Last week, I worked late into the night, letting my thoughts drift to all the unorganized cobwebby corners of my mind as I typed. I decided to cut my hair short. I decided to quit blogging. I also decided to buy a new washing machine, talk to my ex about updating our child support calculation and to my husband about why I was feeling so disconnected from him. I had 99 problems, but making the list wasn’t one.
I came to bed on Tuesday night fired up and ready to make some changes.
“Gabe,” I whispered. “Honey, wake up.”
I tried again, shaking him gently this time.
“Gabe, we need to talk.”
He rolled over with a muffled response of sorts. I was instantly annoyed at the audacity of my sleeping husband; how could he rest peacefully when our whole lives needed changing?
I was about to try one more time but was distracted by the angry growl of my stomach. Dinner had been hours earlier. That’s when I remembered HALT.
HALT is a substance abuse recovery tool I learned in training years ago. While I am lucky to have never battled an addiction, I use the tool often. The HALT tool reminds me to ask four questions before making a decision or taking action.
Am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?
The HALT principle suggests that if the answer to any of those questions is yes, decision-making is negatively impacted.
As I went to bed last Tuesday night, I was hungry enough to eat a bear. I was frustrated by a particularly tangled customer service issue in which I was a customer receiving no service. I was working constantly, hadn’t connected with friends in forever, and was exhausted. In short, I was winning the HALT quadruple crown. I was in no place to make decisions.
Even after checking in with myself and understanding tonight wasn’t the night for a heart-to-heart on why our lives needed changing, I still wanted to wake Gabe. The topics on my mind felt urgent in the pit of my stomach. But I knew better.
I brushed my teeth and slipped into bed next to my sleeping husband. I told the grouchy gremlin on my shoulder that I’d definitely talk to Gabe tomorrow and get started on changing all the things just as soon as I got a good night’s sleep.
When I woke the next morning, the world was different. Not at first glance: the washing machine still clunked and I still felt more disconnected from Gabe than I’d like. I still need to talk with Billy about support and to find a better work rhythm. But the urgent drive for action in the pit of my stomach was gone. I felt better.
I talked to Gabe and we realized it had been forever since we’d done something just for fun. We planned a quick getaway to the river to remedy that situation. I took a clear look at my budget and decided what had to happen before I talked to Billy or bought a new washing machine. I purposely cut back on some of my blog activity and scheduled time with three friends I hadn’t seen in ages.
A week later, I feel much better.
I’m glad I didn’t wake Gabe last Tuesday night. I know the conversation would’ve ended badly. Some of our biggest fall-outs have come when I’ve ignored what HALT tells me and pressed on. Fighting late into the night was a hallmark of our first year as a blended family. Not coincidentally, Gabe and I were nearly constantly hungry, angry, lonely and tired in that first year.
In my calmer present day as a divorced coparenting mom and as a stepparent in this blended family I do a better job of listening to what HALT tells me. Our life includes a huge tribe of players with tangled emotional histories, competing priorities, shifting schedules that sometimes spark loneliness and an adult to kid ratio that often leaves us happily exhausted. Truth be told, I am often not in a healthy decision-making place.
That’s okay. I don’t do heart transplants or defuse bombs.
Very few of the decisions I make require instant action. HALT helps me check in with myself and adjust to make sure I am in the best possible place before taking action. For that, I’m grateful. And last Tuesday night, so was my sweet sleeping husband.