Burning Bright

I promised myself that I wouldn’t cry tonight. I promised myself that I wouldn’t let the emotional trauma or the physical pain get to me. It’s all too greater of a self promise. I got drunk and wept in near-silence. The tears that rolled down my cheeks were cool on my skin, and hyrdating at the same time. I felt a need to cry. I felt as if I didn’t, something was wrong with me. I felt safe with my tears. I felt safe looking around my empty apartment and feeling that enormous void of nothingness that was there. It felt normal. But at the same time..it scared me.

Lately, I’ve been having realistic night terrors. Again. Oh, it’s nothing new, friends. I’ve been living with these things since my deployment to Iraq in 2005. Some nights are better than others. And some nights I get about three hours of sleep because of them. The last several nights it’s been quite a problem. I see this faceless being haunting around my apartment looking to steal my television. When I wake up, I see the figure slink down behind the Tv. I get up, throw a few curse words around, and approach like I’m going to do something about it. No one is going to steal my Tv and get away with it! When I get to the Tv, the figure is gone. I wake up to this happening three or four times a night.

I slink back to my bed unloading my pistol I had on my counter top. What a dangerous scenerio, right? Some whacked out former soldier living alone, loaded for bear, having night terrors. Seems like a recipe for disaster. For years, I’ve been able to keep my emotions under control. I’ve never went after these “night terrors” with a vengence or with some kind of attitude like I’m going to end them with violence. I do, however, grab my pistol, load a magazine, and search the apartment unit for said “night terror” figure.

The thing that scares me the most is the fact that the “night terror” figure reminds me of me. I can see what it’s wearing. I can see and recount for everything except it’s facial expression. It’s face is emotionless. Like, what the fuck is going on here. You’re here to steal the fuck out of my Tv but you can’t tell me if you’re sad, angry, or fucking happy? That doesn’t make any goddamn sense.

I’ve hated night terrors ever since I started having them. The doctors told me it’s just something you’d have to live with. Great. This bullshit will forever be in my life? I get to stay awake at night, afraid to sleep because I’m worried some faceless asshole is going to waltz into my apartment and steal the shit out of my fucking television set or start creeping around the kitchen or slink into my bathroom? Shit, that’s not even the worst of it! I remember when I first started having real night terrors.

I was at Fort Riley and we had just gotten back from Iraq. I was sound asleep and I remember my right arm going completely numb. I woke up and saw this huge fucking Boa Constrictor wrapped completely around my arm! I fucking freaked the fuck out! I mean, I freaked the fuck out! I scrambled out of bed and bolted towards my door! I hit the door with so much force that I woke up my roommate in the next bedroom over. When I finally got the door open, I found myself in the bathroom common area sweating profusely, gripping my arm, and looking back into my room like, “what the fuck just happened?!” My roommate was a bigger guy with obvious weigh issues and he started grilling me on what had happened. His initial thought was I was on drugs. Acid to be specific. Then he urged me to call the charge of quarters sergeant or the military police because he thought I was really fucked up. Somehow, I talked him out of it.

The next morning, shit was all a blur, more or less. I ate my breakfast in my barracks room with a concerned look on my face, silent, but thoughtful. Shit happened last night and I wasn’t really sure what to do about it. I buried it. I buried all of it. Every last episode of night terror that came my way. I buried it. I was put on medication at one point. But that shit seriously fucked with my heart. “It’s incurable.” said the doctor.

I was finished at this point. Scared and afraid. As the years traveled on, my night terrors cleared up. Every once in a while, they’d flare up like a bad case of herpes. I’d bury them, move on, forget, battle on…they’d go away. I fought for many years that alcohol was the answer. What a waste. What do you do with a problem that has no resolution? You self medicate.

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5 thoughts on “Burning Bright

  1. Wayne: The thing that happened with your arm is called “sleep paralysis”. It is a terrifying experience, but unless it happens frequently, it’s not a cause for concern. When your brain goes in and out of sleep, it follows a certain procedure, a set of steps performed in a sequence, like a computer. In your powering down process, sometime after you lose awareness, your body actually becomes kind of paralyzed, so you don’t hurt yourself during sleep. When you wake, the process goes in reverse — i.e., the muscles are switched on before you become alert. Sometimes, when you are roused too quickly from very deep sleep, your brain skips the normal sequence, and you regain consciousness while your muscles are still atonic. Sometimes, only the arms are affected — such as in your case — and sometimes, it’s a whole-body experience. The feeling of strong pressure on the parts of the body that can’t move is classic for sleep paralysis.

    Obviously, I haven’t had your experiences, but I did have other issues (mostly growing up with a huge amount of stress), and I’ve been experiencing intense nightmares, night terrors, and sleep paralysis since about the age of six. These things are just a fact of life for me. I can go for months without one, and then have one every other night for a couple of weeks. So although this will likely continue for the rest of my life, over the years I’ve figured out ways to minimize their occurrence.

    One’s sleep schedule is the number one factor in determining the likelihood of nightmares or night terrors. I always have them when I am chronically sleep deprived. The best thing to do is to go to bed fairly early. Going to bed late and sleeping late is a bad idea, even if you technically get the right number of hours.

    The chances for having a nightmare increase if I have a heavy meal shortly before going to bed (which is why I almost never eat after 7 PM) or drinking before turning in. Although I’ve only been drunk once in my life (I think), having even one drink before bed is likely to result in a nightmare.

    Stress is obviously a factor, though I always thought the advice of “minimize stress” is kinda stupid: who wouldn’t minimize their stress if they could? But for what it’s worth, during periods of stress, valerian root tea does wonders for me. I’m not generally into herbal supplements, but this particular herb is really good at regulating sleep and reducing stress. (Camomile doesn’t make a dent, however.)

    Good luck. I hope you find a way to cope with this.

    • Wow, that is actually very insightful and helpful. I’m really appreciative of your information and I will start doing what I can to change my sleep routines. If only an Army doctor would have told me all of this years ago…

  2. Very powerful entry that I shared on Twitter. In my experience, it’s true at one level that these things can last and last, but don’t despair, please. Your blog is clearly one of the ways that you’re trying to get “back on mission,” back to finding your way to make things work in Life. Don’t give up. You once felt quite proud of yourself, as assured and ready as anyone can be. I know that a lot’s happened since then. But from the power of your writing, I can still see that same “strong you” that you once knew, even if you cannot feel “him” right now. As you re-find that man who you were–and who you still are–the nightmares will diminish, trust me. No, never disappear, but diminish–meaningfully. Again, even if you feel as if the man you once were no longer exists, I’ve got to tell you bluntly: you’re wrong. He comes through in every word you write. Never give up. Never give up.

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