The H.A.L.T. Stop Sign

the h.a.l.t. stop sign

I practice an effective recovery tool: “H.A.L.T.”

Its simple wisdom deals our response toward addiction, compulsion and disorder:

“Don’t let yourself become too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.”

There are positive results there, just in the physical realm alone.

But, if we go deeper, we also see the spiritual relevance behind that acronym. It addresses our tricky heart condition.

“For what I am doing, I do not understand…”, Romans 7:15

H.A.L.T. counsels, “Stop” when our addictive nature screams, “Go full speed ahead!”
Pausing to spell the letters- and heed the advice- can give us the time to process what, exactly, is threatening to run amuck in our lives.

First, There is Hungry…

Why we use- anything- goes beyond the life sustenance element. It is not about being physically famished.

Rather, there are unexpressed, unmet needs: spiritual, emotional and mental. These punishing drives make their demands.

“Don’t let yourself become too hungry…”

Hunger #1: Meaning:
Ecclesiastes notes the challenges rising against personal meaning, mainly, from that of life itself.

“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”, Ecclesiastes 1:14

“So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.”, Ecclesiastes 2:17

Yeah, it can be quite difficult to find a point- to anything. Forget about one’s personal significance!

Scripture, however, thankfully, does not stop with those musings. Our Divine Creator has had other ideas about our value.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”, Isaiah 55:8-9

We are intrinsically valuable; and the times we need to remember that the most are in those temptation moments.

But we’re not done with the gnawing Hunger yet.

Hunger #2: Entertainment:

Here is where we confront boredom and our wish to be appeased with pleasure.

“Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton…”, James 5:5

This hunger falls right into addiction’s mindset. And it got its start early.

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”, Genesis 3:6

The classic over-promise of a pleasure dangles before our minds, already filled with unmet needs and a sense of denied longings. The “tempting apple,” therefore, reassures us we will be fulfilled and freed from all of life’s unpleasant circumstances if we partake of it.

Yet, here is the reality…

“For what pleasure hath he in his house after him, when the number of his months is cut off in the midst?”, Job 21:21

Destruction, in addiction’s pursuit, inevitably, comes to us.

We are hungry for the Divine; it’s hard-wired into each of us.

However, we often choose to superimpose our chosen addiction resource where the true Source should be. We all do it.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’d rather have the instantaneous option instead of the delayed gratification, character-building and lifestyle- changing challenge of the Most High’s influence in our lives.

Yet, the lasting, rewarding, life-affirming/sustaining benefits come from only one direction: the Divine.

“Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”, Psalms 16:11

We need to recognize pleasure- seeking is distraction- seeking. And this prevents and/or destroys health, healing and well-being.

Hunger #3: Love:

And of course, we’d be remiss if we did not look at, perhaps, the most powerful kind of hunger, a desire for love.

“I have chosen you and have not cast you away.”, Isaiah 41:9
“Since thou is precious in my sight… I have loved thee…”
Isaiah 43:4

How many of us crave to hear, feel and experience those scriptures?

How many of us, sadly, are left wanting?

“When my father and my mother forsake me…”, Psalm 27:10

Here’s where we tap into the unmet need/conditional love/abuse reality too many of us, unfortunately, have survived.

We cannot deny it; we are hungry for safe, nurturing verbal, physical and mental expressions of an unconditional love which never disqualify our value, importance and loveable natures.

But life is not ideal. It’s flawed, pain-filled and rife with soul-testing situations.

And those situations can reinforce identity lies and value theories. You probably recognize some of them in your own life.

“You’re a mistake!”
“I wish you were never born!”
“You’re stupid!”
“You’ll never amount to anything!”
“I never wanted you in the first place!”
“I don’t love you!”

Any of these examples are excruciating enough to hear.
But, unfortunately, their pain often also translates into an equal difficulty for us to hear or accept anything contrary to those statements.

And that includes the unconditional love decrees of the Divine.

“The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, ‘Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.’”, Jeremiah 31:3

“…‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’”, Hebrews 13:5

If we do not or cannot know or accept those Truths for ourselves, we then reach for a version of our own accepting, loving substitute to comfort us. Here come the addictions and disorders which promise to nurture, protect, free and deliver us from all demons and ghosts.

But, again, they are imperfect, failing substitutes. They do not satisfy hunger and they do not love us. There is only One Who can do that.

