The Recovery Spirituality
You are about to enter the realm described as a “spiritual kindergarten” by Bill W. in As Bill Sees It. The Spiritual Adrenaline approach to spirituality is driven by self-care, learning to love and respect yourself, and the process of putting your needs and desires over those of others. Self-care and the health of your body, mind, and spirit are the foundation of your spiritual program. You should ideally have a healthy body and mind as you work to connect with your Higher Power on a spiritual level. Once you’ve developed your self-care program, you then focus on learning to slow down your mind to avoid impulsiveness and retake control. It teaches you to live in serenity rather than in chaos.
In her book The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations for Codependents, Melanie Beattie defines self-care as “not, as some may think, a spin-off of the ‘me generation.’ It isn’t self-indulgence. It isn’t selfishness. Self-care means learning to love the person we are responsible for taking care of – ourselves.” Without loving ourselves, it’s not possible to love and care for others within appropriate boundaries.
HALT – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired
Remember HALT, the AA acronym for things to avoid, which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired? When you are any one of these things, it is much easier for you to get annoyed, act out, or say or do something you later regret. More than that, each puts you at risk for relapse. All of these are states of being that in one manner or another deprive your body and mind of something you require. It’s a continuation of the cycle of taking your body, mind, and spirit for granted; it’s a type of self-abuse. Your goal is to shift from a lifestyle of self-abuse to a life of self-care.
HALT – Hungry
When you are hungry, you deprive your body of the nutrients needed to continue to perform basic life-sustaining functions. The organ most impacted by a lack of nutrition is the brain. The brain requires both water and nutrients, most notably carbohydrates, to function. (Later I will introduce you to medium-chain triglycerides, another energy source for the brain). Brain function, whether normal, abnormal or messed up, is manifested through behavior.
So, when you are hungry, your body lacks the nutrients it needs to function and your attitude and demeanor change radically. How do you behave when you are hungry? Do you lack patience with other people? Are you easily agitated? There is a word for this: “hangry.” Hangry means when you are so hungry you become angry.
HALT – Anger
As anger consumes your mind and thinking, it also obstructs your ability to connect on a spiritual level. Anger takes out your true self and can turn you into a walking character defect. When you are angry, ultimately the person you hurt most is yourself. Think about this: how many actions have you taken in anger that you are proud? Not many, I bet.
Anger is a passing feeling rather than a fact. Acting out on your anger never leads you to a closer spiritual connection, only further from it. How many times have you used at someone who made you mad? When you use alcohol or other drugs at others or your problems, you only hurt yourself.
It is imperative to learn to channel anger into something positive and constructive, something that enhances your ability to feel a spiritual connection to others and the universe around you. Some may say that is not possible, but I believe it is.
For example, China invaded and occupied Tibet, tortured and imprisoned tens of thousands, murdered thousands of Buddhist monks, burned and pillaged Tibet’s most sacred shrines, and destroyed revered Dharma scrolls more than two thousand years old. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet over the Himalayan mountains to avoid being murdered and has lived most of his life in exile in Dharamsala, India. You might think he would be angry and hate the Chinese. To the contrary, he prays for them. The Dalai Lama can find loving-kindness and compassion for them.
It’s critical to our program of recovery, and life in general, to learn to let all of it go. For those with underlying trauma that manifests in substance abuse, hopefully as part of your journey and with the help of qualified professionals you can address the trauma. Carrying anger and resentments impedes connecting spiritually in a fulfilling and useful way.
HALT – Loneliness
Lonely is just another way of saying isolated, a major no-no if we are trying to connect spiritually. Loneliness and isolation are not the same things as solitude. Loneliness is feeling dejected by the awareness of being alone. Solitude is choosing to be alone and receiving joy from it. In the book Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts (Revised), loneliness is explained this way:
There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Being lonely is a state of the heart, an emptiness that makes us feel sad and sometimes hopeless. Loneliness is not always alleviated when we enter into relationships or surround ourselves with others. Some of us are lonely even in a room full of people.”
I have gone on silent meditative retreats where the goal is to learn how to become comfortable in silence and solitude. It’s a powerful spiritual tool and a way of forcing your focus inward, without the distraction of outside people, places, and things. Again, quoting from Just for Today: “The closer we draw to our Higher Power, the less we need to surround ourselves with others. We begin to find a spirit within us that is our constant companion.
We realize we are spiritually connected with something bigger than we are.” Hopefully, you will learn to enjoy solitude as a spiritual tool.
As humans, we are all social creatures; we need to interact with others. It’s a basic trait that makes us human. It is contrary to your genetics and best interests to be isolated and alone. Your disease feeds off loneliness and gives addiction power. Bill W. noted: “Without exception, alcoholics are tortured by loneliness. Even before our drinking got bad and people began to cut us off, nearly all of us suffered the feeling that we didn’t quite belong.”
Many people experience mental health difficulties, but few speak openly about them to people they don’t know well. Often, you may feel like you are the only one struggling, but I assure you, you’re not. When you feel connected to a larger group, loneliness disappears, and the collective best interests of the group contribute to a sense of spirituality. When you attend a twelve-step meeting, you share a collective spiritual experience with others. You tear down the walls that you erect to separate you from others and instead come together to share about your innermost feelings.
HALT – Tired
Everyone can relate to being tired. We are all pushed in too many directions, and a typical day can be exhausting. Most people do not get adequate sleep. When you fail to get enough sleep, almost everything seems to change. Researchers have studied the effects of sleep deprivation, and the results are important to understanding. Sleep deprivation impairs your judgment, damages internal organs, prompts weight gain, and causes disease and depression.
A challenge of early recovery is to relearn basics such as how to sleep naturally and soundly. Given that you had disrupted your sleeping pattern for years or had no positive habits for when you went to sleep and when you woke up, all of this can seem relatively new.
Slow down your brain function before going to bed.
Schedule your exercise to enhance your sleep.
Manage technology to promote sleep and recognize that we can become addicted to our smartphone, other devices, and social media.
HALT and Spirituality
What does being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired have to do with spirituality? Everything! Each of these is an altered state resulting from a weakness in your self-care. Without a self-care program to avoid these and other altered states, your body is put under constant stress, and you continue to cause inflammation and other internal chaos.
Living in chaos is itself addictive. It’s a learned behavior that accentuates the effect of alcohol and other drugs. Chaos, as with your substances of choice, becomes a higher power. All of this is fed by technology, which is also addictive. If you wish to attain serenity and achieve a spiritual connection, you must learn to slow your mind down, eliminate chaos as much as you can, and control impulsive thinking.
After even a few days of slowing down and focusing on your higher power, you probably will notice differences—some subtle, some more profound—not so much in the world around you, but your perception of it.