Sounds dire, doesn’t it? Here you are, doing the good, hard work it takes to get clean and sober. But on top of your daily struggle, you’re warned (usually in AA) that you may have four other demons to confront: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These are the unsettlers that may tempt you to head back into your addiction, and are the states of mind, with some others, that can portend relapse.
You aren’t doomed. These four challenges are manageable and, as you learn to handle them, you’re also learning to handle your addiction.
If you’re feeling Hungry:
Pay attention. Of course your addict brain is telling you that what you crave is your “old buddy” — alcohol, crystal, coke, heroin, whatever. If that’s the case, head for a meeting, call a supportive buddy, or get someplace where you feel strong.
There are other explanations, though. Hunger can be simple physical hunger. When you’re lost in your addiction, you lose track of what your body needs. When did you last eat? Was it something your mom would approve of, with actual protein, minerals and vitamins? If it’s been more than four hours since you fueled your body, it’s time to fill up on something nourishing.
Your body may also be craving water; dehydration can mimic hunger. You’re probably familiar with the common formula of 8×8, drinking eight, eight-ounce glasses a day. Yes, but… it varies. Try this: multiply your weight by 0.67 and that’s how many ounces you should drink in a day (add a couple of glasses more if you work out vigorously, such as Crossfit). Other fluids count toward the total, as do many foods (watermelon is a champion).
If you’re feeling Angry:
Some days it doesn’t take much – a sloppy barista, a lost shoe, a document that won’t print, a pen that REFUSES to write. Of course it’s not the slosh of latte on the outside of your cup that has you fuming. It’s something much bigger and deeper, probably the thing that made addiction so appealing in the first place. Now that you’re free to actually feel your emotions, well, damn…this is uncomfortable.
Long term, you probably need help digging out the source of the anger and healing it. An experienced therapist can withstand your anger in a way your friends may not be able to, and can help you with techniques to confront and let it go.
You’re worried about right now, though. There are dozens of things you can do for immediate relief (no, yelling at an innocent bystander isn’t one of them). Work out; that’s a great catch-all for managing a lot of emotions. Have a good walk, hike, or run. Dance your ass off, in the privacy of your home if you don’t think you can be civil. Sing. Listen to music that fits your mood and “co-feel” with the singer, or sing along, as the lyrics in the song validate your own feelings. Set up an empty chair in private and vent to the imaginary person you need to confront. Get it out; that’s the important thing. Hanging onto anger is bad for your social life and stresses your blood pressure, cortisol levels, and other aspects of your physical and mental health.
If you’re feeling Lonely:
You’ve given up your “best buddy”, the addiction that was always there to keep you company, so you didn’t really need or want anybody. You’ve also probably given up your addiction “friends”, like the PNP crowd, the folks who accompanied you on your spiral down. That’s an important step, but now what?
You may be meeting people in a support group or in AA meetings; since you’re all going through the same thing, it’s easy to make a connection there. Have you lost touch with old (sober) friends because of your addiction? Now is the time to reconnect (explain why, if they don’t already know, and explain you’re in recovery). Join a club that interests you, volunteer, take a class. The world is wide open to you now that you’ve given up the addiction that demanded all your attention, energy, time, and money.
If you’re feeling Tired:
Most guys in today’s economy are working hard, every minute of every day. You deserve a little pampering – have a massage (feet are great), take a nap, eat great food, exercise. Relaxation techniques like yoga, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing can simultaneously relieve your stress and energize you.
If what you’re feeling is emotional exhaustion, journal about your journey, or talk with a friend whose insights you value. Or, take it to your therapist. I know of one you might like :).
You’re winning this thing; don’t let anything get in your way.
Ken Howard, LCSW, is a gay and poz (since 1990) therapist who has specialized in working with gay men, as individuals and couples, since 1992. He has helped countless gay men in recovery, both those in AA and those in AA alternatives. The combination of one-on-one counseling and other resources of support has helped hundreds of gay men get clean and sober, and learn to prevent relapse — as well as learn Harm Reduction techniques for problem drinking or using that is just shy of addiction.
For help with any of these, consider sessions with Ken for counseling, coaching, or therapy sessions, at the office in LA (near Beverly Center), or via phone, or via Skype, anywhere in the world. Call 310-339-5778 or email Ken@GayTherapyLA.com for more information. Ken is also available for expert witness work, consulting for organizations, and speaking at conferences.
To get your copy of his 2013 self-help book, Self-Empowerment: Have the Life You Want!, click here. It’s your “portable therapist” for the challenges you face today in your mental health, health, career, finances, family, spirituality, and community.