“For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.”, Psalms 107:9

So, the hunger element vies for our attention. That, in and of itself, is enough to contend with.

But we are far from done here. We still have more spelling of H.A.L.T. to do.

Angry:

“Then said the LORD, ‘Doest thou well to be angry?’”, John 4:4

Anger is a human emotion. Nothing can cancel that reality.

Unfortunately, we have believed a harmful lie; it is a sin to be angry.

Scripture, however, addresses anger, quite directly…

“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”, Ephesians 4:26

Ephesians acknowledges we have anger. Yet, it doesn’t just leave us unattended there, with that anger.
Rather, it cautions us with a useful reality check:

Don’t wreck things (sin) by stewing in it.

We all know the cliché marital advice, “Don’t go to bed angry.” It’s adorable. The cute couple having the cute lovebird spat.

Yet there is wisdom there, should we choose to embrace it.

“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”, Proverbs 16:32

Anger’s presence does not denote we are evil creatures. Again, human beings will be angry. But what we do in/with that anger is another matter.

This taps into our addictive natures, our expression and/or repression of our experiences and behaviors. And it begs the question…

“…‘Doest thou well to be angry?’”, John 4:4

So, just what is this thing, called our anger, anyway?

One definition states it is a combination of three components: fear, hurt and frustration.

Therefore, when we say “I’m angry,” these three expressions are its prominent evidence.

“Don’t let yourself become too angry…”

Anger #1: Fear:

This element seems to be the most primal. Its existence stems from self-preservation.

Fear, at its most basic, keeps us alive.

It is here where we approach adrenaline, our “fight or flight” responses. And it is here where things can become more complex and even harmful.

“Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.”, Lamentations 3:47

For, in many of our backgrounds, there have been overtaxed adrenal glands, rapid firing “fight or flight.” This is in response to stressful circumstances, depleted our coping resources with an equally depleting message, blaring, “Danger! Unsafe!” The message can be to such things as poverty, abuse, abandonment or any other trauma. These reactions can be considered to be “snares.”

And if/when all we hear and absorb is “danger,” eventually we will learn to fear.

“Will the Lord cast off forever? And will he be favorable no more?”, Psalm 77:7

Anxiety, therefore, places us in a state in which we will do anything to avoid or escape that perceived danger.

“Therefore snares are round about thee, and sudden fear troubleth thee.”, Job 22:10

And yes, scripture responds with reassurances; repeatedly, we are told not to fear.

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”, Joshua 1:9

“…‘Be not afraid, only believe.’”, Mark 5:36

“…‘Fear not: believe only…’”, Luke 8:50

We are encouraged to believe the Most High, at His Word…

“What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”, Psalms 56:3

However, you and I know this is easier said than done.
For, at least in the short term, it is more accessible to rely on our addiction, disorder or compulsion. These things are already there for us to see, grab and use.
Trusting in a “Higher Power,” however, is the much more difficult work of faith, on believing that which is not three-dimensionally experienced, here and now.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”, Hebrews 11:1

Therefore, because of this challenge, uneasily mixed with our anxieties and our longings for immediate relief, we respond in an angry mode. We are afraid and want to self-protect from encroaching danger.

Sometimes, we lash out using our addictions.

Anger #2: Hurt

This behavior can further spill into the hurt aspect of anger.

“When my father and my mother forsake me…”, Psalm 27:10

“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”, Proverbs 15:1

Indeed, hurt, rejection and grievous words all emanate from a particular place found within our wounds.

“The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?”, Proverbs 18:14

The initial occurrence of wounding can take minutes or even seconds to happen. Yet, the ramifications exist for much longer.

Now there is the aftermath; now there is the painful coping process, which attempts to forget, heal, undo and repair.

“Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed?…”, Jeremiah 15:18
And, most often, that process is further met with obstacles, additional hurt, discouragement and hopelessness.

“Will the Lord cast off forever? And will he be favorable no more?”, Psalm 77:7

It is here where we are drawn to anything which claims to “kill the pain.”

We are miserable. And, it’s not too long before we leap from this personal misery place to a desire/decision to become obliterated in any sense of the word, often, via our addictions. This is the human responses as we try, in vain, to answer our “why questions.”

Why did this happen to me?
Why was I abused?
Why was I left alone?

Operating from the legitimate place of righteous anger, having been violated in our lives, we are angry. Therefore, we often determine to seek vengeance and change the circumstances until they make sense.

