Q: My cousin overdosed and died. My aunt told me I’m responsible and should have done something to help him. I knew my cousin was using drugs and I told him it wasn’t good for him. He said he was fine and didn’t want me bugging him about drugs. Is it my fault he overdosed? Was I supposed to help him?
A: Experiencing both the loss of your cousin and the weight of being told it was your fault is a double whammy of pain! My heart goes out to you for the loss of your cousin. Dealing with the death of a loved one is excruciating. Be sure you have support around you and allow yourself to process through the grief. Work with a counselor or get into a grief group to help.
Regarding your aunt’s statement about your responsibility, you are not responsible for your cousin’s choices. You told him your thoughts about his drug use and that’s all you could do since he didn’t want your help. No one can make another person stop using drugs. Sometimes people are court ordered to attend rehab but that rarely ends with the person getting free from their addiction. A person has to want to be free before any recovery approaches will work. Remind yourself of this every time you start to feel responsible for your cousin’s death. Over time you will begin to accept the truth and the guilt will ease. Just like grieving, it will be a process so be patient with yourself.
Note: The information on this blog is opinion only and not intended to replace therapy. If you are running into blocks you can’t get past, can’t understand your thoughts and emotions, are overwhelmed by your emotions…anything that is causing you emotional distress, please seek the help of a professional counselor. If you are suicidal, please call 911. If you are desperate to talk with someone call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255. For help finding treatment options for mental health or addictions contact SAMHSA at 800-662-4357. Links to thousands of therapists throughout the United States can be found at PsychologyToday.com or Theravive.com
Perceived guilt and shame come from something you think you did wrong but you really didn’t. A classic example is the child who believes she is the reason her parents got divorced. She feels guilty about breaking up her family. She begins to see herself as a bad person who broke up her parents marriage. She carries this belief into adulthood. She is afraid to get close to people because she thinks she hurts people. She lives life without deep close connections, on the fringes, and never feels internal peace.
Reality is that she didn’t break up her parents marriage. They chose to end their marriage. One or both of her parents may have told her it was her fault but a child doesn’t break up a marriage. A child can add to the disharmony or frustration in a family but the child didn’t force the parents to divorce. Anyone who uses that excuse in any circumstance isn’t owning their behavior they are choosing to use blame to ease their own conscience. Running through my head right now are people who say things like, “She was dressed so provocatively, she was asking for it” or “It’s because you made me so mad that you got hurt” or “If you weren’t so slow then I wouldn’t be in such a bad mood.”
Some people have thoughts about doing something they know is wrong. From simply thinking about it, which is something all of us do, some people turn that into shame, “I am a bad person.” Truth is, you’re a person. A bad person? No!
Finding freedom from shame is challenging. I’ll save that for Part 5 🙂