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Grief and Recovery: Staying Sober after the Route 91 Harvest Festival Shooting

When shots rang out during the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas earlier this month, concertgoers and performers alike did not initially register the sound for what it was or realize what was happening. It took long minutes for people at the concert to realize what was happening and respond. In a brief period, 59 people were dead and more than 500 were wounded.

For everyone involved and horrified viewers across the country, the moment triggered an onslaught of emotions: fear, outrage, confusion, deep sadness, and grief. For those in recovery, especially in Las Vegas, the severity of those emotions can be a serious problem, triggering cravings for drugs and alcohol and a sense of hopelessness that can be crippling.

The good news is that none of the emotions associated with grief and grieving for any reason have to be overwhelming. There are a number of ways to process through those feelings healthfully and perhaps come out on the other side stronger and better able to manage stressors that come along.

Anger

It is normal to feel rage or anger at the senselessness of such a tragedy as part of our grief response. Why would someone commit such an act? Why should people who were harming no one and enjoying themselves have to die when there was so much left to do in their lives?

Unfortunately, in this situation especially, there were no answers to be had despite great investigation. The shooter was not radicalized or religious. He had little in his history to indicate that such a violent and extreme act was in his future. Even his live-in girlfriend had no reason to believe that something was so significantly amiss in his psyche.

This means that there are no answers, nothing satisfying to help us understand what happened. In recovery, then, it becomes a lesson that we cannot control the actions of others and we can only control our responses and choices. This is not a simple lesson to learn or put into practice. Because it is such a vital lesson in recovery, this extreme and horrific event can help us to focus on how we respond, making sure that our response is supportive of those who are suffering.

Fear

It is normal, too, to feel fearful when grieving, especially in response to a senseless and inexplicable choice that ruined so many lives. How can we rest knowing that something terrifying can strike out of nowhere, putting a deadly end to something as innocuous as a concert? Fear can lead to a sense of hopelessness when it becomes clear that there is really no way to effectively protect oneself from random harm, and for many in recovery, this feeling of vulnerability can be a trigger for relapse.

Fear, like anger, can open a door to the practice of sober principles. Though we are not in control, we can live our very best lives every day. Life is fragile, and whether it is addiction that is lurking or some unnamed accident or terror, our best response is to focus on gratitude and be present in this moment, continually recognizing all we have to be grateful for and choosing to be celebratory.

Grief Disorder

Symptoms of complicated grief can be triggered by a range of events. Something like the Las Vegas shooting can certainly elicit that response; the loss of a loved one, a divorce, chronic illness, job loss, or another event can also lead to the development of the disorder.

    While it is normal to experience any of the following symptoms in the first few weeks after a traumatic event, if they persist for six months or more, it is generally considered a diagnosable disorder and treatment is recommended:

  • Bitterness
  • Intense depression
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty keeping up with day-to-day responsibilities or commitments
  • Feeling isolated or distant from others
  • Unable to feel joy
  • Numbness
  • Hopelessness
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings for drugs and/or alcohol
  • Relapse

If you are concerned that complicated grief is harming your ability to stay sober, don’t wait to seek help. The sooner you connect with treatment for grief symptoms, the sooner you can begin the healing process and protect your recovery at the same time.

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