However, most of the time, when we do that, we rarely experience the satisfying result we desire.

That is largely because we were never designed to fulfill that role.

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves… for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, ‘saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”, Romans 12:19-21

That directive feels far from satisfying. But the unflinching Truth is we don’t know why things happen. Still, there is a larger purpose and, despite our human experiences, a lasting importance to each of us.

And, although it may not instantly “cure” every hurt we go through, there is help from our Creator; there is love.
If we look at Psalm 27:10 more closely, we can see the Divine response to a human action/failing which touches us. It goes beyond our parents.

“When my father and my mother forsake me…”

We can also insert anyone or anything else which abandons us.

Indeed, when we are hurt by anyone or anything, the supernatural reaction is in effect…
“… then the LORD will take me up.”, Psalm 27:10

It is the reliable response from the reliable Source.

“He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.”, Psalms 107:20

By practicing the “A” of “H.A.L.T.,” we, perhaps, can give ourselves that opportunity.

Regardless, we are still not finished spelling the “A” in “Angry.”

Anger #3: Frustration:

I’ve heard the definition of anger is a blocked wish.

“Will the Lord cast off forever? And will he be favorable no more?”, Psalm 77:7

And yes, here is the domain of frustration…

“For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.”, Psalm 90:7

It is quite a challenge to determine where one anger element begins and another ends. They bleed into one another.

And with Frustration, this is especially in effect. This is the reaction to a perceived blocked wish.

The blocked wish of feeling loved, safe, secure and protected…

The blocked wish of feeling free from inflicted pain, of feeling unsaddled with another’s harmful baggage…
The blocked wish of feeling incapable, strained and desperate as one attempts to cope with the encumbered life experience which includes generational realities of addiction, dysfunction and abuse…

So, with the buildup of all of these situations, it is inevitable there will be a breaking point. Full-blown addiction can be just one manifestation to this “blocked wish.”

Nevertheless, we need to acknowledge and deal with this reality in as healthy a manner as possible.

And again, Divine Providence has provided cautionary wisdom to guide our human responses…

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”, James 1:19

I know. This is so much easier said than practiced, than lived. But, nevertheless, it is possible.

Scripture points to the “fruit of the spirit” to inform us we have been equipped for such moments…

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”, Galatians 5:22-23

We have the capability to stop and not express anger in its most explosive state. H.A.L.T. can be a useful tool.

“Don’t let yourself become too angry…”

And the strong subtext in that statement is ‘Don’t lash out on others- or yourself- via self-destructive behavior.’ You and I can make another choice in that moment, even when it’s an angry moment.

And yes, that also applies to a lonely moment as well.
“Lonely:”

Indeed, the “L” letter of H.A.L.T. touches on our despair.
“…‘The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.’”, Isaiah 49:14

We want to escape the feeling of being forsaken and hopeless.

How many benders and binges are done isolated, refusing interaction with any person or outside help?
Loneliness is never far from us. And it comes with its negative consequences.

“…Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease. Loneliness is breaking our hearts, but as a culture we rarely talk about it.
Loneliness has doubled: 40 percent of adults in two recent surveys said they were lonely, up from 20 percent in the 1980s…”
“Loneliness Is Deadly,” By Jessica Olien

Sooner or later, in a moment of crisis, we face the “Lonely” of H.A.L.T.

We are in the valley of decision now.

Do we turn to- or away from- that soothing, attractive and dependable addiction?

Do we refuse any and all other healthier options like attending a meeting or calling someone for help?

Or, do we “white knuckle” until our only recourse is to find comfort in the very thing we know is bad/dangerous/unhealthy for us?

Sometimes, we do buckle under the pressure.

We self-medicate; we try to soothe ourselves. We want companionship and obliteration via our addiction. Through its use, we want to escape and forget our misery, our perception of utter aloneness.
But, the H.A.L.T. option is there regardless. And, that coupled with a spiritual focus can help us to be mindful and remember there is, in fact, hope.

First and foremost, someone has already been there, done that.

Even Our Savior felt the abandoned, temptation-fraught, circumstances, feeling left only to worst possible outcomes…

“…‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”, Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34

Yet, if we stay with the entirety of the account, we find the forsaken “fact” was not the final Word. Divine Promise has reassured us of His constant Presence, even spiting feelings and circumstances.

