“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” ~ Psalm 4:8 .
This idea came to me a few weeks ago – making friends with the night. It’s something I still struggle with from time to time. I still have very vivid memories of fearing the night, the dark, and sleep; all of these fears when my trauma was fresh. How could I sleep again when sleep had left me vulnerable and the night had brought danger? It took a long time before I could truly sleep, and I spent almost a year feeling sleep-deprived and not able to function well during the day.
I saw a concert film last night, “Concert for George.” It was a tribute concert for George Harrison made in 2002. The lyrics to one of his songs struck me, as it described the feeling trauma survivors have about sleep:
“Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of the night.” ~ from “Beware of Darkness”
This verse so poetically describes the post-trauma brain trying to find sleep. One fearful thought quickly multiplies, spiraling into a cyclone of random thoughts and images, leading to that hopelessness that feeds our tendency to isolate. But we find our release (relief?) in the first line – “Watch out now, take care.” That is the key. The way out is to be ever-vigilant with our thoughts, and ask for help when we need it. We often also need to physically be certain of our safety, so our logical mind can help our emotional mind get through. This is a start to making friends with the night.
Initially, being in control of our thoughts is almost impossible. Once the shock begins to wear off, our brains go into hyper-drive trying to make sense of what happened. We usually have no frame of reference, so the fearful thoughts we try to plug into previous memories and logic are finding no home. They run amuck in our brain until we form new synapses, a new filing system, and ultimately new coping skills for what we have experienced. This is a time for good therapy to help you frame your experience in a way that will be helpful to you.
But alone, at night, it’s just you and your fearful brain. There are many tools to help us get control of our thoughts. Just as with any healing tool, we have to experiment to see what works for us. And no one thing will work every time! These are tools I have used: prayer, distraction (read, read, read), and detach and replace. Often, if I just start praying, especially if I’m praying for a long list of others, my fearful brain will turn off, and my mind enters a more contented space, more connected with the Divine than with this world. Sometimes I have to just distract myself with reading until my brain is too tired to make me crazy. And sometimes, I practice detach and replace. It’s kind of like catch and release in fishing. I observe the fearful thought as though it’s not part of me (detach), then replace it with a different thought. So it goes something like this:
Fear thought: I’ve been harmed. It could happen again. What was that noise?
Detaching thought: Hm. That’s interesting that you’re thinking about that.
Replacing thought: I’m a beloved child of God.
Basically, you are disarming a bully, it just happens to live in your brain and come out at night. If you are still deep in the healing process, I encourage you to also explore EFT (tapping) as a tool to help you get to sleep.
It can be difficult to use affirmations and trust in God and tell yourself you are safe, when you have very vivid memories of not being safe. But the alternative is to live IN fear instead of IN SPITE of it. If we remain frozen and paralyzed by it, then the fear wins, the trauma wins, and our life is lessened by it.
“Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending – to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how the story ends.” ~ Brene Brown
We must keep trying to make friends with the night, so we are rested warriors and we can choose how our story ends. Try not to be afraid of the dark (and I will too), God is there as surely as God is in the light, encompassing our fear with the mighty power of Divine Love.
You are Still Beloved.