Grief and Loss in Addiction and Recovery

Featured Guest: Blythe Landry, LCSW

Navigating Grief in Sobriety

In this week’s episode, we discuss grief and loss as it relates to addiction and recovery. Joining us is Blythe Landry, a mental health clinician with over 20 years of experience with expertise in trauma and grief counseling.

Grief and Loss in Addiction and Recovery Podcast, Video and Transcript

CARMEN: 00:07[music] Hi, everyone, and welcome to Recovery Out Loud. I’m Noelle Carmen, and today we are discussing grief and loss as it relates to addiction and recovery. With us today is Blythe Landry. She’s a clinician of over 20 years. Her expertise is in trauma and grief in addiction. Hi, Blythe, welcome to the show.
LANDRY: 00:28Hi, Noelle. It’s good to see you. Thanks so much for having me.
CARMEN: 00:32Yes. I am so excited to dive right into this conversation because I think when we talk about grief in addiction, grief in recovery, I think there are some understandings, but I also think it’s a complex topic that definitely deserves at least a beginning definition of what grief is and what is this connection. Can you speak to us in a general sense about that?
LANDRY: 01:01About grief and the connection to recovery, right?
CARMEN: 01:03Yes.
LANDRY: 01:04So, yes, I’ll give a little brief explanation of grief. We hear this word, right, but we don’t always define it in terms that we can relate to or understand. So according to the Grief Recovery Method, grief is defined in really two ways. It’s the normal and natural reaction to loss, and then it’s also the normal and natural reaction to any change in a familiar pattern of behavior. So if we look at grief that way in very basic and simplistic terms, there are so many different things in life that can cause grief including and not limited to positive changes that lead us down a path of something different, okay? So, as you alluded to also, we often talk about grief related to actual active addiction, right? So anyone who’s ever been an addict and is now in recovery, or who has loved a person who struggles with addiction knows that we suffer when we’re either in addiction or that we suffer when we see someone we care about and love be a fraction of who they were meant to be and in fact, sometimes engaging in really destructive and sad and dangerous behaviors, right?
LANDRY: 02:10So what we don’t talk about as much is the grief that comes with getting sober. And sobriety is this elusive idea to a lot of alcoholics or drug addicts or sex addicts or food addicts. And when somebody finally gets to that precipice of change where they’re willing to make a difference, right, in their lives, they often believe that the minute they stop, there’s going to be this magical happiness. Part of addiction in and of itself is the desire to avoid what we deem is unacceptable or negative feelings, right? So we think that if we get sober, we don’t have negative feelings, even though we’ve been drunk for that long, right? So what happens is, is a person gets sober, there’s often a very brief period of like, “Wow, there’s hope. There’s other people who have been there. I can get better,” and then what happens is denial, diminishment sets in, right? So there’s no longer the ability to deny all the things we have done, all the behaviors we have embarked in, and all the losses we have endured while not being present and being in active addiction so that in and of itself is going to bring up a well of grief.
LANDRY: 03:22When we come out of denial, when we stop avoiding what’s going on, we often realize we’ve left a trail of destruction, whether it’s massive destruction like job loss, family loss, or whether it’s destruction of self identity and destruction of any self-esteem based on negative, repetitive behaviors. So that’s one piece. The other piece that happens when we get sober is that we have this idea that we’ll be closer to everyone in our lives and often, the opposite happens. We tend to start to get support from new people, people who are on a similar path. We start to have blinders fall off where we realize that some of the things we were seeing were not what we thought they were and that some of the people in our lives, even the people who were maybe our enablers didn’t always have our best interests at heart. And that is a sense of loss. There’s also a grief that can come when we get sober in a family or a community system where everyone else is continuing to use. There’s going to have to be a separation there. It doesn’t mean we stop loving the people who are on a different path. We have to take a different road than them, and that can beget grief as well. So that’s just a preliminary overview if that’s helpful.
CARMEN: 04:39Absolutely. Would you say that in recovery, one of the first experiences of grief has to do with the loss of the addiction itself? Is that first on this road to realizing this new life in sobriety?
