Family death five years ago

Originally Published: November 1, 1993 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 1, 2009
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Dear Alice,

I am a generally happy graduate student here, with family nearby and good friends. However, I wanted to ask if maybe I should try counseling. When I was in my late teens, I had a traumatic family experience (death of a family member). Some months later I entered college, and promptly began to drink like a fish. I don't really know, to this day, how much of it was for fun and companionship and whatever, and how much was to dull the pain of recent events at home. Anyway, I stopped drinking the next year, and have since drunk alcohol with no signs (to me) that I had an alcoholism problem, which was often suggested to me that first year of college.

Now, I am in school, doing what I want, and involved for the last two years with a man I love very much, and who loves me. We are headed for long-term commitment, but I am afraid of wrecking it, because I often feel like I am freaking out and will sometimes cry and become very, very depressed, I think over these events I have mentioned. My guess, unfortunately, is that I have a tendency for melodrama and depression anyway. In which case, I would just try to rein my emotions in and get control of myself. I need some reassurance, I guess.


Dear Emotion-laden,

It's wonderful that you're doing what you love, are generally happy, and in a relationship with a supportive partner who loves you. But while your life is going well now, and is removed five years from the traumatic event, time and distance alone don't always make hard experiences and emotions disappear. You mention an interest in an objective opinion — spending time with a counselor could provide a helpful perspective for dealing with the intense grief and after-effects of your loss. Some counselors are trained specifically to help people understand and heal from traumatic situations and the accompanying feelings of grief and anxiety that often surface as a result.

It's very common, and in fact healthy, to be deeply sad and affected when someone close to you passes away. But you don't have to grieve alone. It's great that your boyfriend is understanding, but working with a counselor to process difficult emotions could take some of the pressure off of your relationship, and could help you feel less anxious about "wrecking it" out of depression or anxiety. From what you describe, alcohol played a larger role during your first year than it does now. In addition to helping you cope with your grief, counseling may also offer some insight into your relationship with alcohol. A counselor won't tell you what to do, but will help you find the answers and solutions that work best for you.   

If you are a student at Columbia (grad or undergrad), you can make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services by calling x4-2878. It might also be helpful take a look at the linked Q&As below which relate to grieving and alcohol use in response to emotional distress.

With hope that insight and support will offer you strength and healing,


June 22, 2007


Dear Alice,

I too lost a family member a few years ago; I suppressed my grief for 5 whole years, which proved to be an immense psychological strain which I relieved by basically becoming a...

Dear Alice,

I too lost a family member a few years ago; I suppressed my grief for 5 whole years, which proved to be an immense psychological strain which I relieved by basically becoming a workaholic. I was always studying, reading, whatever. I never took time off, and never allowed myself to just let my hair down and cry. Recently, however, I lost a friend and this added pressure was too much to hold back. I totally lost it one day, and one of my professors walked in on me crying my eyes out. Naturally he was concerned, and wanted to know if I was alright. I ended up telling him the whole story, and he listened to my story, comforted me, and said that it was good that I was finally able to cry — it just showed that I was now ready to deal with this event in my life. I found talking to this teacher, whom I happened to like and trust a lot, helped me come to terms with my loss. My advice to you would be to find someone who you trust and just talk. It sounds like you have been doing that with your boyfriend, but you may want to consider talking to a trusted teacher, parent, or counselor as well.