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Coping in Early Recovery With H.A.L.T.


There’s a useful acronym used by members of 12-step programs called H.A.L.T. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. This tool works as both a preventative measure and as a diagnostic tool. We can utilize coping and self-care to prevent these from becoming a problem in our daily lives and we can check these when we’re feeling ill at ease.

As with most things in recovery, there’s more to this adage than meets the eye:



While good nutrition is vital in early recovery; we hunger for much more than food. We require nurturance as well as nutrients. We long for stability, security, acceptance, and love. We crave attention, approval, and intimacy. In truth, our appetite for these things is voracious but our ability to receive them is poor. Even taking compliments is difficult for us when all that’s required is a smile and a “thank you!” Accepting hugs, kind words, and reassurances is as simple as not deflecting them. We are starved for affection and afraid to ask for it.

Feed your soul and allow others to bolster your spirit. Encouragement, support, and guidance are vital to our success. The more we know about what we need, the more likely we are to receive it when it appears in our path. Check in and keep asking yourself, “What do I need?”



The key to understanding anger is to notice that it never travels alone. No one is ever just angry. We’re angry and sad, angry and scared, angry and disappointed. Counselors refer to the accompanying feeling as the “secondary emotion.” To identify what else we’re feeling requires introspection – awareness of our emotional state. We’re accustomed to numbing these and simply experiencing the emotion is more than we’re accustomed to.

There’s no vulnerability in anger and so we tend to stay with it and not explore what’s happening on a deeper level. We struggle with self-regulation and we fear lashing out at others. Those closest to us may be uncomfortable with anger. Identify what else you’re feeling and bring that to those who support you. Allow them to help you sort it out, cope and make sense of your experiences.



The funny thing about folks in recovery is that we can be lonely in a room full of people. Loneliness for us is a very empty and hopeless emotional experience. It’s disconnection not only from others, but gradually from ourselves. The only way to overcome loneliness is to continuously build and maintain connections.

We tend to think of reaching out as something to do on an as needed basis. In truth, most of us cannot afford more than a few hours alone. There’s a fine line between solitude (enjoying time alone) and isolation (a slippery slope toward depression). Your tribe of connectees are waiting for you to find them in local 12-step communities or in other support groups.

Bear in mind too that, “The quickest way to feel better is to go help someone who really needs it.” Having an outward-facing mindset can often heal loneliness for all those involved, help to heal emotional wounds, and can allow you to take a breather from or even forget your problems and weaknesses. If you don’t feel like you have anything to offer, give someone the opportunity to feel good about themselves, by letting them help you.



We’re night owls who are accustomed to being tapped out physically, mentally, and emotionally. Getting regular and plentiful (7-9 hours) sleep is especially important in early recovery. We’re healing and changing and self-care sustains that. Further, REM sleep is vital to recovery. Our minds are adjusting to countless changes and our brains use REM sleep to process everything we’re taking in and letting go of.

Being tired is often an easy cop out. We deny our feelings and the concern of others by saying, “I’m just tired.” In truth, most of us are drained, burned out, and both emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. Allowing others to be there for us is the only remedy. It doesn’t take a lot of trust to share our struggles and to be open to following suggestions. We don’t have to tell our life story or intimate details in order to garner support. For as much as we fear depending on and trusting others, we also fear depending on and trusting ourselves.

Treating Ourselves as We do Others

There’s a line in Alcoholics Anonymous literature I’ve always loved, “We have begun to learn tolerance, patience, and good will toward all (people).” This is a tall order indeed, but what’s much more difficult is to learn patience with ourselves. It’s imperative to healing and recovery. To be patient is to be kind. To be kind to ourselves is well outside of what’s familiar and yet it remains essential.

Being “hard on myself” is a euphemism I hear a lot as an addictions counselor. It’s most often a justification for rejection of self. You don’t have to feel respect in order to act respectfully to others. So too we can choose to treat ourselves with respect and fairness, independent of how we feel about ourselves emotionally. Think about how you would treat someone else who is in the midst of both emotional turmoil and undertaking a massive personal change. Recovery is one of the hardest things a human being can do.

I encourage my clients to use the Golden Rule in reverse: Treat yourself the way you treat everyone else. Listen to your self talk. Would you consider it acceptable to speak to someone else that way? If not, then it needs improvement. We know to uphold other’s dignity we must become willing to safeguard our own. Finding our way in recovery is easier when our heads are held high.

Getting Our Needs Met

H.A.L.T. is a simple, effective principle. It’s a starting point in self regulation and better decision making. I remind folks that early recovery is not about wants, but rather about needs. Wants come later. By utilizing foundational skills like H.A.L.T. we gain greater awareness of self and in so doing, we will gain clarity and opportunities for our needs to be met holistically.

jim-lapierreJim LaPierre LCSW, CCS, is a recovery ally, clinical therapist, and addictions counselor. He publishes weekly for the Recovery Rocks section for the Bangor Daily News and welcomes your questions and concerns via

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