LANDRY: 04:58Absolutely. It’s first on the road for some, right. Sometimes, by the time a person is sober, there’re so done with that repetitive pain that it may not feel like a tragic loss to lose that addiction. However, for some people, especially those who have endured substantial trauma, relational loss, this was their only coping skill. So they may miss the actual fun times they had in addiction, right. But by the time a person gets sober, generally, those experiences are no longer fun. They may miss the numbness of the addiction. And they may miss the lack of accountability that was there with an addiction. So really, the answer to that question is it depends on the person and where they are by the time they get to the point where they’re ready to stop using for good, really for good.
CARMEN: 05:49Let’s talk about this sense of loss in terms of escape. You’ve kind of alluded to it, but let’s talk more in-depth about that kind of loss because we all do it. We all have times in our lives where there’s something painful. We don’t want to face it, but the chronic behavior of using to escape. Can you talk us through that more on an anecdotal level?
LANDRY: 06:19Sure. So let’s say there’s somebody who has just a substantial history of trauma, right, a history of maybe sexual abuse as a child or a history of severed safety in the world where they didn’t have adult figures that were trustworthy that protected them. Maybe that child, the only means of escape was fantasy, right. It’s normal for a child to have magical thinking. It’s actually healthy for a child to have magical thinking. But in a family network where there’s not adult mirroring of healthy coping strategies or their parents are in their own addiction and unavailable to give them mental or emotional soothing or support, or there’s other things going on in the house like abuse, as I’ve referred to, that makes them feel unsafe. They may learn to hide away in their room as a child, right. They may learn to– maybe they’re using in their room as a child and the parents don’t know. Or maybe they’re just living in a fantasy world, and that’s how they cope with escaping from an intolerable circumstance, right.
LANDRY: 07:25So when we grow up in this kind of way, that is our literal rooted framework and how to perceive and engage in the world. So I might go into the world and be like, “Oh, I want all these relationships. I want all these connections.” And the minute I have that sort of connection, I don’t know what to do with it. So I go back into a fantasy or an escape place. And that can be one of the many scenarios that can yield a person developing an addiction, right. And getting sober from addiction doesn’t necessarily mean that we get sober from fantasy living that’s going to be a much longer recovery process that requires serious mental health support and behavioral change. So there’s a loss of that coping strategy. In many cases, something like fantasy or escape saved a person’s life in an intolerable circumstance. And now it’s diminishing their life in the world that doesn’t mirror their dysfunctional family system. Does that make sense?
CARMEN: 08:26100%. And if we could go a step further and talk about the skills that you’re mentioning because what it sounds like you’re saying is you are ripping away this coping strategy, and then you’re left with nothing. You’ve never developed those skills. And here you are facing real-life feelings. And so how does one go about even approaching those kinds of skills that would get them on the same page with any kind of relationship?
LANDRY: 09:01Absolutely. So, I mean, this sounds cliche, but you really do have to go slow to grow in these circumstances, right, because if you try to make massive change every aspect of yourself quickly, there’s absolutely no way that one could tolerate that level of discomfort. Right? So you have to be willing to go slow, and you have to be willing to engage with people in your recovery process that are willing to let you go at the pace you need, whether that’s your sponsor, whether that’s a friend that you’re going to for support, whether that’s a professional, whatever it is that you’re doing to grow, whether it’s clergy, whoever you’re working with to heal and recover, you have to be willing to go slow and be willing to work with people that are allowing you that space to do so. How can you change in terms of specific skills? You want to think of this in degrees of tolerance of discomfort. Right?
LANDRY: 09:59So when you first get sober– I’m sober. I’ve been sober for 14 and a half years. And when you first get sober, you are just all over the place emotionally, mentally. If you have underlying mental illness, it’s going to start to surface even more in some cases. And so you can’t tolerate much. So if you can start to think of change in degrees of comfort, right, with tolerance of behaviors or feelings that you don’t recognize or know how to process, that is one skill you can start to work on. And your degree of tolerance might be different than someone else’s degree of tolerance. So —
CARMEN: 10:38Give us an example. I love what you’re saying, and I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I don’t want to lose this idea of discomfort. I love that you’re using this idea of discomfort because it really means that there’s just an emotional inability to tolerate feelings that are coming up. You talk about that because it can be a physical, can’t it?
LANDRY: 11:05It is physical. It’s not even feeling physical. When we have trauma, when we have a brain that is wired for the limbic system to go fight or flight, run, a lion’s chasing me, I’m not safe, then what happens is that we actually feel a physical anxiety: the nausea, the stomach upset, the headache, the panic. These are unfamiliar things. One of the things that happens with a lot of alcoholics or addicts is that they grow up with addicts. And people who grew up with addicts suffer from something called the ACOA Trauma Syndrome, where their actual reactions are visceral to relational patterns because the people that were supposed to keep them safe were not keeping them safe. Right? So in terms of just literal intolerance, you have to start to get to know your reactions, right, not only through self connaissance and self reflection, but also through, say, people around you who can say, “Hey, I noticed this about you. Hey, I noticed that you’re doing this behavior. It’s safe here. It’s safe to be–” that’s why we get sober with others. Regardless of which path you take towards sobriety, we can’t do it in isolation because we learn to relate and relate to ourselves and relate to our sense of safety through others around us that are safe, right, especially–
CARMEN: 12:29Sorry. And it seems like stigma plays a really important role or possibly even detrimental role in this piece of it, because what do you hear? Get over it. Just the message of stop being a crybaby. You’ve done it. You’re not on drugs anymore. Get on with it. And there’s a lot of that with regards to stigma, especially in this space of discomfort. I can’t imagine how much harder it is to get sober.
LANDRY: 13:04Absolutely. It depends on your network of support, right? Usually, addiction is not in some vacuum, not always. But in many cases, there’s many more than one member of a family system who is an addict, right? So you’re not going to be expecting functional family responses to these moving ahead, right? There’s a inertia that happens. There’s a gravity that happens when one person in a family system tries to change or a community system– other people get very uncomfortable, not even with intent to harm, just in visceral response, right? And they try to drag you back down. Do you know that about the crabs, what happens in a bucket with crabs?
CARMEN: 13:42Tell us about the crabs.
LANDRY: 13:44Yeah, I mean, so basically, if you’ve got a bucket of crabs, right, and they’re live and one tries to escape, almost always the other ones will drag it back down. And that is just a natural gravity sort of reaction to other people changing in our system so that lack of support can be really hard. I want to go back to something you asked, though, about grief, and you said something– you said that people are like, “Okay, you should just be fine now.” That’s the grief that happens to other people who aren’t necessarily addicts who are rooting for you. There’s this illusion that if you get sober, they’re going to get what they need immediately, right? And there is grief for the person or persons in your life who are going to realize not only might you not change quickly because nobody changes quickly, that’s just not a thing, okay? Nothing in life that’s meant to last is going to– no change that we make is going to happen like this. It takes a long time to change. And that person is going to not only not know what their role is anymore in your life in terms of, “Well, if they don’t need me to rescue them, how do I fit in?” right, but also, they’re disappointed, right, on the outset because you haven’t dramatically shifted just because you got sober. In fact, you may feel worse for a while when you get sober.
LANDRY: 15:14And if you’re out there, and you’re feeling worse for a while when you get sober, you’re actually probably going in the right direction because you’re actually dealing with things rather than creating a false fantasy around my life is insta better. It’s just not realistic. So that grief– I just wanted to tie that back in. Part of why the family or the friend groups or whatever aren’t always as supportive is because they think a miraculous change is going to happen and actually change takes time. And so there’s going to be that grief and disappointment for them as well. And if you’re a person who’s trying to recover, you’re going to have to play around with closeness and distance from the people in your life who are having these expectations. And because you don’t want to get to a point where you’re feeling like you’re failing because you’re not moving fast enough, if that makes
CARMEN: 16:01And that has to be a surprise for everyone in the system when it’s not happening the way everybody expects, where the mom who always wanted her child to be sober now realizes, “I’m sorry. You’re not coming to me anymore, or I’m not having to enable you anymore.” What’s my role? And so it’s this sense of maybe everybody feeling a little bit lost and maybe never coming back to the space that they thought they were going to get to. And that has to be a shock. I mean, that has to be a really horrible realization in some ways.
LANDRY: 16:39Yeah, it’s a shock and it can be devastating for people because even if we get sober, we can’t control if the people in our periphery who were, in fact, getting something out of us falling apart. And this isn’t to put them down. This is their disease, their pattern, their co-dependency, their way of finding love or care in life. It’s not a bad person thing, but everyone has to be willing to change in order for something to develop. And we also– and this is a cause for grief too, is that none of us can know where things are going to land if we change, right? So we’re living in that ambiguity, that sense of lack of control. And generally speaking, when we are in a system of addiction, in a family dynamic, or a group of community members dynamic, or a work dynamic, the people that are enabling us have issues around control. And so when we lose control over predicted outcomes, that is another layer of grief, or a sheathe of pain because what happens is a lot of people, when they get sober, they leave the enabler.
LANDRY: 17:56And the enablers left going, “But after all I’ve done for you,” right? That’s the classic Al-Anon sort of humor where they say, “But after all I’ve done for you.” And it’s like, “But you weren’t really doing it for the person. You were doing it for your own needs.” And again, this isn’t to diminish where people are. We’re all dysfunctional to some extent. But with all of this, if I hadn’t been both of those roles in my life in the past. But the reality of it is, is it’s often not this sugar-coated white picket fence, everyone’s running in fields together. There’s a lot of situations where it actually severs the relationships in your life better. And the only way you’re going to continue to grow is continue to distance yourself more and more. But it doesn’t mean you stopped loving those people. It doesn’t mean you didn’t want things to go differently. And so there’s an ongoing grief with recovery that can span decades after you get sober.
CARMEN: 18:56Yeah, it’s a process. Let’s talk a little bit about ritual, because with addiction, there are a lot of rituals around behaviors, social groups, relationships, all kinds of patterns of repeated behavior that now we don’t do those rituals anymore. We can’t do them anymore, or we grieve that loss of being able to operate in those patterns. So can you talk a little bit about rituals?
LANDRY: 19:35Sure. I mean, rituals have been part of life since the beginning of human history, right? There’s a place for them, and there’s an integral nature of them in our lives. Religions have rituals. As you said, relationships have rituals. Everybody in our life, we have different rituals with them. Right. But the ritual that happens with addiction is often a dysfunctional ritual that allows everyone in the system to avoid real conversations, to avoid real reflection on self. And the other thing about it, as you were talking about, in terms of loss, they can be fun, right? If I’m in college and I, every weekend, go to brunch with all my friends. And then it becomes clear that everyone else stops drinking, and I am blacking out every Sunday, and I decide to get sober, either I’m not going to be invited anymore to that brunch every Sunday or I can’t go because I can’t be newly sober and say– or, I’m not going to find pleasure in watching people get drunk anymore. And so then I lose that pattern of behavior. And if we go back to the original definitions of grief, one of them being, the normal and natural reaction to loss of any familiar pattern and behavior, it’s going to be the same thing with rituals, right?
LANDRY: 20:59So if I love football, and all my buddies and I get together and watch football and everybody’s drunk and eating wings or whatever people do, I don’t watch sports really. But if that’s what people do, then that can be a tragic loss for a person. And the other type of ritual I want to talk about is individual ritual; isolation, the ritual of isolation. And this is really important because not all addicts drink with other people. I know in my addiction, I was mostly alone. And so the ritual of hiding out, the ritual of creating fantasy on top of fantasy, on top of fantasy. Am I going to stay home and drink and then eat and then watch crappy TV and then disappear into an abyss? The fantasy is a ritual for a lot of addicts especially, and most definitely those who had the most substantial trauma histories that felt alone as children.
LANDRY: 21:55So you can lose relationships. You can lose just fun rituals like going to brunch. But you can also lose that ritualistic pattern of behavior that insulates you from the thing you want most, which is connection to other human beings and the thing you do not know how to actualize or tolerate, which is connection to other human beings. And that loss, that grief of then not having that hideout ritual, puts you at the danger of creating other isolation rituals, and/or the pain you have to grieve of a lifetime of not knowing how to connect in a real way if you’re going to practice connecting to people. It’s very, very hard to grow beyond. It takes lots and lots of work in recovery circles, but also in professional mental health circles as well.
CARMEN: 22:44Wow, I mean, that is powerful, powerful information just to especially for me, as I’m listening to you talk about the isolation part of it and where there are personal rituals that happen between you and yourself and your addiction. And I can see where that would keep you in this bubble of feeling safe. And having to move outside of that isolation can be terrifying, I’m sure.
LANDRY: 23:16I mean, like ripping your skin off your face, terrifying.
CARMEN: 23:19Yeah.
LANDRY: 23:20That goes back to gradations of tolerance. I talk about this with clients. How much connection can you tolerate? If I’ve been an addict since I was a child, if it started with fantasy. And then it went to food, and then it went to studying and working, and then it went to sex, and then it went to drunk, and then it went to untease all of that so that you can be vulnerable with other people. It’s worth the time and investment, but it takes a long time. I always say that change is a very, very, very low-interest savings account, right? Yes. A little bit here and a little bit there and $5 here and $10 here. You’re like, “This is a waste of time.” And then, all of a sudden, on any given Tuesday, years later, decades later, you’re like, “I have a lot of money.” That’s how change is. And so especially, if you have so much anxiety, so much trauma, underlying mood disorder, mental illness, which is true for many addicts – there’s a mood disorder occurring with addiction – then it’s going to take time, but the time is worth it because it’s passing whether you work on yourself or not. Just remember that.
CARMEN: 24:26I think it’s fascinating that there’s that dichotomy. And you keep saying, “How much connection can you tolerate?” And yet, it is what is most desired. So what a dichotomy there and a feeling of maybe just desperation and not knowing how to get something that you really want. So I can’t imagine that kind of a challenge for sure.
LANDRY: 24:54The most excruciating pain you could imagine, right? You have a bifurcated need system within your being. Your need is to protect at all costs and never to get hurt again by the people that could hurt you the most, and that keeps you in a dysfunctional pattern of connecting with abusers, connecting with people who can’t meet your needs. And then the deep desire to have a deep connection where if that’s there, even in a boss or friend or a therapist or anybody, then you might want to run and go back to isolation and go back to dysfunction. And that is an excruciatingly painful wound to heal. It’s literally being like split in half. And it can be very confusing because both things seem true. And so it’s really nurturing oneself and being around people who will nurture you and be patient with you.
CARMEN: 25:51Let’s talk about loss of freedom from accountability. So this one, I did some reading on. And I was like, “Oh, now you’re accountable.” And your feeling of, “God, I miss those days. I didn’t have to be accountable to anybody for anything.” Talk about that.
LANDRY: 26:15That’s part of just adulting, which is so hard. Even if you’re not an addict. It’s like, “Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to have to be responsible for so many things?” And the answer is probably yes as an alternative to having no one and nothing in your life. I want to just– yes, there’s a loss of perceived lack of accountability. That’s what I want to say. If you’ve had enablers in your life that have rescued you, paid all your bills, washed your hair, picked you off the ground, made sure you didn’t get fired, called your teachers for you, whatever that is, they’ve done you no favors. You’ve totally not been free of accountability. You’ve just had it masked for awhile. And when you get sober, awake, undead, whatever you want to call yourself, then you are faced. Part of why it’s so crummy is because you realize you were not not accountable. You have a list of bills that, if you haven’t been rescued, haven’t been paid. You have a string of job losses. You have a string of people in your life who once loved you, who said, “Yeah, I’m done. I’m not going to take your games or your behavior anymore.” So you’ve been accountable the whole time. You’ve just been delusional to the fact that you been accountable. Does that make sense?
CARMEN: 27:32Oh, my goodness. Absolutely.
LANDRY: 27:34Now, letting go of the illusion that you haven’t been accountable. You just haven’t been responding to it because you’ve been high.
CARMEN: 27:40The problems were there the whole time. You just were running away from them.
LANDRY: 27:45Yeah. And when you come to– and we can all relate to this. I’m the recovering addict, but even if you’re not, everybody can relate to the fact that you pretended something didn’t exist because it was the only way to handle it, whether it was a financial issue, a relational issue, an issue with your child, an issue with your community, an issue with your health where you ignored some kind of lump or symptom for a long period of time and then it became serious. It’s the same thing with addiction. The more you avoid it, the longer in this addiction, the harder it is to unravel. But I would say that there isn’t a lack of accountability. I would say you just didn’t do it. You just didn’t do it. And then there’s no one left when you wake up from whatever delusion you’ve been in, which is a horrible, horrible tragedy, and goes back to the grief topic.
