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Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

I had a lot of concerns when I quit drinking, and one that loomed largest was falling asleep.

My pattern was to go a hundred miles an hour all day, then skid into home and pour a (fishbowl-sized) glass of wine to relax, a second glass to unwind, one more to ensure a good rest.  Maybe another after that (plus the top-ups in between) because I really really needed to make sure I slept. After all, I had a million things to do the next day! How could I even consider removing that cog from the machine?

I told myself the wine played a key role in my successful routine: wake up, drink coffee, work hard, drink wine, fall asleep, repeat. Honestly, it worked for a while – back when it was only one glass before bed. As years went by it took more and more wine to be effective, until it clearly was no longer a winning cycle.

I clearly needed to make a change but kept asking myself: if I don’t drink, what will happen when I go to bed? I knew instinctively that sleeping pills – or any pills – would not be an option for me. My addictive personality had revealed itself enough to make that obvious. What else was there? How could a warm cup of chamomile tea do the work of several large glasses of wine? It seemed preposterous.

To my enormous surprise and relief, I sleep much better once I quit drinking. There have been occasional sleepless nights caused by stress, by age-related hot flashes and night sweats, and by my monthly migraines – problems that wine would have made worse, not better. In the morning, I was tired but thankfully not hung over.

I have come to realize what was at the core of that old urgency for sleep. I understand now what it was I feared as bedtime drew nearer and I’d reach for another glass and then another. It wasn’t just the dread of “not sleeping”; I feared the quiet moments alone with my thoughts.

As a child I was taught to saw prayers at bedtime. I loved the ritual, the tuck-in and kisses from my mom, the warm feeling that God was happy I’d prayed, the safety and comfort of it all. As I grew older, I learned The Lord’s Prayer and concentrated on each line, reflecting on how it related to events of the day.

I continued this practice into adulthood and the pause after “forgive us our trespasses…” grew longer and longer as it seemed I had a growing list of confessions to make. My feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and shame grew, and the ritual of bedtime prayers became less comforting. I began to distract myself with busy-ness all day but when it finally fell dark and quiet, I came before God feeling utterly unworthy. I overcompensated with hard work and accomplishments, but it didn’t ease the pain I felt at my core. Bedtime prayers withered into long moments of self-loathing, sometimes hours of silent tears as I revisited failures and weakness from the days, weeks, and years before.

No wonder I dreaded bedtime. No wonder I drank to numb myself.  Wine didn’t help me face God; it let me avoid myself. I learned to drink just enough to shut off my brain seconds before my head hit the pillow. Often it worked. When it didn’t, I had more to feel badly about.

I braced myself for restless nights when stopped drinking, but the relief I felt crawling into bed sober gave me enough peace to fall right asleep. Honestly, recovery can be exhausting at first as the inner dialogue feels like arguing with a toddler for hours on end. (I want a drink! No. I want to drink! No. I waaaaannnnnnaaaaaa. No, no, no!) I was dead tired.

I see that my addiction had hijacked my prayer time as a way to perpetuate my need and reasons to drink. I once again pray at night; sometime it’s as simple as “Thank you.” If I feel myself slipping into a spiral of negative thoughts, I remind myself that it isn’t really prayer. I imagine God face-palming and saying, “This again? I forgave you the first time you asked. Move on!” And I do. I move on. I move on to gratitude, to praying for my kids, to remembering all the small ways I saw God’s goodness that day.

I save my forgiveness requests until daylight, and I trust that once is enough.

Of all the freedoms that recovery has brought into my life, this is one of the greatest. The physical benefits of sleep are tangible and fuel my zest for life. I am no longer afraid of quiet moments with myself. In fact, I now treasure them.

If you need help to redesign your times of reflection, check out “Help Thanks Wow” by Anne Lamott (a wonderful writer whose reflections on life in recovery are powerful and funny).

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About UnPickled

I am learning to walk without the crutch of alcohol. As I begin I am 1 day sober. Gulp. I drank in private and hope to quit just as privately. The purpose of this blog is to help make me accountable - just by following you will give me enormous support and encouragement.

Posted on November 19, 2014, in Getting Sober and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Another stellar post -thanks Jean! I know it’s an old one but I had to comment anyway because the acquisition of a good night’s sleep is my Holy Grail!!!! I’ve made it to day 21 aka 3 weeks hooray! I was fleetingly tempted to have wine last night at a dinner party but instead took a deep sip of my O’douls in a wine glass instead ( this was also my go-to drink during my 11 year sobriety stint.)

    My sleep has not been great (it never has been but I do have sleep apnea). However, at least I’ve been waking up without a hangover the last 21 days and that feels fantastic….sooo worth it not to drink (wtf was I even thinking drinking alcohol with sleep apnea anyway?? Potentially deadly. Just shows how powerful addiction can be.)

    I just discovered a couple of things that help me sleep so much better that I had to share: I started using an eye mask when I sleep so all light is snuffed out completely and what a difference! I bought one that is a bit heavier so it doesn’t slip off. The other thing I just tried (from Dr. Oz magazine) is Banana Tea which tastes fabulous and is supposed to benefit sleep because of its high content of potassium and magnesium – the peel is especially high in these minerals. Just lop of the ends of an unpeeled banana, cut banana into 3 pieces, and boil in water (or coconut milk or whatever) for 10 minutes. Drink one hour before bedtime. Scrumptious!!!!! Apparently you can eat banana peel but I haven’t tried it yet. Just google “banana tea.”

