Bereavement and addiction

John RossingtonCause and effect

Last issue, we reported on a set of guidelines about supporting those bereaved through drug and alcohol related death. John Rossington looks at how a personal loss can in turn lead to addiction

I have been employed in the substance misuse field for many years and I have always been struck by how often bereavement has been the precursor to a period of active addiction to drugs or alcohol. Two years ago, I was propelled into the nightmare world of bereavement and was given insight into how personal loss and society’s reaction to such loss leaves an individual so vulnerable.

I have never had a family to speak of and for 20 years, I lived with my soulmate Michael. On 9 March 2013, I returned from work in the evening and found him unconscious on the sitting room floor. By 10 o’clock that night he was dead.

In an instant my life had changed completely and I had been tossed into a world of complete isolation. It felt as if the world was embarrassed by my grief and turned its back on me.

When I eventually returned to work, emotionally drained, I was stung by most people’s reactions. It was clear that most of my colleagues wanted not only to ignore Michael’s death, but to wish away his very existence.

We must ask ourselves why we have reached such a state in society where we are unable to engage in each other’s pain and provide comfort to those in distress. If we cannot address this, then many others will mistakenly seek comfort in the oblivion of drugs or alcohol.

Michael’s death and people’s reaction to it have changed me. For the first time in my life outside of work, I am quite reclusive. I worry that I am a nuisance to other people.

There are signs of hope. I am impressed by how so many people in the recovery community are committed to creating meaningful communities where we engage with each other in a supportive and nurturing way.

In the meantime, I take some comfort in the fact that I have not succumbed to addiction and hope that I can be more effective in supporting others for whom profound loss has been the cause of their drug or alcohol issues.

John Rossington is manager at Big Life Pathways Drug and Alcohol Service