I love sharing insights that I’ve gained through sobriety, spirituality and parenting and I admit that I like to wrap things up in neat little packages. I don’t usually post until I’ve come to some sort of conclusion that I (and hopefully others) can learn from. I like finding meaning, lessons and most of all, closure.
That’s probably why I’ve never written in detail about how I suffered for nearly 30 years from severe night terrors. I no longer have them and while I’d love to be able to give you a list of bullet points describing how I overcame them, I can’t.
I can only tell you the story about how I was miraculously healed. (That’s another reason why I haven’t written about it. People tend to get a little squeamish when folks start talking about miracles.)
If you’ve ever had night terrors, you understand how debilitating they are. My night terrors were rooted in abuse that I suffered as a child. When I first learned that people who suffered abuse sometimes developed PTSD, I looked up the symptoms. Night terrors, anxiety attacks, being painfully triggered by reminders of traumatic events, unable to be touched in certain places on my body, depression, substance abuse…I’d experience just about all of the symptoms I’d read about. Although I was never diagnosed by a professional, I’m convinced that I had PTSD.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that I had night terrors 3-7 nights a week from about the age of 8 until I was almost 38. I screamed like I was being murdered, ran into walls and furniture, tried to and sometimes succeeded in running out of the house, threw things at walls, tried to physically move my bedmates (humans and pets), and woke up physically and mentally exhausted for nearly 30 years.
It was also disruptive for anyone who slept in the same house as me. I scared my friends at sleepovers but eventually, everyone got used to it. It got to the point that my parents wouldn’t bother coming in to check on me and later, when I was married, my husband would roll over and go back to sleep.
It was a very different experience for me. I always woke up with my heart beating out of my chest, sweating profusely, shaking and filled with a foreboding sense of shame. I’d feel such embarrassment over waking people that I’d rise in the morning with a lingering sense of humiliation. And I did this for 30 years.
I tried many methods to stop the night terrors. I slept with a healing crystal under my pillow, I smudged our yard with sage to ward off negative energy, I begged and pleaded with God to make them stop. I researched sleep disorder clinics, talked to a therapist, took herbal remedies and I got drunk. Since the night terrors usually happened within the first 2 hours after I fell asleep, drinking helped me pass out through the danger zone. Certainly not something I recommend as a coping mechanism but that’s what I did.
When my husband and I were trying to get pregnant for the first time, we talked about the night terrors and how they could affect our unborn child. To say that I was stressed about how I could damage our baby is an understatement. I wasn’t going to be able to drink and I had no other plans or ideas.
The night terrors stopped as soon as I got pregnant with our son and have never returned. It’s been 6 years this month. This was years before I became a Christian but I knew even then that God had healed me. One night I had unbearable night terrors and the next night I didn’t.
It’s been suggested to me that maybe we play a role in choosing who we are to become before we’re even conceived, that we have a pow-wow of sorts with God to go over the possibilities. I like that idea. I can just picture God throwing his hands up in the air at my attempts to make the night terrors go away until he has to take the drastic measure of healing me so that we can get on with the plan. Smudging with sage, Karen? Seriously? (God chuckles knowing that I’m going to paint my kitchen that color years down the road.)
Night terrors were one of many things keeping me from progressing in my life. If they had continued, I imagine my road to sobriety would’ve taken longer and my struggles with anxiety would’ve been that much harder. I can painfully imagine how difficult motherhood would’ve been with chronic night terrors and I don’t know how I would’ve coped. I’m eternally grateful that I didn’t have to.
Skeptics would say that my pregnancy permanently altered my biochemistry. Those averse to the idea of a “wish granting” God might say why would you be healed and not others? I don’t pretend to know how our creator works, but what I feel is that what happened to me has something to do with my personal, unique journey and my bigger story with God.
I could’ve chosen to see this as something completely arbitrary, a random and glorious coincidence like winning the lottery. But my heart knows differently. I don’t expect miracles to happen every day (Ok God, you healed my night terrors but left the hemorrhoids. What’s up with that?). But knowing that they can happen gives me comfort that I’m part of something bigger than myself.
I don’t want to make light of human suffering. People are in horrible pain every moment, many die too soon and we can be such a cruel species. I understand why some people have trouble believing in a loving God. What happened to me – not just the healing but the abuse, my alcoholism, everything – makes me think that the way we understand time and space is so incomplete. I believe there’s a big picture that we can’t even conceive of.
And I know that the end of my night terrors was not of my own doing.