As we move into 2018, maybe you are still focusing on a resolution to quit drinking or to drink less. This is consistently one of the top resolutions that people make year after year. How successful you are depends on the strategies you put in place to support yourself. As I browsed through my social media at the end of 2017, I noticed a few people who wanted to change their drinking habits (and maybe other drug use habits, including smoking). Habits can be difficult to change at the best of times, so it may be helpful to look at how easy it is to sabotage ourselves or be sabotaged by life events. There are many things to consider so I will focus on 4 of them in this post.
If you have any familiarity with the recovery community or relapse prevention, you may have heard of the acronym H.A.L.T. This is about being prepared for challenging situations in your life and developing strategies that increase the likelihood for success. So, what does H.A.L.T stand for? Each of them stands for an emotional or physical state that can sabotage any momentum you may have accumulated towards your goal. These 4 categories are as follows: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Let’s break these down so that you can set up self-care strategies for success.
Hunger has a physical and emotional component to it. It is always important to nourish your body on a regular basis with healthy, nutritious foods. What that looks like for you can be done by consulting with your doctor and maybe a dietitian or nutritionist. Fueling your body appropriately will allow you to confront the stressors in your life more effectively. It is important to learn to identify what it feels like when your body is experiencing hunger rather than an emotion like boredom or stress. Emotional eating can easily become problematic and defeat your desire for healthy living.
There is also an emotional hunger which can be supported through affection, accomplishment and understanding. Many people struggling with substance abuse have often found themselves in conflict with family and friends, resulting in the removal of their affection and understanding. It is very important to have a supportive network of people you can turn to when things are feeling difficult or overwhelming. When someone has been using substances long enough, they have typically surrounded themselves with others who use. Unfortunately, these are not the people you can turn to for support when making changes for yourself. This can arguably be the toughest part of the process. A healthy support system will require some time to find and it may be through 12-step groups, SMART recovery groups or other types of fellowship groups in your community.
Shame is another component of this process. Shame is not a motivator for change, but I have seen this play out time and again as old behaviors once again take hold. Shame builds up from many broken promises to themselves and their loved ones and accumulates over time. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge accomplishments wherever possible. Self-compassion is the only way out of the shame cycle and can be difficult to find. Self-compassion can begin with a mindfulness routine, volunteering in the community (one of the reasons why addicts want to “give back” as part of their recovery process), or finding a creative outlet for yourself.
Anger is an emotion like any other and is neither good or bad. It can be very appropriate in some circumstances, but it is very important to understand the cause of your anger. Anger is a motivator to take action of some sort and it is important to ensure that you attempt to avoid any destructive consequences of that anger. To maintain an objective thought process when you are angry, it is important to use techniques that defuse this anger in a constructive way. Removing yourself from the situation or engaging in physical activity are great ways to dissipate the anger. Count to 10 before saying anything. Engage your creativity. Any activity (other than using substances) that allows you to reduce the anger in the moment will be helpful.
Loneliness can happen in isolation or in a room full of people. It typically happens when people feel like they are alone or that no one can possibly understand what they are going through. This feeling can result in your own self-imposed isolation. A strategy noted above can also help minimize your loneliness – engage with your community. Attend a 12-step group, SMART recovery meeting, connect with supportive friends or family. You will likely find others who have shared some of your own concerns.
This is where the concept of sleep hygiene comes in. Sleep is a very important, but often underrated, necessity in a healthy life. Our lives can easily become too busy with activities, work and errands and, sometimes, we can use this busy-ness to cope with difficult thoughts or emotions. Or maybe you have fallen into the habit of using alcohol or other drugs to get to sleep at night. This is a quick-fix strategy that ultimately only works in the short term since you will eventually need to use more and more of the substance to garner the same result. Engaging in physical activity as mentioned above will help you get to sleep at night. Even taking a nap during the day can go a long way to feeling rested.
Engaging in activities that you are passionate about allows your body to feel rested, relaxed and rejuvenated. I have used meditation in this realm as well. Some of the other basics of sleep hygiene include going to bed at the same time every night, wake up at the same time every day, no meals before bedtime, shutting down social media/television a couple of hours before bed and establishing a bedtime routine that might include your favorite pyjamas, a bubble bath or hot shower, a cup of non-caffeinated tea, to name a few. Establishing a routine is what is going to be the important element in your strategy. A lot of these strategies will also work if you are taking medications that have been prescribed and may be impacting your ability to sleep. You want to send signals to your brain that it is time to start winding down for the day.
As you move forward with your abstinence or reduction in alcohol and drug use, it will be important to continue checking in with yourself in the above ways. It bears repeating that entrenched habits can be difficult to change so self-care is going to be a necessary component of your journey. Nutritious food, mindfulness, sleep and physical activity are building blocks and will form a solid foundation for your life. It is important to start with things you can change easily and work your way up from there. These self-care strategies are just one component to start the process.
If you are interested in exploring this or any other recovery options further, feel free to contact me through my website at www.mywiseself.com.