Karen Cooper, MS, LMHC
May is Mental Health Month. How exactly do you define your mental health? Mental health refers to your cognitive (thinking), behavioral, and emotional well- being. During active alcoholism and addiction, the ability to think clearly, behave well, and manage emotions in a healthy manner becomes seriously impaired. In early sobriety, it may still be difficult to think clearly, manage the ups and downs of emotions that are no longer anesthetized, and to behave in a way that you feel good about due to the intensity of your emotional experiences. Thankfully, getting good treatment and education about the disease of alcoholism and addiction helps many people begin their journey into wellness.
The Building Blocks of Addiction Recovery
You get a sponsor, declare a home group, attend 12-Step meetings, work the steps with your sponsor, and learn to socialize within the fellowship – you start being able to think better and feel good about yourself. Your self-respect improves as you are able to get out of bed in the morning and show up well for your job and the important people in your life. It feels good to be there for family events, sober and clear-eyed. Longtime sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous have encouraged new members to not get to hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. (H.A.L.T.) You heed the admonitions of H.A.L.T. by learning to be more mindful of your self-care.
The Importance of H.A.L.T.
Many a sponsor has suggested to pay attention to H.A.L.T. Why? Because if you are not eating well, or eating regular meals with a small snack or two, you may not have stable blood sugar to get you through the day thinking clearly and making good decisions. You might feel crabby and tired, and this can make you more vulnerable to relapse as well as an unstable mood. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous talks about resentment being the number one offender of relapse in alcoholics. To carry a resentment is to re-experience the anger and upset, rehearsing the sentiment in your mind over and over and actually generating feelings of anger.
Loneliness: Combating Isolation in Your Recovery
Through the daily inventorying process, you can actually learn to cope with anger and other uncomfortable emotions while they are smaller problems. Discovering how to pick up the phone and reach out to another alcoholic/addict or call your sponsor regularly helps you to build a community and to feel a part of something bigger than yourself. Regular check-ins with your sponsor help set the foundation for healthy problem solving so that you are prepared when life serves up something really difficult, such as a serious illness in a family or friend, loss of a job, or death of a loved one. This is where you really learn that everybody does together what nobody can do by themselves in recovery. Calling somebody else who is struggling in their sobriety and asking how they are doing helps to get outside of your own isolated thoughts and be of service to someone else.
Exhaustion as a Relapse Trigger
Finally, if you are not getting enough sleep, or good quality sleep for more than a few nights in a row, you are impaired while you are driving to and from work, and not able to function at your best self. With your inner resources so depleted, it can be difficult to feel clear headed, focus on whatever tasks are at hand, and to be patient with your fellow humans. Your mood and well- being suffer, and you may be more inclined to feel irritable and say something disrespectful or hurtful to somebody that you may feel badly about for some time.
Mental Health in Early Addiction Recovery
It is common in early sobriety for most people to experience periods of moodiness, foggy thinking, inability to sleep well, and irritability. These periods often pass in a few days or so. Your treatment team, sponsor, and fellow group members can help support you through these periods and help you to engage in healthier ways of thinking and coping with regular life – life on life’s terms.
When to Seek Help
However, should you find yourself feeling depressed or down during most of the day, or unable to enjoy your normal hobbies and recreational activities for more than a few weeks in a row, you may be experiencing a more serious form of depression. This can be accompanied by feelings of worthlessness, feeling inappropriately guilty and hard on yourself, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, and gaining or losing weight. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you might not feel like your normal self, and may become isolated from family, friends, and even coworkers. If you think about hurting yourself, or think that suicide is a solution, seek help immediately! There is absolutely no shame in asking for help!
Dual-Diagnosis Treatment at Lakeside-Milam
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, help is available to you. Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers has a team of licensed mental health professionals who are all well-seasoned and experienced in evaluating and working with individuals who may be seriously depressed in addition to recovering from a substance use disorder. You can be seen at your local outpatient office by a mental health professional who can help you. Patients who are in Kirkland Inpatient and Intensive Outpatient Programs will receive a mental health evaluation on or before the day of discharge, and additional mental health services during continuing care as clinically appropriate.