There’s a mnemonic that I heard for the first time when I was in rehab – H.A.L.T. – which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. Like the most recent Snicker’s bar ad campaign claims, we are not ourselves when we’re hungry (or angry, lonely and tired). And when we’re not able to summon our best selves, mistakes are made, words end up in the universe that we can’t take back, and our judgment is severely compromised. In other words, we can be real a-holes when we are any of those things. Lord have mercy if we’re juggling all of them at the same time. But it happens. I’ve flopped on the couch after a stressful day, bone tired and starving, pissed off over something stupid and realize there’s no one around to vent to. It’s the perfect setup for thinking about a drink. When I’m cranky, I tend to want to drink at things to make them go away instead of choosing a healthy remedy to the problem. I’m after the quickest way from point A to point B, from feeling like I want to launch a hand grenade to feeling peace, and when I’m in that space, it feels overwhelming to take the time to break it down and make good choices. I want oblivion.
Self-care is a must in recovery. I used to equate that term with long, luxurious days at the spa and sleeping ‘till noon and for that reason, it evoked feelings of selfishness and a lot of wasted time. Now I make self-care a priority, because it’s the most important ingredient in my sobriety smoothie. It means making an effort to ensure that this body I drag around with me all day has what it needs to keep my crazy head in check. I’m not always consistent and I still get myself in a pickle on occasion, but now I try to notice how I feel, decide if it’s how I want to feel, and if it isn’t, I do something appropriate to change it.
Hunger is probably the easiest thing on the list to fix, but believe it or not, it takes effort and planning to ensure you don’t end up in a blood sugar-induced rage. I use the phrase “My God, eat a banana!” in my house a lot because my 20-year-old daughter will wait until she’s hangry before she remembers that eating is a basic survival skill that keeps both her body and brain nourished. I’ve been guilty of the same transgression on occasion, and I know in those moments I’m not thinking straight. Nor does my brain function at its optimal capacity when I bombard it with garbage instead of nutrients. Because addicts tend to hail from the “land of the quick fix,” we are routinely underprepared and turn to drive thru tacos and sour patch kids to soothe the beast. Many of us have months, years, and even decades of poor health to reverse in recovery, so proper nutrition is key to getting our gray matter back. We’ve abused our bodies for so long with unhealthy substances, that healthy eating might not feel like a priority, but at the very least, I urge you to keep some nourishing snacks handy for those times you’re about to do a rousing impression of Cookie Monster at a supermarket Girl Scout Cookie stand.
I don’t know a single person who has reached the kind of blissful, monk-like, yoga-and-goji-berry induced tranquility that prevents them from ever feeling anger. It’s an emotion we all experience from time to time, but addicts are especially susceptible to the effects of anger, and unless we are spiritually fit, what follows is seldom pretty. Our judgment is compromised, and snap decisions made in the heat of an angry moment can have devastating consequences. When something evokes your ire, it’s a good time to call your sponsor and talk it through, practice some deep breathing, get behind closed doors and scream, hit the gym, scribble it all down in a journal, do a fourth step, or forget everything I said above about nutrition and have a giant candy bar. No matter what, you will never find the solution at the bottom of a bottle or bag. In fact, it will only magnify the thing you’re seething over and then you’ll just have one more thing to be angry about.
Loneliness is not the same as simply being alone. I felt a crushing sense of loneliness when I was drinking because I isolated in order to use the way I needed to – heavily and undetected. I even felt lonely while surrounded by people, because I was convinced that no one else understood what I was going through, and I always had this niggling need to be somewhere else. The feeling followed me into early sobriety because my world had turned upside down, and there I was trying to navigate through the wreckage of my past while trying to figure out how to make new connections and find better ways of muddling through this do-over I’d been given. Sober, the loneliness felt glaring and painful, so I chose to expand my comfort zone, even obliterating it at times, by exposing my underbelly and inviting sober people into my tight little world. On the flip side, I dig my alone time. I work full time, go to school, have a husband, three kids, five pets, and lots of friends, so it doesn’t happen often, but when the planets align just so, I treat it like a national holiday. It’s rare that I feel lonely, however, because I’ve organized my life in sobriety so that I’m tethered to the outside world through close relationships, work, school, social media, and a running text thread with some sober women who keep me on the beam. I’ve plumb run out of excuses to feel lonely for too long.
Who isn’t tired these days? We’re faced with an endless smorgasbord of options when it comes to entertainment, dining, fitness, shopping, recreation, travel, and leisure activities. We are constantly on the go, but even a sedentary lifestyle feeds us countless opportunities to binge watch TV or play video games. It’s exhausting. We’ve become a chronically sleep-deprived society. The best way to combat fatigue is to stick to a reasonable routine and get the same number of hours of sleep each night. Piece of cake, right? I can practically feel you rolling your eyes. I’m admittedly terrible with routine, but I’ll share the same advice I was given.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Once we’re in a rhythm, our bodies adjust and prompt us to settle in or wake up at approximately the same time every day.
- Limit your caffeine intake after a certain time of the day. You should consume your last caffeinated beverage at least five hours before you plan to hit the sack.
- Move your body. When you’re physically exhausted, the last thing you feel like doing is hitting a Zumba class, but exercise not only gives you more energy, but it also triggers the body to produce the hormones needed for a restful night’s sleep.
- Strike a pose. Give yoga a try – it’s been proven to increase a sense of wellbeing and boost overall energy.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration zaps energy and decreases physical performance, alertness, and concentration.
- Nourish your body. Refer to the section on hunger and make healthy choices when it comes to nutrients. Cut back on sugar and empty carbs and load up on all the yummy fresh foods available on the perimeter of your supermarket. While you’re at it, nix the midnight snack – eating too close to bedtime causes the body to expend energy on digestion instead of resetting the brain.
- Rule out illness. Get a routine physical to check for and treat medical ailments such as sleep apnea, anemia, hypothyroidism, diabetes, heart disease, and Lyme disease.
Beware of the beast, and when you get the urge to drink or use, I encourage you to HALT. Check in with yourself immediately to see which part(s) of the acronym apply to you in that moment and take steps to fix that before succumbing to temptation.