#2 August 3, 2020
From reading and listening to hundreds of stories in emails and in a grieving group I’ve belonged to for the last 5 years, I’ve noticed a common phenomenon. I call it the Runaround Loop or Loop for short. It’s that neuro Loop in your brain that keeps playing to your detriment. It could last a long time if you don’t take steps to lessen its effects.
I am just an ordinary person like you, and I’ve experienced the negative effects of the Loop. The Loop is the recycling of questions you ask yourself about the actions that were taken while your loved one was struggling with the disease. The constant “what ifs and I should have done that,” pervade and overtake your thought processes. This does not help one heal! I am not an expert in psychology, but I’ve worked my whole life dealing with people as a high school teacher and athletic coach. I felt as if I were a counselor in my profession, but I am not accredited as such (I also was Dean of Students for 5 years). The Loop is probably the loudest in the first few months and years after the loss. If the loss was a person you were responsible for (child, parent, sibling, partner), the Loop is probably strongest. It will take much work on your part to mitigate the effects. Of course, everyone is different, and you might not even experience this phenomenon.
One thing that might work for some is to have a support system. This support varies for different people. I had never been to a therapist (except for physical therapy) and I did not have any inclination ever to see one. However, luckily for me, my wife and daughter went for help and I started a month after our loss. At first it was a strange experience. I went once a week for a few years and after a while I was strong enough to go once every two weeks. Eventually, after eleven years I took a break for three years. Had I not gone I don’t know where I would be now. It doesn’t “cure” you if there is such a thing. What it did do for me was give me some perspective and an objective listener. Yes, we have friends and relatives that we talk to about our loss, but I have found there is a time where they reach a saturation point. I could not keep talking about my loss. It is not a subject that one can listen to over and over again no matter how supportive they might be. They cannot understand what we are experiencing.
Another avenue of help is a support group. Granted, I did not go to one after the loss. I did not know they existed in 2006 when the stigma of drug overdoses was very high compared to now. As I have seen lately in my group, the new members are grateful and explicitly say how they are comforted and strengthened by being in a group (Zoom group for now). They form new relationships with people who are going through a shared experience. It helps them to stay out of the Loop.
There are also self-help activities that people have shared in the group. Some people start journal writing. Others try alternative help options like Reiki, meditation, acupuncture to name a few. People start exercising which can induce the “runner’s high,” or other endurance activities with the same result. What I did soon after my loss was to pore over photos and the many hours of videotape I recorded as the kids were growing up. Yes, they made me cry many times, but they also made me laugh just as much. I even made a short film using these videos and interviews I did with people who were close to my son. Many other people joined the fight against OUD by raising money for many facets of this fight. I’ve been amazed at the resiliency and courage of these people. In addition to knowing these people, I’ve developed ongoing relationships with many of them.
The Loop is a state that hits most of us. We keep revisiting the things we should or should not have done when our loved one was still with us. But, don’t despair. You must realize and believe the research which has shown that addiction is a disease. You will realize you did the best you could. Sometimes humans are helpless against some diseases. With time and getting the help that works for you it is possible that the Loop simply stops.