By Jennifer Storm
Early recovery teaches us all kinds of slogans and acronyms to help us maintain our sobriety. ‘Stick with the Winners,’ ‘Keep It Simple’ and ‘HALT’ are but a few daily reminders of how the process works. They have a tendency to become monotonous after a while, and often end up the butt of jokes. But they are rooted in history and proven by those who came before us. And frankly, they make a lot of sense. For me, HALT has always been the most practical. HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired; these are the enemies of recovery, the things that can sneak up on us and make us behave erratically and throw us off balance emotionally and mentally.
The saying, “You are what you eat,” has a lot of truth to it. In early recovery, my constant companions were a 72-ounce Mountain Dew and a pack of Newports. I sustained myself on caffeine and nicotine.
In hindsight, this explains a lot about my behavior and mood. I was bouncing off the walls, which is common as we learn to balance our emotions and hormones during the transition from substance saturation to being chemical free. I wish I would have known that proper nutrition was a key factor in my emotional well-being; it certainly would have eased the anxiety I had on a daily basis.
Today, I try to eat as healthfully as I can: no soda, no chemically altered products of any kind. I eat fruits and vegetables and drink a ton of water daily. I try to stay away from sugar in its overly white and processed form, although it’s tough to avoid. Chemically altered and high-sugar items cause our blood sugar to spike, which results in major shifts in our energy levels and mood swings that aren’t pretty. Next time you feel ready to rip someone’s head off, stop and ask yourself if you have eaten enough that day and also what you have eaten. If you’re finding yourself acting out of character, it could very well be your diet.
Anger affects us all. It is how we process it that determines whether we stay healthy in our recovery, or if we go off the deep end and wind up needing to do a fourth and ninth step.
I admit, anger is my go-to emotion. It has simmered under my skin for years. Like many, I had a lot of anger when I first got clean and sober, but I had no idea how to process it. I just stuffed it down until it rose out of me like a tsunami—usually all over some poor undeserving person.
I had to learn how to identify my anger and then how to channel it in a healthy way that allowed me to get it out without putting anyone in harm’s way. Things that work for me are writing, turning up the music and singing my head off, putting on my sneakers and hitting the pavement, or taking a boxing class so I can physically release the anger out of my body. Sometimes I just need to count to 10 and say the Serenity Prayer a few times so I don’t open my mouth and send out the wasps to sting those around me.
Whatever works for you, do it, release it and let it go.
For me, this one is an easy fix because in recovery there is really never a reason to feel alone. But often in recovery we believe no one can relate to us, especially in the beginning when we are changing people, places and things. It can seem like you don’t have a friend in the world—but you do.
Go to a meeting, get involved in service work and start to socialize within your recovery network. Hit a meeting early: There are always people there at least 15 to 30 minutes beforehand setting up, or stay afterwards and mingle with others. It can be uncomfortable in the beginning, but if you’re in a good group, there will be people who make it easier. Many people go to dinner or for coffee afterwards to continue socializing. Pick up a phone list and call people when you are feeling lonely; it’s amazing what a quick connection on the phone with another recovering person can do to make you feel a little less alone in the world.
I joined a recovering softball team when I moved to a new area so I could meet people. I was horrible at softball, but I had a blast and made a lot of friends. Whatever you do, you never have to be alone in recovery because we are everywhere, in every community in every country.
I need my sleep, and without it I am a mess. In my addiction I didn’t sleep much at all, and often most of my using time came late at night into the wee hours of the morning. When I got sober, I realized I needed a solid eight hours of sleep to be fully functional. But sleep is often the first victim when life gets stressful. We toss and turn and our anxiety builds. It can be maddening and leave us cranky, irritable and irrational.
There are many fixes to ease you into a good night sleep. Keep your room temperature cool, limit your caffeine intake, try to read before bed instead of watching television or playing on the computer, drink some chamomile tea or use a lavender candle or room spray right before bed. If my mind is racing too much, sometimes writing all my anxieties down in my journal or sharing them with someone also helps. Whatever it takes, sleep is a must, so find what works for you.
The next time you are feeling out of sorts or imbalanced, just HALT. Take a minute and think, ‘Have I eaten enough?’ ‘Am I holding onto something that I need to let go of?’ ‘Am I lonely?’ and ‘Have I slept enough lately?’ Do this inventory, and there’s a good chance you’ll find the culprit of your sour mood. The best defense in recovery is a well-informed offense.
Jennifer Storm is the author of many best-selling books on recovery, victimization and trauma including Blackout Girl, Leave the Light On and Picking Up the Pieces Without Picking Up.
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