pain, and urges to engage in problematic drug use.
Let us know in the comments how you cultivate awareness around your needs. We’d also love to hear about the healthy coping strategies you implement for relapse prevention.