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  2. Me, in a nutshell. I hated the quietness. I am (learning to be WAS 😉) like a hamster on a wheel all day, doing for others, worrying for others, I could not stop my brain at night. I am learning now. Ah, this journey…..thank you. xoxo

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  3. This is such a comforting post that helps in so many ways. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. ❤

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  4. I still don’t sleep very well,
    But I sleep WAY better
    Than when I was drinking!

    Thank you for the book recommendation!

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  5. This was a concern of mine as well. And I did have a lot of trouble sleeping when I first got clean and sober. I was blessed to have a dream, http://mbbendt.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/into-deep-water/ which I would cling to and remember when my thoughts turned into a freight train with no breaks. Sometimes I still fear my dreams, mostly the using and drinking dreams have tapered off as I stay sober and work the steps, but as soon as I start to feel confident and become forgetful I get another one. An old timer in one of my meetings told me to call it a gratitude dream, to be grateful for the reminder.

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  6. It’s amazing how big and scary our own thoughts can get when we refuse to spend time with them, isn’t it?

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  7. I drank wine before bed as well. I also drank wine with dinner, anytime in the afternoon, frequently at lunch, and, yes, even in the morning, Toward the end of my drinking, I would wake up every three or four hours during the night and only another glass of wine could lull me back to sleep. I ended up in a rehab facility that treated alcohol addiction with phenobarbital. For me, the cure made me feel worse than the disease and sleep came only in brief fitful spurts. It was probably two weeks into my sobriety (and finally off the phenobarbital), that I was able to sleep through the night. I will never take sleep for granted. It is a precious gift that is right up there on my gratitude list. I so understand why you chose to wrote about it!

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  8. I had the same experience (I’d also wake up at about 2am and have another glass or two of wine once the first few wore off!), and I admit that I had several months of insomnia, which was very hard to get through. But now, at 4 years sober, I fall asleep quickly and sleep more deeply than I ever did when I was drinking.

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  9. This subject resonated with me…. by the time I stopped, I was probably passing out way more often than I was falling asleep. If I managed to sleep through the night, there would be a mental checklist I’d run through in the morning: “How many drinks did I have yesterday? Do I remember what I said/did before going to bed? Do I even remember going to bed?” Then I’d usually avoid mentioning anything that happened the evening before to my husband to circumnavigate his asking me, “Don’t you remember what we talked about last night?” All that torture and mental anguish just to continue doing something that was so bad for me. Sheesh. I need to keep this in mind every time I feel sorry for myself when I start to feel like how come everyone else can drink except me.
    Thanks for this post!

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    • Yes, this was exactly me too. The total non recollection of going to bed. What I had done. what I had promised I would remember to do. And the waking up in the morning with a heavy blanket of drinking all over me. Showers and coffee didn’t help. And then I would do it all again the next night after I swore I would stop. Yes tonight’s the night I would wake up and say. How many times did I say that. But the sleeping is hard actually. Still not where it should be, but it’s better than waking up foggy hurting Confused and making a million excuses and pretending all the time.

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  10. It used to be that whether I drank that night or not, I would go to bed listening to talk radio. Whatever random political/conspiratorial/sociocultural monologue the host was delivering was better than being alone with my own thoughts. I had a nagging voice inside me that said, “Hey, how ’bout you turn the radio off and listen to yourself again?” I told it to STFU and kept the radio on. Now I make sure to make time each day for my own thoughts.

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  11. This could describe me . I used to fall asleep praying and feeling safe . When I drink I just pass out . And “hide” from God feeling unworthy . I too grew up with nighty prayer and then did the same for my daughter as she grew up . It’s a lovey peaceful end to the day .
    Today is my 4th day sober . I’m still not sure how long I can go . Or even if I want to stop permanently . I drink about 3-5 days a week . And I don’t like it . I feel like I’m hiding from something or trying to blur something out , and this is all a ridiculous notion as I have a good life and lack for nothing ??
    Anyways , thank you . I love your blog !!

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  12. oh yes, “I want to stop drinking but then I wont be able to sleep” conversation! the choice between the demon bottle and no sleep was always a nasty and unfair one. I have gritted it out and now ever so thankful that my head can hit the pillow EVERY night and toddle off without any helper. aaaaaaaah, total bliss!
    hugs from nz
    Lisa
    http://www.thecword-compassion.com

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  13. It is unbelievably refreshing to wake up every morning and not be hungover. I always thought I slept well…but your post really hit home. I could not stand being alone with myself.
    I had forgotten about praying. Or, more specifically, I was mad at God that I couldn’t quit drinking.
    I pray with Cleo every night now. A simple, that you for this day and keep us safe. The universe is no longer my enemy.

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  14. A very thoughtful post. Brings back memories and has me re visiting some of the thoughts that went through my bed-brain while I was drinking. Gone are the days of self loathing.
    Truly inspiring post.
    Thank you, Jean.

    xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I can totally relate. I drank wine in the evening, to put me asleep (so I thought). The fact is, I couldn’t stand my own thoughts, or being in my own skin without the alcohol numbing effect. I’m sure my husband likes that I’m not snoring! Fearing quiet moments…I worry about that when I’m around people that are drinking…hasn’t happened yet. I’m on day 3 & am choosing not drink anymore!

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  16. Haha! As I’ve said before, and now say again, you somehow blog exactly what I need/want to hear! Just about 45 minutes ago I posted on Living Sober about sleep problems associated with early recovery and asked for any input the community might have for me. Then BAM! I received an email with your latest blog. So, one again: a big THANK YOU!

    Like

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