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).