Why do we sleep? ”It may be the biggest open question in biology,” said Dr. Allan Rechtschaffen, a sleep expert and a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. I don’t have the answer either, but I know that some days are too long for me to endure awake.
I have come to recognize the symptoms by now: breathing becomes difficult and I feel an unwanted weight on the chest, even though I know I’m not having a heart attack. When these symptoms attack me like a starving pack of wolves, I am weaponless. I lose my voice and can’t move. I put my entire life on pause and go to sleep, never planning how long it will last. As always for me, it’s either all or nothing, life or death; it’s a binge. One hour is too many and a thousand not enough.
The discovery of binge sleeping as my new drug of choice for dealing with emotions is quite recent. It all started a few months ago, when my low self-esteem, overbearing ego and anxiety and fear so crippling made my stomach hurt and made it so that I could barely stand straight or even watch commercials on TV. When this happens, I’m not capable of clear thinking, my limbs are paralyzed and my body temperature rises; I feel feverish while simultaneously so damn cold inside.
The first time, walking toward the bedroom wasn’t a completely conscious decision. I just thought it would do me some good and restore my cognitive functions (I had done my research on the positive effects of sleep on the brain). But the truth is that I wanted to lie down to protect myself under the bed sheets and forget about what was hurting me. I wanted to make plans and hope for something better. I fell asleep and woke at dinnertime. Of course, nothing had changed but there was now a twilight that would become darker and darker every time I’d wake up during the following weeks. Just like it did when I was using.
The first dosage is not enough anymore. I was still floating on what felt like the mediocrity of my life and my discontentment. But the day was almost over at least, and I could shortly go back to bed again, this time without feeling guilty. I liked it. It almost worked.
I didn’t plan on repeating the pattern the following day. I had a meeting to attend, a column to publish, phone calls to make, groceries to buy, cigarettes to stop smoking. The problem is that the nature of my anguish never seems to matter, whether it’s about bills, a much-awaited recognition that fails to come, memories, loneliness, boredom, heartache. So, another early afternoon, I decide that night and day are allowed to melt together. I make that decision for many more days to come.
The second time, I take a book with me to bedroom. I crack it open and after pretending that I’ve read the first two paragraphs, I take off my glasses and close my eyes for five minutes. I want to disappear and I know that sleep will soothe the ache for a little while; it did the day before.
I don’t dream and when I wake up I feel hung-over, guilty, swollen and dirty. This nature of sleep is a drunken one; it is not rest but a very confusing oblivion instead, its only purpose the filling up of holes in the same way that my favorite drugs and obsessions used to—until they didn’t anymore. And the blanket’s only made of cotton, not chemicals.
I worried about insomnia eventually taking over after this unhealthy binge of lethargy, but I already grieve and overreact to approximately 199 things every 24 hours. So I decide to believe that lack of sleep can be avoided, just for today.
Then I wonder: could I quit the binge sleeping habit cold turkey? The answer is no, because I am an alcoholic and intellectually understanding a basic truth doesn’t necessarily bring me to conquer it. Every time I binge sleep, I wake up with more questions yet I need to sleep more. I ask for signs and don’t hear answers, so I crave another dose. Squirrels sleep for 15 hours a day, I tell myself, recalling a recent article I read; they look happy so why can’t I do what they do? In the rooms, they say do whatever it takes, as long as you don’t drink or use. But how much of my coping mechanism is healthy? Can I forgive myself one more time?
Still, there are days when the pain is so excruciating that I just don’t want it. I don’t know how long I can wait and how much I can take. Is there a school where they teach faith and awakening?
I do the work on a daily basis; I meditate, too. But it’s been a while now that confusion has taken over, with a loneliness of the soul that hurts more than I believed possible, together with the subsequent anger and what my ego calls justified impatience. I don’t understand the plan, if there actually is one. And I don’t want to throw away what I have: my sobriety. So I hide and snooze my days away; I sleep it all away, melting minutes into hours and hours into seconds, hoping insomnia will never come.
If I write about it, about this sober truth to anesthetize emotions, I feel less shameful about it, like less of a failure for continuing to try and not still making it right.
This too shall pass, or so they say.
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