I learned about H.A.L.T. when I was trying to put my life in order in the 90’s. I knew something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Could it be my husband? My job? The house we were living in? What about my 3 pack a day cigarette habit or my daily 1/4 of a box of wine consumption?
Nope. It had to be the husband, job, or house.
When I first tried to stop smoking in 1996, I got books to teach me how to quit. Of course. I had stacks of self-discovery and recovery books on end tables, coffee tables, desks and night stands. All over the house I had them. I even read them and thought about trying to implement their suggestions. Their usefulness was limited to keeping white rings and burn marks off the furniture when they served as the coasters to my pretty glasses of vodka-sauterne-splash of 7up wine spritzers and my ashtrays filled to over-flow.
I just knew that my life would be better if I quit smoking. I’d take on an exercise program, eat better, take up a hobby that I could do if I didn’t have a cig between my fingers. When you smoke 60 cigarettes a day, it isn’t often you don’t have a cigarette in your hands and that’s how much I smoked on May 12, 1996 when I threw away my last empty pack.
In 1997, after a year of not smoking and life being in worse decay than it had been in 1996, I changed my prayer and asked God to help me not take a drink. God answered that prayer. I had been asking God to help me drink like other people and that prayer hadn’t been answered.
It took a year of more misery to realize that not drinking was not solving my problems. When they write in the Big Book of AA that bottles are just a symptom of a deeper problem, they are not minimizing or joking. My problems were deep and wide and stopping drinking or smoking didn’t do much except aggravate them.
When I came into AA, I was told about H.A.L.T. which I had read about in several of my self-help books. It isn’t some acronym thought up by the “I’m okay, you’re okay” folks. It was first used in 1941 at St. Thomas Hospital in Ohio where sobering patients were reminded “Don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.”
It’s a great idea, but it took me a few years sober before I could recognize how I was feeling and take the appropriate action.
Hungry ought to be easy, but it isn’t. I am the kind of eater who will nibble and munch when I’m bored or worried and can’t always tell whether I’m emotionally hungry or really, really hungry. I was Christmas shopping with my son Jack a few years ago and started nagging him about his grades at school. After a little while when the school issue had been covered and I’d moved on to friends, work, and money, Jack said, “Are you hungry, Mom?” I admitted I was to which he replied, “Then, let’s eat. You’re just making up things to yell at me about.” A good meal and we could resume the shopping ordeal without a side dish of recrimination.
I’ve been told to keep a few snacks in my car just in case I need to eat. I usually eat them between Portland and Corpus Christi, a short 10 minute drive. I am better at feeling the stress rise that happens when I’m trying to finish a work or home project and I have set some imaginary written in concrete deadline. I generally take a few deep breaths and think about when I ate last.
I have to resist the urge to eat a 1/2 gallon of ice cream (sugar free, unfortunately, still has calories and often uncomfortable side effects if consumed in mass quantities) or a big bag of Cheetos. I don’t go for celery and carrots, but I like apple slices with peanut butter. Not great but I measure the peanut butter into a bowl so I don’t end up eating half a jar with my index finger.
Angry is much easier. I often know when I’m angry. It took me a few years. In the first couple of years, I’d do that Christ on a cross thing: “Forgive them, God. They don’t know what they did.” (Sorry, Jesus. You meant it and I pretty much never did.)
Whether they did or didn’t, I didn’t mean it and I didn’t forgive them. I sweltered in my anger with a sweety-sweet smile on my face and malice in my heart. My resentment list was blank when I made my first 4th step because I was such a forgiving soul. Bah! A few years into sobriety, I had a book of resentments.
It’s taken me years of being sober to pick up anger, look at it, and do an inventory on it. What caused this anger (I was robbed!), why am I feeling this way (I was robbed!!), what was my part in it (I was robbed!!!), and what is failing me (my sense of personal and/or financial security)? Oh, yeah. I’m powerless over people, places, and things…even robbers. And I’m still angry.
At that point, I would have to call my sponsor which is why it helps me to be in a 12 step recovery program.
Lonely isn’t the same as being alone. I’m the kind of person who can be lonely in a room full of people. I am the little girl looking at happy folks through a restaurant window. What do I do with that?
I go home and sit, alone and lonely. In the alkie years, I drank. (My husband would say, “Why don’t you come to bed, honey?”) And I drank. (My son would ask, “Can you lie down next to me, Mommy? I’m scared.) And I drank and wondered why I was so lonely.
Grief can drive me to loneliness, too. I can easily decide that I’m the only one feeling sad and that I don’t want to “burden” others with my sorrow. Rat scat! Burden, shmurden.
I have yet to pick up a phone and not get a loving response. I can text and email, too. Whether I’m talking to another alcoholic about drinking or another parent about grief, I don’t have to unique myself into insanity. I am not the only one who was a drunk and I’m not the only one who has felt loss.
Remembering that helps me keep from doing that Pagliacci “laugh, clown, laugh” thing when I’m in a group of people. I can’t always feel good, but nobody else can, either.
I can be me. What a novel concept.
I didn’t go to sleep when I drank without being drunk enough to pass out. Tired has not been much of a problem. I usually recognize when I’m tired. I’ve had to learn that I can’t make someone else’s sleep schedule mine. Bob wakes several times a night, gets up, checks messages on the computer, eats a snack, drinks a glass of milk, smokes a cigarette. I can’t get up with him and expect to get up in the morning.
My pattern of waking, reading or praying for a bit, and then going back to sleep works. I do that several times a night, too, but I am still able to get going in the morning.
What I’ve have to work on is the idea that perpetual motion isn’t asked or required of me during my days off. I can sit on the couch and read while the washer is doing its thing. It’s possible to let the toilet bowl cleaner work while I’m taking a nap. There is no Uber-Conscience that’s marking down my leisure times and counting them against me.
Psycho thinking? Welcome to my crazy Margaret world. I cannot make up for years of screwing off with a hangover by mowing, weedeating, mopping, dusting, and cooking the upcoming week’s meals. I do all these things at the same time and do a terrible job at most of them because I’m not paying attention to any of them.
If I’m tired, I’m just tired. I can rest without looking over my shoulder. (Sometimes.) I can eat if I’m hungry or talk to someone if I’m lonely or tell someone if I’m mad at them. Simple? Common sense? Maybe to you but not to me. I have learned that I have to work at recognizing those things. And that’s what keeps me only 37% nuts which might be normal. For me.