We’re often told in addiction support groups that we should be cautious of extreme states which can lead to us feeling stressed. A popular phrase used in support groups to describe this is HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired). While there is no doubt that these types of extreme state can take a toll on your sense of well-being, I would argue that they are a reality of everyday life and we shouldn’t fear them—they can actually benefit our recovery.
We live in an age where the demands are high. Jobs are stressful and demanding, with workloads forever increasing as resources decrease. Home life is challenging. We may have sick parents to look after or a business to run. Adding a stressful life event, like a death, can tip us over the edge—and potentially risk relapse—if we are not prepared.
The reality is that when we live in active addiction, we don’t have these responsibilities, or if we do, we don’t fully attend to them—we are barely functioning, only serving our addiction. Getting sober, involves rebuilding a life that includes increased responsibility—this can be stressful.
You may fear stress and worry it will impact your recovery. I feel this mindset is an unrealistic expectation of life. Avoiding stress is just as ineffective as avoiding your feelings. When you do experience stress after avoiding or suppressing it, you may have no reference point of how you handled it last time — you’re kind of out on a limb. Facing your stress and not avoiding it makes you stronger and more capable of juggling several commitments at once.
I have experienced extreme stress throughout my recovery. I have experienced my brother committing suicide, moving to the US with no job or home secured, moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone, starting a business with uncertain income, ending intimate relationships, episodes of depression, physical sickness and many other hardships. While these experiences were unpleasant, I am stronger for them. What makes us resilient and strong in our recovery is how we handle these inevitable parts of life.
To me, recovery is all about riding the wave of life and not letting the big waves sway us back to avoidance or escapism—or worse, relapse. Here are seven techniques that I have learned to ride those big waves:
- Use stress-relieving outlets: find things like journaling, art, the outdoors, and creative projects.
- Process your stress through challenging exercise: I like long bike rides, lifting heavy weights, spinning, and hikes.
- Regularly attend a support group: I attend Refuge Recovery, which allows me to talk through my problems in a community of like-minded people experiencing similar life issues.
- Practice yoga: This calms my nervous system like nothing else and I always feel rested and rejuvenated.
- Find your support network: I have several go-to people that I discuss my stress with on a regular basis.
- Eat a healthy diet: I ensure that my body is supported for stress nutritionally and with supplements. I eat regular meals and snacks, that are full of vitamins and minerals and are minimally processed. I also take the supplement ashwagandha, which helps the body process stress.
- Get sufficient sleep: I try my very best to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night.
As with any strong feelings, you may feel like it is too much to handle—even when you are doing everything that you can—which is why it is really important to keep in regular contact with your physician so that they can support you in the best ways possible, including helping you cope with stress to reduce the risk of relapse.
Whatever your experience in recovery, stress will affect you at some point. You can be ready for it by ensuring that you’re taking care of your recovery holistically and remembering that it isn’t abnormal to be experiencing stress. Feeling our experiences is what makes our recovery alive.
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