Insomnia ambushed me at 24 years old, when I was newly married and pregnant for the first time. It was bed time when I realized something wasn’t right with my pregnancy and called my doctor’s emergency number. I was instructed to keep an eye on things, take myself to the ER if symptoms worsened, and to call the doctor’s office in the morning so I could get in for an ultrasound ASAP.
I lay in bed keeping the night watch, eyes wide, heart racing with fear, and feeling very alone. Later the next morning, in the parking lot of the doctor’s office, I cried for my lost baby.
This midnight loss was the triggering event for the coming two and a half decades of insomnia. So, yes, when you do the math, I've had insomnia for more than half my life.
My work as a life coach tells me that when we have something to learn on a deep soul level, we keep attracting situations and events into our lives until we receive the wisdom needed to make a shift. To evolve, if you will. So, for the last 25 years, I’ve been collecting fearful night-time happenings:
My niece, with her infected heart, is airlifted from one hospital to another and placed on life support.
My teenage son is late for curfew and not answering his phone; it’s New Years Eve and the roads are bad.
I wake in darkness to the soft sound of wings brushing against the ceiling, then a wall – a bat has found its way in and is circling the bedroom.
My dad has excruciating neck pain and is taken to the hospital where they run tests for meningitis.
The dog, asleep at my feet, startles to consciousness in a split second and barks for five minutes for no reason I can discern.
And on and on…
Stretches of sleeplessness have driven me to prescriptions, therapy, and the brink of madness. But most nights, insomnia is a troublesome little brother or sister, nagging me with anxious thoughts. I am prone to twisting and flopping myself about the bed so much so that my husband and dogs take refuge in the guest bedroom. I silently trash talk my fatigued self until I am bullied into a tense repose. It’s a rare night that I fall effortlessly and deeply asleep.
Depleting on all levels, my chronic insomnia leaves even my soul feeling sick after a few nights with little to no rest.
In desperation and misery, I've looked for solutions and healing around every corner, behind every door, and gone down all roads from the traditional to the woo-woo. I’ve had tests run; taken prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids and anti-anxiety medications; tried supplements and essential oils; worked deeply in therapy and life coaching; been for past-life readings, done energy work, acupuncture, and massage; journaled and meditated; and more. Relief eluded me.
Last spring, enervated from another restless night and driving across the country from my home in Michigan to see my son in LA, my travel pal and I talked about my insomnia. The sun languished across the western edge of the greater Rocky Mountains, and as I drove I said to my friend offhandedly and resignedly, “I think my insomnia might be a spiritual crisis.” Without hesitation, she replied, “That’s an interesting choice of words…What if your insomnia is a spiritual awakening?”
It’s been almost a year since that conversation, but it wasn’t until about six weeks ago, fed up and determined, I declared that this insomnia is complete and utter bullshit. This story is over, I told myself. In spite of not sleeping, I felt a new sense of energy about this plague. I was done with sleeplessness taking a toll on my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
For several weeks I'd been walking around with a new knowing clawing at me to make itself heard and felt in my head and in my heart. Why it had appeared, besides the fact that it was just time and that I was somehow complete with my inner work, I'm not sure. But I allowed myself to have some new thoughts about healing my insomnia. And this healing wasn't about giving up caffeine, or getting my workout done in the morning, or putting lavender oil on my pillow case. And no, taking a melatonin wasn't the key - at least not for me. This endless insomnia was so beyond a hot bath and yoga.
I allowed myself to own the fact that I have faithfully done my soul work. I’ve leaned into it with all I have. And now it's time to put everything to bed, including myself.
For me, shifting out of sleeplessness and in to sleep is about giving up the illusion that if I stay awake, I can control all that’s going on in my world.
It’s about deeply believing that I deserve to rest and that while I rest, all will be taken care of, including me.
It’s about transcending my habits of anxiety and fearful thinking and instead embracing gratitude.
And it’s about understanding that even if I don’t sleep, there’s value in that, too – it could be there’s more wisdom to receive, a memory to re-visit or process, a prayer to say, or maybe to just binge watch The Crown on Netflix because that show is so effin' interesting and drama-filled and it makes me happy. I understand not every night will be peaceful, because real life will continue to show up. Bad things will still happen in the night - but I don't have to stay awake to greet them because that won't change them.
This past week, I’ve fallen effortlessly asleep, more nights than not and slept soundly – no supplements, no OTC meds, no prescriptions (because never again will I walk that road – I want to be healthy and fully present to all spiritual awakenings coming my way!).
In fact, this morning, I awoke without an alarm. Sun light was alive and pouring into the edges of the room, lighting up the old oak floors. Puppies snuggled and chatted with me. The flannel sheets were untangled and untroubled. My heart was expansive with gratitude and wonder. What caused this morning's awakening, anyway? The best I can figure is because I am rested.