Sobriety in grief poses some extra challenges for people in recovery from substance or alcohol use. Here are 3 R’s to stay sober when you’re heart is broken

Sobriety in grief may be the hardest thing to manage. There has been a debate about the stages of grief among experts. Some experts say there are no stages of grief and that people have different reactions and different times and ways of healing. Grief can be overpowering and paralyzing, putting some people into a black hole of despair and loneliness that lasts and lasts. But others find ways to move through crushing grief and carry on in remarkable ways. Author Maribeth Ditmar tells how she stayed sober despite problems with addiction among family members and the loss of two children.

Crushing losses should have tempted me to pick up a drink again, yet I had no desire to drink.

Maribeth Ditmars

We unplugged our 21 year-old son. He would never again wake up, do his silly impersonations, or discuss eternity with me again. Yet, I had no desire to drink. I had endured the death of his older brother years before, the loss of a family business, and addiction struggles with other family members.  Through most of it I had no desire to drink. That in itself is amazing. I’ve written a book about grief and , and am always thinking about recovery and what makes it work for some people.

Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps are only one component of sobriety

“How do you do it?” People always ask me. I could say, “I let God do it for me.” Or, “I work the steps.” While those responses are essentially true, there is more to successful long-term recovery in the face of catastrophic events which include the ones we are experiencing now with the corona virus and job loss. Exactly how would I break down my success(at least for today) at staying sober through adversity?

Here are my 3 R’s for sobriety in grief

Reaching Out

Reaching out is the foundation of recovery. It means human connection in which we help others and others help us by sharing. Reaching out is when we get honest and tell on ourselves. “Yes, I want to kill my boss.” Or “I’m scared about these changes.”

This is when we go to a meeting (AA, NA, Al-anon, Smart Recovery or the group of your choice) especially when we don’t feel like it. This is when we make those phone calls we have been putting off, ask someone to sponsor us, or reach out to the newcomer even though we are tired and our dog is at home waiting for us. There is a wonderful by-product of this first “R”. It is new and wonderful relationships.

Reaching out works both ways. Sometimes we are the reacher, and other times we are the reachee. It doesn’t matter how much time we have. We have to spend time playing both roles. This give and take is essential in maintaining a healthy perspective. Isolation is our enemy both in recovery and in grief.


We must establish and maintain our sobriety routine. This is where the phrase “Meeting makers make it” comes from. This is also why we hear, “He relapsed because he quit going to meetings.” When we were caught up in our addictions we had routines and rituals. The same happens when we get ‘caught up’ in our recovery.

Our routines form the backbone of our commitment. It isn’t just going to meetings. My routines also include saying the seventh step prayer and the third step prayer every day. Talking to my sponsor and my circle of sobriety on a regular basis. Service commitments is probably the single most fulfilling routine there is.

Last year I spent 7 weeks out of state, caring for my elderly mom and her husband and helping them transition to assisted living. I quickly found meetings there and established my home away from home routines.

In this time of pandemic, our routines have all been turned upside down, but that doesn’t mean that they have to disappear. Now more frequent phone calls and “zoombriety” have become important aspects of my new routines. Outdoor meetings six feet apart are now in my routines. I also still do my readings and my prayers. We can maintain our recovery with flexible routines.

Relying on God

This anchors my 3 R’s. I never forget that the goal of my program is to find a power greater than myself that can relieve me of my alcoholism. But finding Him isn’t enough. I have to find ways to connect with that power and to use it. What good is an electrical outlet if nothing is plugged in?

This is accomplished through surrender and faith. Those are two concepts that have been very challenging for me. I have attached myself to people who are better at it than I am, and I observe what they do. I talk to people in my denomination. Their faith feeds my faith.

Do I have spiritual dry spells? Of course! When I’m not feeling a God consciousness I still stick to my routines. Or I may reach out and tell someone I am struggling. Sometimes my 3R triangle of sobriety becomes lopsided when I lean a bit to one side, but it eventually evens out.

Read more from Maribeth Ditmars here.

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Maribeth Ditmars
Maribeth Ditmars is an author, speaker, and blogger. Her writing journey began years ago when her 10-year old son, Chris, was diagnosed with leukemia and she kept a detailed journal. This eventually became her first book. Maribeth has also published a children’s book about cancer, and she has a brand-new book that was just released. It is a faith-based book about her family’s struggles with adversity and loss. She blogs about her life experiences in child-loss, grief, and addiction. With 16 years of recovery, Maribeth loves helping other women who are new in recovery. Maribeth also enjoys speaking and reminding others that laughter and tears are only a moment apart, but joy is eternal.

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