I have been single for five years, and alive for more than five decades and still many aspects of my own physical and spiritual upkeep remain challenging.
For this reason I am deeply grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous, which has invented numerous aphorisms and catchwords that reach beyond the alcoholic community to help anyone who needs to take better care of him or herself.
Recently, for instance, I became aware of a favorite AA acronym that is also a powerful directive: HALT.
In AA parlance, HALT stands for the physical and spiritual states to which we need to pay attention if we are to maintain sobriety and mental health. Specifically these are: Hungry Angry Lonely and Tired. They’re the Four Dwarves that Disney left out. HALT represents self-care basics that we tend to ignore.
Let’s start with Lonely: When I first became single in my late 40s I could not see my own solitude. After decades of being paired up and taking company for granted, I had difficulty recognizing my growing loneliness, and a shyness I had not known was there. Solving the problem was even more of an obstacle. It took me several years of solitude, before I realized that if I wanted someone around I was going to have to pick up the phone and make it happen.
HELL-OH-OH. I know. Such basic human needs, and how to meet them, should be obvious. For me they weren’t. Training myself to seek out friends, after years of taking love for granted, was a Big Deal. I could write a magazine article on any subject. I could do a pretty good job of keeping a bunch of drunk people entertained with my singing. Making a date, however, was incredibly daunting.
When it comes to Anger, taming my ire has been a struggle at times. Learning how to recognize and handle one’s anger is of course an essential life skill. For me, angry outbursts tend to occur when I have piled on too much stress and then one more irritating thing happens. After decades of embarrassing meltdowns, I am beginning to learn that one must never pile on so much pressure that more cannot be tolerated. Check Murphy’s Law. There is always more exasperation around the corner.
As for Tired, I used to pride myself on being a woman who never took a nap. Couldn’t stand ’em. What a waste of time. How could you possibly lie down in the middle of the day when there was so much to be done? I do not recall what changed my mind about this. Maybe it was a self-help book, or the gentle prodding of a mental health professional or perhaps it was what the folks in AA call a Moment of Clarity. Whatever prompted me to draw the blinds and lie down for my first adult nap, I found myself marveling at the sweet simple luxury of blankets and a firm but kind mattress in the afternoon.
Hunger management is a lifelong quest. The vanity-fueled dream of, of svelte-itude and chronic confusion over what to put in my refrigerator, and my mouth, has left me Cranky, Drowsy or simply Starving. All I can say now is gradually I am learning to keep myself fueled following a few decent well-known rules of nutrition: whole grains (stuff that looks like hamster food, not brown-colored bread), the proverbial fresh vegetables, lean protein, a lot of water, and a minimum of sugary, refined, processed foods. Yams and brown rice, not potatoes and pasta.
As I review the trouble I have had paying attention to the basics of physical and mental wellbeing, and the challenges I face still, I start to recognize how out of it I’ve been for much of my life. I guess I really did need to HALT and think it over.