Losing a loved one to addiction

Photo of Lauren Olson with her father, Tim Olson, who passed away unexpectedly in 2019

By Lauren Olson, Face It TOGETHER Evaluation Intern
Published July 27, 2021

Grief has a mysterious way of taking hold of you and manifesting in so many different ways. Even though it has been a couple of years since my father passed, I still find myself often confused, frustrated, sad, joyous and nostalgic in my grief. I have only recently begun to understand and accept that because grief is so complicated – the feelings that it creates often coexist.

In my journey through grief, I have realized my feelings as a loved one of someone with addiction in general are similar. Staying supportive as a loved one is difficult when you become aware of how controlling the disease of addiction really is. I am not entirely proud of how I handled every situation as a daughter of a person with an addiction, but as I have learned, nothing about addiction is cookie-cutter. Sometimes I lashed out in bursts of anger and became resentful. Other times I was softer, more level-headed and understanding. This is exactly how my grief still makes me feel, and as time has gone on since my father’s passing, I have come to see my grief for what it is: complicated. I even found myself struggling to write this, even though I've talked openly before about my grief and father's addiction.

Since my father’s death, I have done my best to learn as much as I can about what took him from everyone that loved him. I have found myself advocating for him because he no longer has a voice of his own. Sharing my dad’s story has also helped me understand and process my grief in ways I don't think I could've otherwise. While I share his story, I realize that I tend to stand up for him in a way that I didn’t quite understand until recently. I feel like I have been doing this in order to let go of my aforementioned harsh emotions like anger and resentment. I didn’t stand up for him at times when I found his addiction hard to comprehend. I kept his battle a secret when it wasn’t a shameful thing to hide.

I think about all of this now every single day, and I wish I could tell him all of it. All of the realizations I have had in the past two years – and even before then – have helped me grow, heal, educate myself and others, understand and process my grief and accept the complicated nature of the loss I experienced.

Living with loss as a loved one is a journey in and of itself, and I have discovered that being able to share my journey with others has made me feel less alone. Sharing my dad’s story has let me remember the strength, resilience and bravery he had on his wellness journey. As a young adult trying to understand death, I have often found myself lost trying to find others to relate to. I have discovered very few personal anecdotes, podcasts and books that are aimed toward people like me, who have lost someone specifically due to addiction. All I can hope is that this reaches someone who needs to hear it.

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