Most of you probably remember that book that came out in the mid-90s "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff -- and Its All Small Stuff". I was thinking about Small Stuff today. How sometimes Small Stuff is just small, and it is okay to leave it at that. But sometimes what seems Small isn't small - because in aggregate little stuff piles up and can get Big rather quickly.
Sometimes getting back to basics is essential. There is an expression in recovery called "HALT". It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. As in: look out for these things, because they may seem fairly basic, but they can trip you up Big.
I see this loud and clear in my kids; even just one of these can lead to problems. If they get off their regular eating and sleeping schedule, if they spend too much time cooped up without playdates, things go badly.
The same trends apply to me, too. I am not nearly as patient with my kids when I'm tired. When I haven't connected with friends and have been isolated in the house for too long, when I feel like I'm about to climb the walls, I get resentful of the kids, my life. The only thing that has changed is that I have failed to pay attention to some fairly basic human needs: companionship, food and sleep.
And then, of course, we have Anger. Sometimes anger is very straightforward - a kid breaks something valuable to me and I get angry. Simple. Sometimes, for me at least, anger is harder to pinpoint. A sense of imbalance, or unease. I realize I've been walking around with a furrowed brow all day and I have a headache.
In recovery, I have learned to pay more attention to little alarm bells. I have a deeper appreciation for the importance of trying to figure out why I'm off. Sometimes it is simple: I skipped a meal, stayed up too late or haven't been exercising. But sometimes it isn't simple. It may be a resentment I have over something someone said or did. It is in my nature to overlook these negative things - I would rather gloss them over, minimize them or avoid them all together. It may require some internal detective work to figure out where the Anger (or Sadness, or Resentment) is coming from.
Then I need to do something about it. Sometimes quiet meditation or reflection works. Sometimes a good cathartic cry. Sometimes it is large enough that I have to put my Big Girl pants on and clear the air with someone. These are not things I like to do. I'd rather shuffle my own emotions to the bottom of the deck and hope anything uncomfortable or negative will quietly go away. I have learned it doesn't go away, though, it just goes Someplace Else. It will return later in the form of being short with my kids, or corking off about some inconsequential thing, or trouble sleeping. As Buddha said: "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."
It is one of the pain-in-the-ass gifts of recovery - I can't afford to ignore or overlook something just because it is uncomfortable. I have learned that when things get hard, I'm about to have a breakthrough of some sort. That growth, spirituality and freedom are not usually found when things are sailing along smoothly.
As the Dalai Lama says: "We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves."