“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state to another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.”
— Alexandre Dumas
For those with substance addictions, one of the greatest struggles can be finding the strength to fight for a better future. The suffering of addiction can translate to intense grief for both the addicted person and their loved ones, leading to feelings of helplessness and despair.
This is a situation Steve Sewell has witnessed many times. As a chaplain and professional grief counselor, Sewell has nearly 30 years experience helping people through difficult life situations.
“A lot of times, people feel trapped,” Sewell explains. “They feel like they’re at the end of the road. There’s nowhere to go; the road is closed; there’s a dead end; if they take one more step, they’re going to fall into the sinkhole. I like to try to show them hope. I like to try to show them that there’s more than just what they look at with their eyes.”
When it comes to addiction, the most important thing to remember is that hope is possible if you can find meaning in your grief and work through it in a healthy way.
Finding Your "Reasoning of Suffering"
None of us wants to suffer. We all try to fill our lives with happiness and comfort, but unfortunately some amount of suffering is inevitable. The disease of addiction is just one form of suffering that can plague our lives and make us lose hope in a better future.
But as painful as suffering is to endure, some good can actually come from it. In recent years, psychologists have begun studying a phenomenon known as post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth is positive psychological change that results from a major life crisis or traumatic event, and it can manifest as increased feelings of personal strength, stronger interpersonal relationships and greater appreciation of life.
Sewell connects post-traumatic growth to the concept of “reasoning of suffering.” This is our explanation for why we believe suffering happens and how we can turn it into an opportunity for personal growth. Everyone must come to their own reasoning of suffering, and doing so is a major step on the path toward hope.
According to Sewell:
“When we look inside ourselves and we identify our own reasoning of suffering—why we believe suffering helps us, why we believe suffering encounters are good for us even though we try to stay away from them as much as we possibly can—it actually can develop a really neat learning curve for our lives so that the next time around, when something hits us personally, we can go back and we can say, ‘I remember that time when someone helped me understand the scope of suffering, and I’m going to look at this differently now.’ “
Facing Grief Head-On
What, then, is the best way to start working through the grief that comes with addiction? Each person will come to terms with grief in their own way, but healing always starts by confronting grief directly, not avoiding it.
Facing the thing that’s causing us pain is not easy, which is why people sometimes fall into the trap of avoiding their grief. But avoidance can ultimately prolong the grieving period and lead to the development of complicated grief, also known as persistent complex bereavement disorder.
Instead of trying to rush through the grieving process, Sewell recommends slowing down. “One of the best things we can do when we’re going through a difficult time is get out of our house. Take a walk. Get our eyes on something else. See the birds, see the clouds, feel the air rush against our face. Cry. Be around someone that cares for us,” he says.
If we take the time to get in touch with our emotions, connect with nature and look for the bigger picture, we can start to move past our grief and find the hope that waits on the other side of addiction. “That’s part of the hope that I want people to see,” Sewell says.
Want to hear more from Steve Sewell on grief, addiction and regaining hope? In the video below, he explains some common ways people avoid their grief and the negative consequences this can have.