The terror sets in about dark. I can breathe through it, smile at it, or I can succumb to it. It flutters in my chest when the evening sets on and car headlights appear; so in the winter, it begins about five PM. Driving home late and my eyes spy an “OPEN” neon sign, whether at a cafe or an auto parts shop: I get a false start of hopefulness – then I realize once again it’s errata because No, soon everyone will be abed and I’ll be up and alone. Alone. Tick tock. 10 PM rolls around and my family begins to tire; yet my non-sleep hours stretch ahead of me. Baffling, stunning in their aridity, a desert landscape of suffocating sameness.
I have limited options. Lying awake “trying” to sleep for a bit, before watching television programs, the more mind-numbing the better. I learned years ago not to “try” to sleep in the dark for long, nor get up and do a bunch of work and risk re-activating the Mind. I get to be with myself. It’s like the ultimate enforced meditation. Torture at times.
A lot of the addicts and alcoholics I know used to bypass these sleep issues by the use of chemicals. Of course! You can ensure you sleep (i.e. pass out). Or you can stay up for days and fly high, keep that mojo (not a Scientific Term) going so you can work without pain, emotional or physical. A far cry from the image of an addict as a selfish monster, most of those I’ve met in Recovery who were staying up and sleeping little were very earnest in their desire to perform well-intentioned tasks: cleaning the home, working a job or two. The intentions were good, and relatable to any human being, really; but the individual stories can be heartbreaking. A friend of mine told me about a home improvement job he’d been working on for three weeks at the time someone dear to him in the family was dying. He just kept working on this very exacting, very specific task. Clean and sober a few months at the time he tells me, it had pained him to return to the home improvement project and see it for what it was. While using, though, the focus, strength and power he’d felt had kept him going.
This is one of those incidents I might, MIGHT be tempted to say those who aren’t in Recovery, simply do not understand. Coping with sleep is tricky while drinking; try it sober! Tonight I read online: “[A]lcoholics can continue to have sleep problems for many months after they quit drinking [...] [P]roblems with sleep onset may be more pronounced than with sleep maintenance [...] [M]any former alcoholics had sleep problems that predated the onset of alcohol dependence.”
LOLOL it’s as if someone peered into my noggin and my life the last eight years or so.
As has been true for me for some time, my sleep problems like all of my problems become not “problems” at all, only a lesson I am listening quite intently to. I have already learned a great deal: to wit, a continuing acceptance that I am not a “bad” person, but a sick person. To wit: I did not “cause” my sleep issues, and I may never know why I have them. To wit: I may always have these issues, and I can accept that and no longer feel frightened, angry, obsessed, or depressed. To wit: I can learn how to care for myself with great intelligence and diligence that I might care for others – and for my own self, if ever I have a more protracted illness, or the prescient knowledge of my own death.
My “problems” transmute quickly into not being “problems” at all. Suffering can not be avoided, and I take comfort in that knowledge. Not-sleep is not something to be angry or anxious about; merely another opportunity.