I broke down and took a Benadryl last night, after a brief back and forth with hubby about whether two nights in a row made me an addict. I felt better after he pointed out that I was taking the age twelve and under recommended dosage. Lying awake long after every other creature is snoring annoyingly is nothing new; neither is waking at three a.m. to jab a sharp stick into the overgrown shrubbery of my psyche until the sun rises. I have been a master worrier since grade school, and bedtime has always been when I really hone my craft. My mom, in an attempt to reassure her bafflingly neurotic kid, would try to offer words of comfort. "Ninety-nine percent of the things we worry about never happen." Aaaaaaaaggggghhhh!" I was no fool! That left a full ONE PERCENT of horrible, awful things that could and in all likelihood WOULD befall me at any moment. This was the early seventies, before anyone knew what anxiety disorders and serotonin re-uptake inhibitors were. All you could do was go to the pediatrician and look on helplessly as he wrote "hypochondriac" in your kid's file and eyed you and your parenting skills suspiciously. At some point I glommed onto the idea that not sleeping put me at risk for untold horrors, no doubt disfiguring and probably deadly. I am sure it was an innocuous statement along the lines of, "go to bed, you need your rest," but it was enough to send me into a panic if I was not in dreamland within .5 seconds of my head touching the pillow. Apparently unable to grasp the concept that staying in bed might be helpful, I would creep from room to room, trying not to look at the glowing digital clock on my dad's desk and confirm the fact that yes, I WAS NOT SLEEPING. I knew how to avoid every creaky floorboard and probably succeeded in giving both of my parents a royal case of the heebies each time I would materialize in the hallway next to the t.v. room during the Rockford Files. "Laura...go back to bed," my dad would order without even looking, alerted to my spectral presence by the hairs standing up on the back of his neck.
Fortunately, not every sleepless night led to haunting the prime time line-up. I have many memories of reading books by the nightlight in the hall. During the summer, I could sometimes be found, had anyone actually been AWAKE besides me, kneeling in front of a window, forehead pressed against the screen watching fireflies in the lawn below, the humid breeze cooling my face. While I will be the first in line to smack the smug off of the person who coined the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" platitude, I don't think I would trade any of those nights for the sweet coma of NyQuil on an empty stomach.
I wish I could say that I eventually outgrew that nightly routine, that the guided relaxation exercises, the ocean's relaxing surf tapes, the medicine cabinet of sleep aids finally quieted the clamor of past mistakes made and future disasters awaiting. Hubby wishes I could say it too, instead of sighing loudly and fluffing my pillow furiously and often, disturbing his irritatingly deep and restful sleep. Three a.m. still comes for me, like it does for pretty much everyone I know at this point in life, and while I am much more likely to plot entire novels, and promptly forget them come morning, or plan my weekly schedule down to what I will have for a snack on Wednesday, I still occasionally get up and wander into the backyard, stretch out on a lounge chair under the full moon and try very hard to appreciate being awake.