Most people familiar with 12 step programs know what this title means.
In my last time around with Overeaters Anonymous many years ago, this was one of the most important things I learned and I still turn to it for help. Most people who have ever been in Alcoholics Anonymous or Al Anon or Narcotics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous or O-Anon or Alateen or any of the 12 step programs have probably heard about it as well.
12 step philosophy (for lack of a better word) says that it is important to guard against getting too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired, because it those states can create the temptation to escape the discomfort by acting out with the addictive behavior.
If Hungry Angry Lonely and Tired can be triggers for addictive behavior, then avoiding those states is one way to keep life in equilibrium and stay on the right track.
I have been noticing lately that when my feelings of grief well up I can sometimes trace it back to hungry angry lonely tired. When I am suddenly overtaken by that sudden wave of anguish and longing for my mom (and others who are gone), when I feel ready to collapse from the weariness of wondering how long I will drag the burden of my grief around, when that deep unquenchable loneliness rises up out of nowhere, when I start crying and beating myself up for things I should have said and things I should have done, I have learned to stop and check myself on the hungry angry lonely tired scale.
The Grieving Room is not meant to be a fix it place. TGR diaries are not meant to say "this is what you should do" or "this is how you should handle your grief". But sometimes a diarist shares what works for him or her in the hope that others get something out of it, with the deliberate understanding that everybody handles grief differently.
I thought I would describe what I do when I am in that stuck place and trying to comfort myself. All or part of it may be helpful to someone else. Focusing on hungry angry lonely tired gives me something to do, something concrete to focus on, and if after all the steps I still feel bad emotionally, at least I have alleviated those other discomforts.
So if I come home on a typical evening and "that feeling" has come over me, or if I have been sitting at the computer at home all day and as night falls the sundowning starts to push grief buttons, I have a little checklist in my head that I follow. If nothing else, writing it down will be helpful for me: the next time I need it, it won't just be a list in my head and I can refer to this diary .
First I turn on all the lights, since darkness seems to have something to do with it. If I have been inside all day, I take a Vitamin D pill.
If I am wearing work clothes or grown up clothes and shoes, I get into comfortable clothes and if it is cold I put on soft slippers.
If I am hot, I cool down with a cold glass of flavored seltzer water. If I am cold, I warm up with a cup of tea.
I find something lighthearted on TV to watch, or put on some lighthearted music. This step is surprisingly hard since so many of the things I like to watch are kind of dark dramas, and so many of my favorite songs are melancholy. Sigh. That says a lot about how I've dragged myself through life even before these deaths. I always keep several Colbert Reports on my DVR for this purpose.
Now to hungry angry lonely tired.
Hungry: Because of my food addiction issues, I have to walk a tightrope with respect to hungry. First, am I really hungry? How many hours has it been since I ate last? If it is in fact time for a meal, I search for something I can eat in the house that will be comforting without being self-destructive. It is important to eat something that will not leave me with any feelings of remorse. I am not always successful at this. The summer has been great because a fruit and yogurt smoothie is filling, cold and fast. I have come home on many a hot day and used that as a soothing comfort.
Angry: This one is tough because I have a hard time acknowledging/expressing/verbalizing my anger. If I have not done my 750 words for the day, I can write there about any anger I feel about something that happened or failed to happen that day, or examine any deeper anger at myself or others that may be rising to the surface. 750 words is a great way to get at feelings that are trying to hide. If I have written my 750 words for the day, I can still write for a while and save it for tomorrow's entry. And of course, if I am angry about some inclusive justice issue, I can usually come here to dK and find someone to discuss it with.
Lonely: This one is hardest of all because I am prone to isolation. I used to come to dK for companionship also, but over the years I have become convinced that virtual friendships do not make me less lonely, and can even enhance my feeling of isolation and disconnection. So I have a list of phone numbers to call. That is, in my opinion, one of the key things that makes 12 step groups work: you get numbers of people who will talk you down for a few minutes when you are having that I'm all alone in the world and can't take it any more feeling. The surprising thing is, when we talk I don't have to pour out all the grief in my soul (as if that were even possible). Even if we just have light conversation and never talk about what is really bothering me, just the act of reaching out and intentionally breaking the isolation is a message to my mind that I am not, in fact, all alone.
Tired: "Sleeping is healing" is a phrase I say a lot. Sleeping can be overdone, but sometimes feeling tired means I am actually tired. I have a high stress job (I love it, but it is a high stress job) that occasionally demands long hours and late evenings and early mornings. I've been known to go to bed at 6 or 7 in the evening. Colbert is being taped. I don't need to stay awake to watch him.
But most of the time I am not sleepless or physically tired, I'm just weary. Weary of going around and around in my head with problems I can't solve, or wistfully daydreaming about going back in time and doing things differently. For that kind of mental tiredness I personally find it relaxing to play computer games. When the clock is ticking and I have only two minutes to spell all the words it does interrupt the ruminating and obsessively recounting sad memories. It does interrupt the vicious circle of beating myself up over the past and then beating myself up for wasting time beating myself up over the past. This world weariness is the hardest nut to crack, though, and actually going to sleep does not always help, since it may lead to disturbing dreams.
For an additional paradox, sometimes exercise makes me feel pleasantly physically tired instead of mentally tired. Just a few minutes of chair exercise can be a great mood lifter if I am "tired" and for some reason I need to be alert for an evening meeting.
Hungry Angry Lonely Tired. I tend to think of the four words as one word all run together: HungryAngryLonelyTired, because most of the time it's not just one of them, and sometimes it really is all four at once.
Of course the hardest hurdle to jump is the psychological hurdle of being willing to do something, anything. There were long periods where I had no energy to do anything at all other that just sit with my tears and let the waves of grief crash over me. Honestly, there is a time and place for that also, especially when grief is new. But as the years go by, I find myself being more willing to say, OK, is there something I can do to soothe myself right now? These days it is a danger sign for me when I am feeling so down that I don't have the energy or willingness or motivation to take any of these actions.
Sometimes I just get as far as turning on the lights and drinking a cup of tea and that is all I can do.
Sometimes I do pick up the phone but instead of calling a friend I call the sub shop and order some greasy and salty take out food for delivery and every bite fills me with remorse.
So I am not claiming this works all the time for me and certainly not claiming it will work for everybody. We are not directive here at TGR. We do not tell each other what to do. We just talk about our own struggles and needs and experiences and what we do to cope in the hope that someone else might get something out of it.
I do think it will help me to see this all written out for the first time. I am really surprised at how long this turned out to be! It looks like a lot! No wonder I don't usually get through the whole list!
And perhaps it will help someone else to put together their own soothing action list even if it looks nothing like mine.
Welcome, fellow travelers on the grief journey
and a special welcome to anyone new to The Grieving Room.
We meet every Monday evening.
Whether your loss is recent, or many years ago;
whether you've lost a person, or a pet;
or even if the person you're "mourning" is still alive,
("pre-grief" can be a very lonely and confusing time),
you can come to this diary and say whatever you need to say.
We can't solve each other's problems,
but we can be a sounding board and a place of connection.
Unlike a private journal
here, you know: your words are read by people who
have been through their own hell.
There's no need to pretty it up or tone it down..
It just is.