I appreciate the practicality of the tools used by 12 step-groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous. The tools help in establishing consistent sobriety, which is the basic foundation upon which all subsequent growth depends. How important are these simple tools, especially in early recovery? They are absolutely essential. Imagine building a house without a hammer or nails. One such recovery tool is the acronym (BA)HALT, which helps foster an atmosphere of mindfulness and proactivity to address normal emotional and physical needs.
(B)oredom leaves an addict vulnerable to acting out. Unstructured time is not a friend. The addict’s mind is accustomed to seeking thrills and instant gratification. To not distract from emotional distress is painful. If you’re in recovery and feeling bored, then be proactive in planning constructive tasks. Read a book, go for a hike with a friend, attend a 12-step meeting, or call a program buddy so that you can be intentional with your time.
(A)nxiety can be a major obstacle in helping an addict maintain sobriety. Acting out can produce the neuro-chemical serotonin, which helps people relax. Yet, acting out can produce more anxiety in the long run because the addict then has to deal with the aftermath: self-induced guilt, wasted time, and friends or family feeling left out and forgotten. If you find yourself feeling anxious, try meditation, yoga, going for a walk, or venting to a friend instead.
(H)unger can be a warning sign that an addict may not be taking care of himself or herself, which leads to a sense of unmanageability. Everybody can get irritable or restless when hungry. The obvious antidote is to eat something to alleviate hunger pangs. Those in recovery soon recognize that eating nourishing foods, instead of junk foods, is important in self-care and maintaining sobriety. Addiction is a brain illness. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help your brain develop healthy neuropathways, so that your brain can function at its highest capacity.
(A)nger can cloud judgement and lead to acting out. Anger in and of itself is not bad or wrong. Anger is a valid feeling that can point us to an unaddressed hurt. Some addicts grow up in households that expressed anger in destructive ways, so they repress anger. If that hurt is not addressed appropriately, anger then turns into resentment, which recovery circles consider “the number one offender” in losing sobriety. A wise person once advised me to pray every day for forty days about a person I resented. I was to pray for that person’s best and highest good – how I would like to be treated if the situation were reversed. I did so. Those forty days were healing and spiritually growing for me, as it changed my perspective and connected me with my higher power.
(L)oneliness can indicate that an addict is in danger of acting out. Many addicts are accustomed to being alone and isolating. Connecting with others produces oxytocin, the neurotransmitter responsible for facilitating bonding. 12-step groups offer a way to connect in a healthy way. Often sponsors act as surrogate parents to help repair childhood attachment wounds. Those in recovery can call a program buddy or attend a meeting to connect with others who understand. Knowing that you're not alone can take away the urge to act out.
(T)ired-ness leads to instability in an addict’s program. Fatigue can show up in two ways: 1) lack of sleep or rest, or 2) overcommitting to activities. If you are physically tired, then definitely go to bed early or take a shower. Rest is an important part of recovery, both for maintaining physical health and for continuing sobriety reasons. If you find yourself feeling overburdened and perennially emotionally exhausted, it is time to set firm boundaries for yourself, so that you can focus on you. Take a vacation, get away from stress. Your body and mind will thank you for it.