Recovery means “to regain,” “to get back” or “to restore.” It has a lot to do with loss and with you. Recovery is not “getting over it” or “closure.” Those terms do not apply to what you have experienced. Suicide loss does not go away and it cannot be left behind.
You have not only lost someone dear to you, you have lost a part of yourself. You have lost your normality. You can’t get back your loved one or your friend, but you can get back, recover, that sense of things being normal that you felt before your loss. That is what recovery is all about.
Recovery is a process of learning to deal with each day’s challenges. In regard to suicide loss, a significant lessening of most of the emotions that you are feeling right now marks recovery. The anxiety, the sadness, the depression, the stress and the pain gradually become manageable and eventually move into the background. Your personal, social and school or work‐related activities become less of a strain and more routine.
Recovery from suicide loss is not passive. It will not happen by only letting things run their course. It is active, something that you have to work at and work toward. It is how you get back your well being and quality of life. Recovery is the goal of your journey though suicide grief. It is getting to the point of being able to live with grief rather than only grieving.
There doesn’t seem to be a standard grieving process that we all go through. It is different for each of us in terms of what or when things happen. However, there seem to be some phases that we each experience. These do not necessarily unfold sequentially, but it is easier to discuss them that way.
We all seem to face what can be called the dissonance phase. This is the initial period after the loss when nothing literally fits. It is the time that has been called a “personal holocaust” because of the devastation and the extent of anguish and emotion that sweeps over you. It can be a time of panic, blame and incrimination.
It may be followed by a debilitation phase: a time when you may feel that you are breaking down emotionally and psychologically. The acute pain that you feel, along with stress and depression, brings this about. You feel disaffection from those who do not share your loss. You may also feel a loss of control over your life, a sense of powerlessness.
These phases may last some months or a year or more. Gradually, and often imperceptibly, you rebound emotionally. The acute nature of your grief subsides. The emotional pain stops worsening and holds at a level you can more readily bear. We call this the desensitization phase. You seem to have more energy and some interests that were set aside may come back. This is a kind of pre‐recovery stage. You are still vulnerable to relapses, falling back on more troublesome feelings, but you are moving in the right direction.
We call the last step the differentiations phase because by the time you reach it you are truly a different person. You arrive at a changed sense of who you are as a result of your loss. You are not “better” or “stronger,” you are just different. Your personal beliefs and values are affected by what you have experienced. Part of this is the emergence of a “new normal.” You can function better and, except for that residual sense of loss that will always be with you, you feel normal again—different, perhaps renewed, but normal.
Adapted from Recovering from Suicide Loss Survivors of Suicide, Inc. Folcroft, PA June 2004