CARMEN: 28:39Yes. Let’s take the perspective of a spouse or a partner, and let’s look at that kind of loss. You mentioned– no longer a caregiver. There has to be a special kind of dynamic. You have the caregiver as a parent-child, but as a parent– sorry, as a spouse, where they’re supposed to be two equal people at the table, it doesn’t necessarily look like that when one spouse is the caregiver of the the addict. But what does that look like in terms of loss for that spouse, just in terms of losing the caregiving, but also losing the dynamic that you had at one point, and then hoping, like you’ve mentioned, for this new person to show up in the relationship, but it really forces the other person to come to the table in a different way as well, right? So if the addict has changed, then that forces the partner to come into a new kind of relationship. Can you talk about that a bit?
LANDRY: 29:55Sure. And I would say that addicts and enablers mirror each other in many more ways than we think, okay? Now, of course, I want to say this as a caveat. There are exceptions. There are people who come from a very healthy family background with a secure attachment style, that end up with an addict, that are like, “What happened?” Okay? But by and large, these people who are traumatized and learn to be rescuers as a function of getting love in childhood, tend to all of a sudden find either an addict, or a narcissist, or an abuser and go ding, ding, ding, ding. That’s what attraction is. That’s what love is. And if you really look at this with a very, very serious lens, what you see is that the rescuer is also not available. The rescuer’s also in fantasy land. The rescuer is also living in a delusion that if they are pretty enough, if they are good enough, if they rescue this person, they will eventually get what they think they need. But they’ve already chosen a relationship where none of their needs, or most of their needs, are rejected or ignored. So they are only tolerating a fantasy relationship that they don’t actually have, just like the addict is living in fantasy.
LANDRY: 31:12And if I can be in a relationship, proverbial me, where I can have a fantasy of connection while avoiding emotional or sexual intimacy because the person is an addict or abusive, I’m also not living in reality. Does that make sense? So when that is taken away– and again, this isn’t a bad thing. I’ve been in these roles in the past, so I come from this not only with a clinical lens and lots of professional experience but personal experience, that what happens is– one of two things are going to happen. Well, one of numerous things are going to happen. But the person gets sober. They start to work on themselves. They start to do stuff around the house. They start to not pass out. They start to want to go on dates. They start to want to spend family time together. Now, the person that expects this to happen may think they want that to happen, but the very minute they get that sense of closeness and intimacy, they may go and find– I see this all the time. I see people who say, “If you don’t get sober, I’m going to leave you.” And then the person gets sober and they become emotionally available. Then the partner leaves and finds another active addict because they–
CARMEN: 32:25Explain that. Explain that.
LANDRY: 32:28–because they were never emotionally available either. Because if I’m emotionally available, I’m not going to be in a relationship for 10, 20, 30 years where the person ignores all my needs. I’m not going to tolerate that. Right? And the other scenario that can happen is that the person gets sober and then they get all their needs met outside the relationship, and so the partner still feels rejected, right? And so there’s so much left unpredictable because everything depends upon, are both parties willing to change? Are both parties willing to get help? That’s why you hear that old thing like that’s why there’s other recovery groups that are not just for the active addict, they’re for the families. Right? So. And I’m sure they teach this at your centers, your addiction centers, which is that they found now that people who live or relate to addicts for long periods of time, their brain chemistry changes as well. Okay? So even if you were once healthy and you’ve been in this dynamic for a long time, you could have lost the power of choice in how to respond. So the only way for two people to grow together ever, whether they’re addicts or not addicts, is to both be willing to work on themselves. That’s it. That was a long answer. But–
CARMEN: 33:48No, no, beautifully, beautifully explained because this is really such a complex topic. And I really want to dive into blame and blame and that dynamic in a partnership where one partner doesn’t have someone else to blame, that kind of loss that forces them to look at other things that might be causing problems because now the things that they wanted to change have changed. So let’s talk about blame, how damaging it is, and what it looks like as blame begins to shift.