“… the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”, Deuteronomy 31:6

Loneliness, indeed, offers a temptation opportunity in life, presenting our addiction as the sole remedy. So, do we reach out for outside help or shut down, choosing to be alone with our vice?

“H.A.L.T.” offers us a mindful pause to gather ourselves.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go: I will guide you with My eye.”, Psalm 32:8

Before we rush headlong into a destructive option, we can even stop, remember and incorporate the Divine in our spiritual hope…

“… ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’”, Hebrews 13:5

Our personal lonely moments, therefore, can become a spiritual experience of growth, help and community.

“Don’t let yourself become too lonely…”

The “H.A.L.T.” ball is in our court.
And yes, inevitably, our vulnerability smacks right into another human reality: we get tired.

Hence, the “T” of “H.A.L.T.” shows up…

Tired:

Whether you want to call it exhausted, spent or weary, it still produces the same result: we hit our limit.

“…Some researchers suggest that sleep deprivation should be recognized with the same seriousness that has been associated with the societal impact of alcohol.”
“Sleep Habits: More Important Than You Think,” By Michael J. Breus, PhD
http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/important-sleep-habits#1

It’s that particular information which caught my attention concerning addiction.

Often, we don’t connect the dots between sleep deprivation and our recovery experiences. Lack of sleep makes everything more difficult and fraught with negative outcomes.

Much like “H.A.L.T.’s” Lonely “L,” when we are taxed emotionally, mentally and physically, we expose ourselves, even more, to our addictive natures. We are depleted, unable to access the necessary reserves/resources we usually tap into for healthy recovery purposes.

Sleep, refreshed mental, emotional and physical faculties all support the will and the ability to stay with our program.

Exhaustion, however, often beckons us to choose the self-destructive “path of least resistance.”

In this state, our addiction appears mirage-perfect and all- soothing.

Yet, this still doesn’t change the reality of sleep deprivation’s harmful effects on us.

Indeed, the health risks, according to Breus’ article, include such negative results as high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke and what is officially listed as “poor quality of life.”

Yes, “being tired” makes healthy choice implementation more difficult and unsuccessful.

With our defenses down, we see no other recourse than to indulge.

We want relief, any relief.

“Don’t let yourself become too tired.”

Spiritually, the H.A.L.T. reminder, should we choose to heed it, reassures us there is Divine assistance offered to us.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength…”, Isaiah 40:28-29

Really? Just somehow, magically, we are going to be comforted, helped AND rested?

Romans 8:28, another well- worn scripture, likewise, feels too idealistic to be relevant…

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

Yet, look at the scriptures following up to that “everything’s gonna turn out okay” sentiment…

“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”, Romans 8:26-27

We see how flawed circumstances and our personal frailty, including our addictions, all dovetail into a spiritual, human and relevant truth: the Most High knows us.

He knows us because He created us.

He knows us because He never stopped loving us.

Therefore, He has made it top priority to know exactly when we reach our limits. He knows this information long before we do.

“Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.”, Isaiah 46:10

And He has a “love-grace-even escape- action plan” for just such a thing called life. Yours and mine.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”, Ephesians 2:8-9

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”, 1 Corinthians 10:13

And when we blow right through that?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”, 2 Corinthians 12:9

“…where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”, Romans 5:20

And, come on, how many times have you and I “blown it” because we were exhausted?
Yes, grace is mindboggling and wonderful.

Yet in an imperfect human context, if we also have the tools to increase blessing and decrease destruction, wouldn’t we benefit from implementing those tools?

“Don’t let yourself become too tired.”

“Being tired,” indeed, is a caution we are more vulnerable to harmful circumstances, including our addictions. Therefore, by heeding the H.A.L.T. signal, we, perhaps, maximize the positive and minimize the negative.

Plus, awareness of our human limitations, once again, reminds us of the grace/imperfect us reality. We are not running the show. We have been granted grace, mercy, allowances and help.

But, in and of ourselves? We are as helpless as a that of a baby bird.

Or, as the first step acknowledges…

“We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

H.A.L.T. is not the end-all, be-all life solution. But it is a helpful, spiritually infused tool if we employ it as such. It works well when it is in conjunction with a full program: spirituality, human support, personal accountability and honest assessments of who and where we are in life.

H.A.L.T. can be a life-affirming, life-changing Stop sign.
But, ultimately, we choose whether or not we stop for it.

Sheryle Cruse bio