While rocking Jax, my eyes scan the room. I notice dirty clothes on the floor I need to pick up. The baby monitor cord has fallen within arm’s reach. “He could electrocute himself if he chewed on it”, I think. Suddenly, I sense chill bumps on my arms and make a mental note to turn the AC up after I’ve moved the monitor cord. His breathing has slowed, finally dozing off. Looking down at his pure little face, I brush my cheek to his, think about our day together, and smile. I’m perplexed by the darling things he did and new words he learned, all while recognizing how rewarding it is to be his mommy
While admiring this perfect creature, my heart begins to pound. Here it comes again, the wave of reality that zaps me every night. I become aware, once again, that it’s US AGAINST THE WORLD. Then come tears of love, pain, shock, disbelief, loneliness, sorrow, and fear. Did this really happen? WHY???
I place my little angel down and quietly exit his room. Cleaning up Jax’s mess from minutes earlier, I try to think of what I will tell him when he starts asking questions about Daddy. Is honesty really the best policy for such an innocent child? Just then, my guilt starts to eat away at me. How many times did I show him Justin’s picture today? I’m almost positive it wasn’t as many as yesterday, or maybe I forgot. Forgot??? What the hell!!! How could I forget to show him a picture of his father? Something that I vowed to do everyday after he passed.
I pour myself a glass of wine and weep. What now, I wonder. Having an 18 month old is beyond exhausting and most days I face it on my own (unless my amazing mom has pitched in). Three hours ago I would have jumped at the chance to pee, sleep, eat, think, breathe!!! But now something has shifted and I start to feel lonely. Guess I’ll just try to get some shut eye and call it a night.
I stare at my empty bed and feel sick. I can barely stand the thought of crawling into it by myself. Upon hitting the pillow, I instinctively turn to my left (where Justin slept), hug my dog Axl, and sob into his furry back. After a good cry, I feel like I can finally try to get some sleep.
The screams, sirens, bright lights, crowds, blank stares, and loud popping noises all start to surface. “Just ignore it and think of something pleasant,” I tell myself, “it will fade.” After trying to focus on anything except my internal struggle, I turn and look at the clock. It has to be really late by now, right? “WHAT??? It’s only been ten minutes! It’s gonna be a long one tonight.”
For some, getting a good night’s rest would take precedence over just about anything. A hot shower, a home-cooked meal, or even a paid vaycay in Tahiti all pale in comparison to catching some mad zzz’s. I can recall the days of sleep being a snap. When tossing and turning all night were few and far between, merely caused by the occasional stomach ache or frequent urination while pregnant. Melting into my plush covers used to be a peak moment of the day. A close second was relaxing with Justin over a glass of wine and discussing our day. But snuggling up to the one you love at the end of the night in a warm comfy bed was pretty hard to top. A dream come true, you could say, only to be followed by a blissful ten-hour slumber.
Some nights “Entering Sandman” isn’t quite so challenging. I’m not claiming my opening story is an every night occurrence, but it’s pretty realistic. Statisticbrain.com shows a whopping 70 million people suffer from insomnia and 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorder. These statistics are shocking and frankly, I’m a little frightened. To think of 70 million people on the road who’ve had little to no sleep is quite dangerous.
The CDC released a study in 2013 claiming 9 million Americans are using sleeping pills. With my diagnosis of PTSD, a psychologist could have easily prescribed me medication to (hopefully) solve my sleep struggles. But all drugs come with side effects and the heavier the drug, the larger the list. I’m funny about taking over-the-counter pain meds and it scares the hell out of me to think of what damage I could be doing to my body in an attempt to repair it. Not to mention, I am solely responsible for an eighteen month old who frequently wakes during the night. I’m terrified at the possibility of being so “zonked out” that my body might not wake at all. So, I have decided that for me personally, the risks outweigh the benefits. For the really tough nights, I’ll stick with an occasional shot of whiskey or glass of wine.
As for the nights I actually do sleep, I’m tormented with a contrasting struggle, NIGHTMARES. I used to think the word nightmare only pertained to little girls in pigtails dreaming of monsters and goblins. They wake up to realize it wasn’t real and mommy comforts them with a glass of warm milk. Mommy assures them everything is just fine and snuggles her little one back to the Sandman. Unfortunately, nightmares don’t stop at age five. I now wake from a horrid nightmare with no one to comfort me. I look to warmth that is no longer there and realize that the nightmare can’t possibly be worse than my reality.
In my recurring nightmare I’m trying to warn everyone that Justin is going to die. Everyone is going about life as usual while I’m in agony. I’m screaming with such rage while everyone stares at me in disgust. “I got a text from him that it could happen at any moment and none of you care to go and help him? He’s going to die and he’s going to die alone while we all just sit here,” I shout at them. In logic, this makes no sense but that’s how dreams are. They take all logic and throw it out with the trash.
This is just one type of nightmare I have, as the others can get pretty dark. Because I was a witness to Justin’s death, I am still haunted with the horrendous tragedy and it’s managed to work it’s way into my dreams. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a real thing and I have worked very hard to overcome it. I’m grateful that it doesn’t consume me as a person anymore but it does live on in my mind.
With every sunset, I sense the sleep battle getting a little less problematic. Yes, I do have nights when I gawk at the ceiling for eight hours then wake up in a cold sweat from a chilling dream. However, I’m also starting to have restful nights as well. A few nights ago, I was able to lay down with a smile on my face, in lieu of the usual frown. I smiled knowing I had done my best to give Jax a fun and fulfilling day. I closed my eyes peacefully and didn’t pine over my mistakes or agonize over my loss. I simply put him first, made an added effort to enjoy the day along with a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed to do it again. Sometimes this is all that stands in the way of having a good or bad day.
I recently heard a quote that stuck with me, “Happiness is a choice”. I believe this with all my heart. If I thought otherwise, I might find myself a different person today. I’d be eating pills like candy, drowning myself in booze, or falling into a dark hole too steep to climb out of. But I affirm, life is way too precious to waste on such selfish acts. People who are broken have to make a choice to be happy and present. Even if being present is the expanded path, it’s by far, the rightful one. As a mother, I’m tickled that one day I will be able to comfort my child when he wakes up frightened from a nightmare. I will make sure he knows it wasn’t real and make him a glass of warm milk. I will assure him everything is just fine, snuggle him back to Sandman, and off to Never Never Land.