LANDRY: 34:30Blame is a function of deflection, right? And if you think about it, there are situations where an addict has done so much damage that the ability for the partner or the family members to ever trust them again is gone. And at that point, I would never tell– barring systems of abuse, I would never say you have to leave. But if you were at a place, as a family member or loved one or partner or spouse, where you literally can never feel safe with that person again, your best thing to do is leave because they’re never going to grow in an environment where they’re constantly being belittled for the past. And you’re not going to ever feel safe and grow in a relationship where sometimes the damage is done. Right? Unsuspecting, sometimes the more damage has been done by the partner than the addicty. Right? It’s hard to know. But in terms of just that feeling of not knowing where you belong, not knowing where you fit in, right? Once this happens, then it’s the same thing. It’s going to be the same thing for the loved one and the partner. How much discomfort can I tolerate? How much forgiveness can I tolerate of myself and the other? And if you find yourself blaming or moving that needle, that’s another thing that we can do if we’re the enabler, we’re the codependent in that system is the person will get better care and will be like, “Yeah, but you’re not doing this.”
LANDRY: 36:04And if you see yourself in that place, you’ve gotten so influenced by that addictive family pattern that now you’ve become so critical that you can’t see– your resentment is so high that you can’t see what’s actually happening. So I think that blame is used in all kinds of relationships to deflect personal accountability. I think one of the most common things, and I know I experienced this when I first went to any program for people who grew up with loved ones of addicts, the initial response is almost always like, why do I have to get help? I’m not the one doing everything, right? And that is a function of deflection and blame, and assuming that just because you’re not drunk on the floor, that you’re not creating problems in any sort of relationship. And again, it comes back to willingness. Am I willing to look at how I’ve contributed to hurting others? Am I willing to look at how I’ve contributed to getting something from someone else’s addiction? Because if I’m rescuing, if I’m blaming, if I am in constant victim consciousness, guess what I’m not doing? I’m also taking zero accountability for my behavior, just like the addict. And that kind of rounds out. I think that addicts and enablers and codependents are a lot more alike than we’d like to think we are.
CARMEN: 37:24Fascinating. What about those who might confuse depression and grief? How do we separate and unspool those two things?
LANDRY: 37:37Well, I want to be very careful when I answer this question, right? Because if you have any indication that you might be dealing with depression of any kind, whether it’s feelings of hopelessness, feelings of anhedonia – anhedonia, where you feel like nothing that you cared about matters anymore – isolation, detachment, suicidal ideation, I want to just encourage you to get immediate help, professional help, okay? But if we look at grief, when we look at depression, they’re not that inextricably different. Grief, again, is the normal and natural reaction to loss, okay? Grief involves a lot of feelings. It involves sadness. It involves fear. It involves disconnection. It involves needing support. It involves needing time alone. It involves a processing of sorts that we have to be willing to show up for. Depression can be the result of unattended grief, right? It can also be a very clear chemical imbalance that you have no control over, that you just have. It can be some combination of the two. I think the way that you want to look at grief related to depression is, if we stuff grief in a vestibule in our mind, if we stuff it into a compartmentalization, if we get other addictions, if we don’t find people who are willing to talk about our feelings and not just give us colloquialisms and things like that, then it will most definitely turn into depression.
CARMEN: 39:05And this is why treatment, your counselling is vital to this whole process. How would somebody move through this process realistically with themselves, with relationships, with grief, with the pain of all of it without actually seeking outside help, outside support?
LANDRY: 39:27It’s not doable. You can’t do it alone. None of us grow entirely by– none of us can entirely grow by doing everything alone. So I want to say if you have been abused, if you have had so much trauma that it’s hard to trust any living being, then start with an animal as long as you’re going to take care of it. Right. As long as you’re going to love it and feed it and take care of it. But the reality of the situation is that none of us grow in a vacuum, none of us grow in isolation. We have to have periods of isolation or periods of solitude to expand. But the way that you have to do it is you have to be willing to extend out for help. It’s the only way. It’s the only way for all of us. And that’s not to say some people aren’t more introverted than others. It’s to say that you need support. Every living thing, whether it’s a plant, an animal, a human being, every living thing requires support to survive. Okay. So professional help. Obviously, a treatment program like what you offer is ideal for people if they can do it, then professional help.
