One of the many acronyms in the 12-Step vernacular is H.A.L.T., which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. It is used as a cautionary reminder that when one is in any of those modes, they are more likely to relapse or revert to dysfunctional behaviors. Whether you are in active substance abuse mode or are totally sober — or even if addiction is not part of your life — this is helpful guidance.
I visited a 12-Step page and read a conversation on the subject. Someone who adhered to a strict program that told them that they were “powerless over” their addiction, flinched at this direction since it implied that they had some control outside the guidance in the Big Book.
I pondered this, having been a therapist/educator in the addiction field for several decades and am someone who faces the addictions of workaholism and co-dependence. While the steps and traditions are valid and lifesavers for so many, I have come to believe that we are responsible for our choices.
I spent six years going to CODA meetings where I came face to face with my limits and possibilities. I learned what set the wheels in motion that had me practicing savior behavior, thinking I needed to heal, save, cure and kiss the boo boos to make them all better. It was what I learned in my childhood home and carried it through into my personal and professional interactions. Usually, it was about earning my place and proving my worthiness. Part of my growing edge is dealing with challenges thrown my way in relationships, since my M.O. is about not wanting to rock the boat or be an emotional contortionist who bends over backward to please people.
Yesterday, I had an unpleasant interaction that tested my resolve, with someone I know well who reacted to something they had read on my Facebook page. While well-intentioned, they misread what someone else had written, took it personally and was “off to the races.” As is my rule, I don’t air dirty laundry online and called them to discuss it calmly. No matter how factual I attempted to be and keeping my tone measured and calm, they went from zero to sixty without taking a breath. The result was that they hung up, still blaming me for perpetuating the conflict and causing their feelings about the experience.
Later, the conversation continued via Messenger and even though I copied and pasted the thread that began the process, and requested that they re-read what was written, the result was the same. This person couldn’t see past their own filters and intensified it by using an emotionally charged statement that could be perceived as dramatic. I sighed and took a step back in my mind, rather than becoming defensive. I did a check in with myself and recognized that I was neither hungry nor lonely but could feel the anger brewing and after a long week. I was tired. I had to control the urge to react, knowing that it would not likely elicit the response that I wanted, which was that they could acknowledge that they indeed had overreacted. I wasn’t looking for an apology, but rather a redirection of the trajectory they were on, since it was getting them nowhere good.
I can’t speak for their HALT quotient, but my guess was that they were somewhere on that spectrum, coming across as angry.
I queried my friends who are either in recovery or are professionals in the field about this phenomenon and their feedback offered a window into their world:
“I always like acronyms. In my experience, especially working in the jail, people felt triggered by death of a loved one, and full relapse occurred. They would point to a major loss/trauma. HALT seems to trigger slip ups or lapses so having a relapse prevention plan for when a lapse occurred was often useful. We made wallet size cards to use after a lapse: 3 people to call, 3 detours, 3 affirmations, 3 hell memories, and a few others…HALT is useful to prevent slip ups.”
“To take care of Hunger, to Appease or Release or Self-Forgive Anger, to learn to fill one’s own heart when loneliness strikes, to allow oneself rest, sleep, rejuvenation when one is tired, these are all skills that can be so helpful in life and in recovery. The four challenges in HALT, seem to be potential ‘last straws’. When one is in recovery, and when one has made a lifetime of using avoidance or replacement items, rather than filling these real needs, the presence of hunger, anger, loneliness or tiredness can be a very fast track to relapse or even death. The tricky part is that the true replacement is not sugar/alcohol/drugs/overeating, vengeance or lashing out/acting out, jumping into sex or relationships or existing in a co-dependent driven relationship, or working harder, longer hours in life trying to squeeze more out of less. The true antidote is to develop skills. These can be learned, by anyone. The skill of noticing when HALT is beginning to trigger and push one toward negative reactions. The skill of pause!!!! Perhaps this one comes before and after the noticing. The skill of turning to trusted friends and mentors/counselor to help remind us as we’re learning the more fulfilling ways of changing our minds and our reactions into choices and responses. The skill of learning one’s own true joys and how and where they can be used to balance the other parts of life. The skill of making lists of gratitude. The skill of learning how to love oneself, how to care and nurture one’s own heart, body, mind, and soul. Lastly, the skill of noticing that something else, indescribable, is there helping us, and the willingness to develop spiritual practices or daily devotional practices. Simple practices like willingness, mediation, reading inspiring words of others, practicing acts of kindness to self and others. There is so much. But when one is in the addictive mind, these skills and ability to learn a new way of living are limited. It’s a slow process of practice, practice, practice. It is so worth it. That on the day of my 8th year of recovery is my ‘two cents’ as they say.”
“When everyone is balanced, and their needs are met…then there is no problem. It’s very simple. Unfortunately, our world is not that way, so we must find ways to circumvent and accept our circumstances. This is not being taught much less practiced very well in our culture.”
“It seems to me HALT is a description of when it’s easy to make poor decisions.”
“Honestly, none of those have been triggers for me wanting to pick up a drink. Even when I first got sober my 20s for eight years, I wanted my sobriety so badly that nothing really got in the way. I just ‘worked my program’, and things got easier.
“I started drinking again around 30 years old because I stopped hanging around sober people, going to meetings, and thought I could take another go at drinking. Eventually I realized I was wrong and got back on my horse and did not look back.
“I personally didn’t need an excuse to pick up a drink. I was a drunk because I liked to drink. I could drink because the wind was blowing, it was raining, or I was in a good mood.
“Any of the above acronyms can make anybody feel unbalanced or feel off kilter including sober/ non- addict people. I’m just grateful to be sober and to feel any feelings that come up and just face them honestly and move into the next moment.”
Another friend noted that the same dynamic comes into play with her adult son who is on the autism spectrum.
As I was preparing to write this, I could imagine The Supremes singing Stop in the Name of Love. Think it oh-oh-ver and then find a way to halt a downward spiral.