H.A.L.T.S: Feelings of Anger and Loneliness in addiction
In addiction we use substances to avoid pain and seek pleasure. In recovery it can be difficult to reconnect with emotions like anger and loneliness.
In H.A.L.T.S, ‘A’ is all about Anger
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger”
Mishka Kimball explains that anger and addiction can often go hand-in-hand. “Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning it usually hides and protects us from other painful emotions. With addiction, we are trying to numb our painful emotions and we don’t deal with them. Thus, by not dealing with our underlying emotions or trauma, this can lead to increased levels of anger or even rage.”
In Mishka’s experience, clients who are using substance tend to exhibit higher levels of anger and aggression. She explains, “I think it’s because substances alter our brain chemistry and when under the influence, we are not able to control or manage our emotions or behaviors as well.”
Like Mishka, Samantha Grimes recommends CBT therapies for working with anger. “When working with anger in addiction I look at the underlying feelings we use anger to protect. Often times, shame or fear are the underlying emotions. With all the stigma and guilt that comes from behaviors in active addiction, guilt quickly turns to shame and anger at self and others. I normalize it, first and foremost. I help them understand the connection between their thoughts and their bodily experience (mindfulness) and teach impulse control–which also helps with cravings and urges.”
Samantha recommends a 12-step program for dealing with anger in addiction.
“Exploring anger and unpacking resentment is an integral part of the 12 step program. As I’ve come to learn, anger is often rooted in the disconnection between who they are in addiction and who they are in recovery. I do a lot of identity work when deconstructing shame and anger. This often includes identifying automatic negative thoughts, cognitive distortions, and messages about themselves that they learned growing up. It’s also common for addiction to be part of the family system, therefore anger can also be a learned family trait and I explore that through role play and discovering core values.”
In H.A.L.T.S, ‘L’ is for Loneliness
“My peers, lately, have found companionship through means of intoxication—it makes them sociable. I, however, cannot force myself to use drugs to cheat on my loneliness—it is all that I have—and when the drugs and alcohol dissipate, will be all that my peers have as well.”
Mike explains, “The disease of addiction is a disease of feeling lonely. If there’s a secret to recovery, the secret is fellowship. Discussing this disease normalizes the shame, which is otherwise toxic to recovery.”
When we find ourselves struggling with recovery, it is important to ask ourselves if we are feeling lonely–it may not be an emotion we’re generally conscious of. Mike explains that “Removing ourselves from loneliness by attending meetings, getting coffee with a friend, or just picking up the telephone is absolutely crucial for recovery”.