The key to maintaining a life in recovery is a combination of self-care, self-awareness, pride in yourself and the relevant knowledge to keep yourself clean and/or sober. By taking care of ourselves, recognising certain signs and having a plan of action in place, we can prevent a relapse before it’s too late. One of the tools some people use is H.A.L.T.
This handy acronym reminds us to take a moment (to literally HALT) and ask ourselves if we are feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. It seems simple enough, but when these basic needs are not met, we are susceptible to self-destructive behaviors including relapse. Fortunately, hunger, anger, loneliness, and being tired are easy to address and can serve as a warning system before things reach breaking point and beyond.
Hunger can be a physical or emotional need. Understanding the need to eat is fairly straightforward. However, we should remind ourselves not just to eat, but to eat well. Meeting nutritional needs allows our bodies to operate to the highest potential, and will help us to remain feeling better and healthier. However, when we HALT and assess our situation, we can describe a hunger for less tangible things such as affection, accomplishment, and understanding. This is why having a support system in place is so important. Those who care for and love you will give you food for your heart, and ease the emotional hunger that you’re feeling. To ease hunger, do not turn to destructive habits, places, things or associate/ be with negative people. This will not fill the physical or emotional emptiness that you’re feeling. Instead, find something wholesome to eat (be with/do something) with a good friend or loved one.
During our using or drinking we often turn to our substances of choice to “fill” those needs as we seek immediate fulfilment and satisfaction however those moments where we are emotionally hungry simply get ignored as our substances of choice as they lie to us, telling us that everything is great when realistically they are chronically being ignored and unfulfilled, leading us to become even more emotionally hungry and ignored as the months and years go by.
Associated with hunger is thirst. Sometimes when we are thirsty we can mistake this feeling for hunger. Drinking water or fruit juice regularly throughout the day will help keep the feeling of thirst at bay. Drinking drinks containing caffeine can have a stimulating effect on your body however caffeine is technically a drug so trying to avoid drinks containing caffeine is advisable. Caffeine is also a diuretic (makes you want to urinate more frequently). This can also cause dehydration which can make you feel unwell, reduce your energy level, cloud your thinking and reduce the efficiency of other normal bodily functions. Caffeine can also be found in energy drinks and some other fizzy drinks. If you can, only consume carbonated (fizzy) drinks as a treat. The huge amounts of sugar, caffeine and other artificial additives can affect your energy levels, thinking and sleep.
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion to experience. The important thing is to HALT and take time to understand what is causing your anger and know how to properly express it. Perhaps you are angry with a situation, a person, or maybe yourself. It might be one little thing that spins out of control, or an ongoing event. No matter what is bothering you, assess whether or not you can confront what is angering you. Calmly talk to the person you have an issue with or fix the problem you’re having by talking to yourself and ask what you can do to relieve your anger. If what is angering you is out of your control or you aren’t ready to or can’t confront the issue, try to express yourself in other ways. Exercising, punching a pillow, cleaning, writing your thoughts and feelings down in a diary or piece of paper or meditate are active ways to get rid of the excess energy anger brings with it. Creative projects such as painting, singing, or writing might be a better way for you to dispel your anger. Meditation or prayer can be way to calm yourself anywhere and at any time. Finally, talking to someone who isn’t involved in the situation can be a very useful way to think about and work through your anger. Regardless of how you expel your anger, make sure you acknowledge it and reflect upon its causes so you can then release it in constructive and not destructive ways.
Loneliness can occur when we are by ourselves or when surrounded by other people. We isolate ourselves when we don’t feel like others can understand us, withdrawing into ourselves out of fear, guilt, shame or doubt. Being alone is a self-imposed situation. If you’re feeling lonely, HALT and ask yourself if you have reached out to anyone lately. Your support system is there for you when you feel depressed, overwhelmed, or anxious or upset. These moments of loneliness can be satisfied by going to a meeting, calling a friend or loved one, talking to your Keyworker or by contacting and being involved with loneliness phone schemes might be just what you need. You can also simply go out in the world by taking a walk, running errands, or going to a coffee shop. Rather than hiding from everyone, isolating yourself further and returning to substance abuse, reach out and connect with others who want to see you happy and healthy and be genuinely interested in your recovery and be willing to help you when you encounter difficult moments of loneliness.
Tiredness takes a toll on all of our bodies, mind, and spirit. When our days are filled with errands, meetings, and activities it is easy to ignore how tired we become. However, running on low energy compromises our ability to think and our capacity to cope. Taking the time to HALT is particularly important when you’re tired. Satisfying the physical need to sleep, rest, and rejuvenate is critical to keeping healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. A good night’s sleep or a leisurely nap may be all you need to change your outlook for the day. If your day is particularly hectic, take a short break by listening to music, going for a short walk or simply taking a deep breath and performing a simple mindfulness/meditation exercise may be helpful. Maybe its been a rough couple of days or week that requires a trip to your favorite shopping centre, cinema or restaurant. Recharging your body, mind, and spirit will help you get through those tough moments where you may feel the need to use or drink and help you maintain your abstinence.
HALT can serve as a reminder to all of us that we need to take care of our basic needs every day. For those recovering from addiction, paying closer attention to your feelings will help you prevent relapse. Take a moment each day to check in with yourself. Ask, “Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?” Honestly assessing how you feel takes only a minute. Doing so will make the everyday stress of life easier to deal with and help you maintain sobriety.
It is important that you purposely allocate specific times in your day when you will sleep and try your best to stick to them. Once you and your body get into a regular routine, sleeping will become easier and in most cases, actually look forward to unwinding and getting good quality sleep.
Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, sugary drinks and meals just before you go to bed. This will cause your sleep to become disturbed and may cause you not to feel tired and may make you want to get up and go to the toilet regularly too, further disturbing your sleep.
If you want to find out more about sleep, you can find out more in our article about sleep here.
Time To Recap
- H – Am I physically or emotionally hungry? How can I relieve my hunger? Am I just thirsty?
- A – Who or what am I angry at? Can I rectify my anger with someone else or with myself in a positive way?
- L – Am I lonely? How can I rectify this? Do I need to go visit someone and spend some time with them? Do I just need to call or video call someone to talk?
- T – Am I tired? Am I getting enough quality sleep for a good period of time? Do I simply need to have a nap?
- Keep nonperishable snacks and water on you or in your car if you have one so that you can eat and drink should physical hunger or thirst arise. Try to proactively make “pit stop” drinking breaks regularly throughout your day. Try to avoid caffeine and only drink fizzy drinks occasionally if you can. Also try to avoid alcohol before you go to bed as it may disturb your sleep because of needing to urinate regularly. It may also effect the quality of sleep you get too.
- Proactively make time in your day for sleep, eating meals, taking drink breaks and if you can, make spots in your day to practice mindfulness/meditation exercises. They don’t have to be huge, even 5 minutes twice a day would be hugely beneficial to you.
- Try to make your sleep area comfortable, airy and at a comfortable temperature to suit you. Also try making your bed as comfortable as possible so that you not only get good quality sleep but you then also look forward to going to bed.
- Try to include these suggestions into your daily recovery plan if you can and ensure that the changes you implement in your plan are also easy to achieve otherwise over time you may stop doing them if they interfere with your other daily activities.