LANDRY: 40:37Not all professional therapist, coaches, mental health providers are created equal. You always have the right to ask anyone you are considering asking for help if they get help for themselves. I have never had a client ask me that. And I think everyone should ask a potential professional mental health provider, “What do you do for your own mental health? Do you have a therapist? Do you get support?” Because nobody’s an expert on all things and nobody that’s helping people should not be accountable to their own mental health. That’s one. Two, you always want to practice degrees of tolerance with the safe people. You may be surprised if you’re sober, the people that you thought were safe are not, the people that you thought might not be big parts of your life have proven to be safety nets for you. So you want to look for consistency in behavior from professionals, people in your life, from sponsor, from people in recovery. Not everyone in recovery is healthy, right, because people– there’s a lot of people in recovery that don’t get help beyond the basic limitations of what’s offered. And many, many people in recovery have substantial trauma, mental illness and need additional support.
LANDRY: 41:53So you want to look for consistency. You want to look for 80/20. 80% of the time the people you’re getting help from, they’re who you expect them to be. We all have mood swings. We all have bad days. We all have moments. You want to look for people who are willing to apologize if they make a mistake, including professionals. You’re going to want to look for those things when you’re seeking outside help, whether it’s through therapy, whether it’s through bodywork, whether it’s through spirituality, whether it’s through recovery, with whatever avenue you’re going to take because everybody is different. You want to look for those things in the people you’re surrounding yourself with. And you also want to start to see how you can give those things to others. How can I be consistent? How can I be open to admitting when I’m wrong? How can I be safe for other people? And that comes with more and more time that you’re sober. So.
CARMEN: 42:43So basically, look for people who can admit they’re wrong, who can be vulnerable, who can admit that they’re human and admit they don’t have all the answers and do get help for themselves as well. I think those are amazing, amazing recommendations, actually.
LANDRY: 43:02Yeah. Nobody has it all figured out in every area of their life and nobody has it together all the time. And if you are around a professional in any situation, medical, mental health, anything, education that acts like they don’t have any flaws, I would say run so fast you don’t even see the door slam behind you. Yep.
CARMEN: 43:25We’ve talked a lot about grief and loss, but I want to end our conversation with what are our action items. Obviously, seek help, obviously, get counseling. But let’s talk through some of these hopeful action items that can bring us to another level.
LANDRY: 43:51Yeah. How can I change incremental behaviors in my life? Reach out to someone just as a practice, make a call once a week. You want to do it every day, once a week. Can I get to a meeting? If that’s the road I’m going in recovery. Can I extend a hello to one person even though I want to run and scream and hide and put my head in the sand? Small things. Can I open one bill? A lot of people are in major debt when they get sober. You go like, can I just not throw away or take one bill off the stack? Right. Can I clean my house, which may now be a hoarding situation for 15 minutes a day or 15 minutes, twice a week? Can I go for a walk? Can I brush my teeth? If you’re dealing with severe mental illness and addiction, can I take a shower? Okay. No, I can’t. Okay. Can I wash my face? How can you give yourself room for success, right, while also giving yourself the ability to grow in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re failing by putting too much pressure on yourself? Yeah.
CARMEN: 45:05So tell us a little bit about what you offer as a professional, because we’re coming to the end of this conversation and I want to make sure as we close out that we’ve actually talked about what you offer and how to get ahold of you if people want to learn more.
LANDRY: 45:24Absolutely. So I offer one to one coaching for people who want to move beyond trauma, grief, addictions, transition. Right. I offer group support for things like grief and recovery. I offer trainings, something called trauma intelligence training. That is for individuals who want to grow in their own trauma, people who are professionals who want to understand trauma, people who are in corporations that want to be better to their employees. Look, we have a collective trauma going on now with the pandemic, political situation that’s happening. And then we also want to be able to respond to people in more effective ways just as community members. I have a training on narcissist recovery if you’ve been exposed to narcissists. Also, I do work with corporations. So if corporations are looking for support and training their staff to be better, to increase productivity. So one to one trainings, groups and corporations, and I offer all of it.
CARMEN: 46:24And your website?
CARMEN: I want to thank our audience for being here to talk about grief in recovery. This has been an amazing conversation. Thank you, Blythe, for being here. And I hope everyone has a wonderful day and we will talk to you next time. Thank you for listening to Recovery Out Loud. Bye.
LANDRY: 46:51Bye.

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