Hungry, angry, lonely, tired: HALT
“The things that frighten us just want to be held.”
~ Mark Nepo
Hungry, angry, lonely, tired: HALT. It’s an acronym used in the 12 Steps, programmes that have helped millions of people troubled by addiction to recognize the danger zones that can result in trigger-sensitive states, resulting in relapse behaviours.
It may be a simplification but simplifying complexity can be helpful to assist recognition and choice. There’s probably all sorts of brain chemistry and hormonal explanations that result from hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness, that would account for how allowing our systems to become unbalanced in any of these ways, will lead to the hijacking of our limbic systems. And once the amygdala is triggered, and our environment occurs as threatening, the chain reaction set in motion produces a kind of thinking that is disconnected from ourselves in the present moment.
It’s amazing how, even when we know all this, in the presence of it happening we can become quite lost. I know the experience. I know when I am no longer present. One persistent symptom is dissatisfaction, either with myself, or with the circumstances – or both. There will be criticism, judgement: making things wrong. There will be analysis, and a repetitive ruminating over the situation at hand, a mental maze with no way out. All of this will be accompanied by an unhappy cocktail of feelings: sadness, disappointment, frustration. And despite knowing that my view of things is bound to be skewed, despite telling myself that, the theory makes little difference. I am still stuck.
I’ve learned, over the years, what to tell myself: this will pass. But for as long as I am upset with myself for feeling the way I am, the experience of being trapped persists.
And then there is grace. It comes in many forms. The release of feelings – a good cry – is a healing balm. Being listened to and witnessed by a friend who knows that this demented version of me is not the real thing, that is one of life’s greatest gifts. Meditation is brilliant for balancing brain chemistry. So is sleep. All that needs to happen is for the scales to tip in the direction of self-forgiveness over shame, and a beautiful thing happens. It’s like shafts of sunlight breaking through a gap in the clouds. When I can sit down beside myself, as I would a dear friend, and hold myself as I would a frightened child, the fog clears.
I no longer expect of myself that it won’t descend again. But I am fascinated by the possibility that we can get more and more skilled at shifting from murky gloom to spirit-soaring sunshine. Mark Nepo’s quote was what did it for me this time. I only had to consider the idea that the drear drama to which I had been subjecting myself for a rather astonishing number of days was simply a catalogue of fears that needed to be held, and the clouds parted and out came the sun!
So, I thought I’d pass the inspiration on to you all, dear Brave Hearts! It’s that time of year where tiredness levels are dangerously high. Let’s pay attention to our self-care and cherish ourselves through to the holidays.