As a person in recovery I have been taught the danger signs of emotional relapse. Everyone I know who has returned after a slip tells a similar story: no meetings, no program and emotional relapse. How this relapse let’s itself be known is individual, but there are certain universal signs and they start in the body and move through the emotions and influence the disease centers in our minds. Yes, addiction is a disease of body, mind and spirit. It returns in just that way.
Most of us have heard of HALT; Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. I add an “E” to the end, spelling it HALTE. The “E” stands for ego. Often an emotional relapse will creep in through one of these doors. If not addressed, not only will I become”unlovely” and fall back into old forms of behavior, but my old stress responses will emerge. One set of responses can include restlessness, anxiety, and an inability to feel grounded and connected. For some it can be irritability, obstinance, or even rage. Another group can become discontent, querulous, and critical of self and others. I, myself, become all three. My stress mounts, my ability to ask for and accept help vanishes, I snap at people when they try to communicate with me and so on. With my bad behaviour I become isolated and with my stinkin thinkin I hear nothing but harshness between my ears. This lasts until I become depressed, see no possibility for change or escape and withdraw completely.
This decline has not completed the downward spiral in quite some time, but I am always cautious when I feel the process coming on. I am lucky to practice yoga because I have become much more sensitive to my body sensations and much more aware of what they are telling me. I now listen to my body and believe what it is saying.
So what goes on in my “belly brain” that my cranial brain is blind to or is in denial about? Lots of stuff.
Hunger: there are two sides to this for me.
Number one is I can’t get too hungry. My husband likens me to a grenade with a pulled pin when I get to that edge. He knows to whisk me to store or to hand me a protein bar when I get that mad horse look in my eye. The sensations of actual hunger are the growling stomach, I get shaky, features tremble, head feels light, and in the worst stages I may feel my legs won’t support me. And this is just for missing a meal time!
Number two is this. The other side of hunger is “longing” (Durga Leela): when I am not really hungry what do I need? When my legs stand me up to go into the kitchen to “grab a snack” I have to pause and ask myself what I am really hungry for? Am I bored? Do I feel unseen, unacknowledged, do I need company? Is there some feeling I am avoiding by putting my focus on the sensations of chewing, swallowing, eating? Sometimes it is just a snack, but more often it is a cover for something else. In this there are no physical sensations, but a strong calling from my brain that urges me to EAT.
Anger: What am I angry about?
Before acting on it, see what the truth of the matter is in this moment. Do I feel wronged? Ignored? Am I attached to an outcome that is not going to happen? Do I feel unheard (I told them what to do and they didn’t do it and now LOOK …)? Is the anger covering up fear, or pain or loneliness? I have learned to tolerate the physical sensations long enough to investigate the background, the source of the emotions. The form for me in this order; pounding of the heart with shortness of breath sometimes accompanied by a feeling of my neck swelling, shoulder and chest kind of pumped up, sometimes a sharpness of sight, and a feeling that I must move. This is information from my body that I listen to and do not act upon. As we say in the program “feelings are not a call to action”.
Loneliness: Why and how do I feel lonely?
A deep sadness that fills my chest with a soft, swollen ache, a thickness in the back of my throat and the threat of tears that do not fall, my senses become deadened and nothing seems bright, musical, there are no good smells and tastes are dull.
That is how I know that I am feeling lonely. It happens when I am in a group, at an event or when no one else is home with me. It has nothing to do with the number of people and everything to do with my feelings of connection. Connection is key to recovery because isolation is the secret power of addiction. When I get this way – I must be vigilant and connect with someone right away – even if it is to say “I can’t talk now, I just need to know you are there.” Something has to be done to break the cycle of withdrawal. Don’t miss meetings, and don’t cancel sponsor and sponsee appointments, Just walk through it. Life will become brighter again.
Tired / fatigue: How did I get here again! I have a plan, I have a calendar, I spread appointments out as best I can. But there is the drop in visitor, the broken glasses for repair, the unexpected phone call, the “quick trip” to the store and on and on – pop up events that wreck the perfectly prepared day. In the beginning I handle life in the nimble, agile manner that anyone would hope for. Day after day, my reservoir becomes depleted, my adaptability decreases, my ability to hold life loosely becomes impaired. I may find myself hungry, angry (resentful) or lonely (why is it always ME?) as I try to push through another overly full day. It matters not that much of what I have to do is due to my own choice. That information does not help.
Tiredness and fatigue manifest in many ways; from sluggish responses to life on life’s terms, to actual autoimmune disorders; colds, being more susceptible to flu, and even developing digestive issues and difficulty sleeping. This is challenge can have subtle beginning and your mind may tell you you are FINE and keep going. This is a fib.
Fatigue can arise from a desire to be perfect and to be all things to everyone; so self esteem can suffer when you try to care for yourself. Responding to the physical sensations of tiredness rather than listening to the mind can be crucial in maintaining good health.
Ego: the brain telling you it is boss. The mind is a tricky thing. It is an accumulation of past stories, “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” that come from these past stories (old tapes with information that is no longer true or correct) and some form of self identity. Which is weird – because the real you, the one of your soul, if you will, that part of you in connection with your higher power is the real you, not this ego based on stories. When I choose to do something just because I am (fill in the blank) or what you to think I am (fill in the blank) I am telling myself a story and my actions are not necessarily in alignment with my newfound self. I know. That is hard; old self new self, real self, public self. That is a lot of people to be!
When I choose to do something to avoid a certain feeling, or to chase a certain feeling, or when I do something to cause a feeling in another person, or to cause them to do or be one way or another, I am coming from my ego, and not my heart. How do I know?
I feel like my engine is revving but the clutch has yet to engage. My stomach is clenching, my heart rate may be irregular, the features of my face are braced as if I could see into the future and the outcome I want to have. I no longer listen to others (I may hear them, but I am not listening) because my focus is so intent on my intended outcome. I am fiercely in the future. I am also more likely to experience being hungry, angry, lonely or tired and I push toward my goal.
Now I listen to my body as it telegraphs to me the emotions I may be suppressing, the feelings I have that are not yet acknowledged. My belly, my muscles, my breath rhythm, even my senses let me know when something is out of synch. I have to STOP and BECOME AWARE. I have a much better chance of responding rather than reacting. I have a much better chance of addressing the core issue and not just the surface problem. When I don’t do this I not only cause emotional chaos, but I put myself in jeopardy for health issues and mental stressors that become a problem of their own.
I must listen and take action; awareness is not enough. I cannot think myself better, I need to make a change or risk emotional relapse which can be a life threatening disease. Listen to your body and believe what it says.