The Puritanical Versus the Diabolical Choices

I’m halfway to meeting my minimal weight loss goal of losing 9 pounds before August.  That wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  4.5 lbs down and I don’t look any different and don’t feel any different except for the whole part about feeling capable and believing things are possible that I stopped believing possible.  It’s neither really hard nor really easy at this point.  I drank quite a bit of beer this weekend but actually did the math to figure out how much exercise I would have to do to earn the beer, and then I did the exercise.  But last night I didn’t drink as I’m trying to not do several days a week.  I didn’t sleep.  Whenever I don’t drink I don’t sleep.  In some ways I’m thinking that this is the real origin of my love of drinking, aside from the enjoyable taste.  Before I started drinking regularly I had persistent and very bad insomnia.  My insomnia seemed to range from light (trouble getting to sleep but once asleep I would mostly stay asleep and only wake up once or twice a night) to very bad (near hallucinating from lack of sleep) but it was always there.  Sleep = torture.  I hated sleep my whole life because it was a constant fight.

I also used to stay up super late (2 or 3am) often because that increased the chances that when I did finally crawl into bed I would crash asleep.  You learn, at some point, that if your body refuses to go to sleep when you’re feeling tired, laying in bed with your eyes closed but being completely awake for hours is seriously wasted time.  So I would stay up until my eyes felt like wool and my head felt heavy enough for me to fall asleep while reading or writing.  But slowly, over time, as I had more access to alcohol, spent time around more people who were drinking (not teenage drinking, this is in my twenties) I really enjoyed drinking.  I never, until now, thought about the benefits to drinking other than the pleasant social aspect (I really can’t be around groups of people unless alcohol is involved I was much more reclusive before I started drinking more around people) and how good it tastes.

alcohol makes it possible for me to sleep well.

alcohol makes it possible for me to be around groups of people without doing something antisocial like pulling on their hair or crawling under the appetizer table.

alcohol reduces my generalized anxiety (especially beer).

alcohol was an amazing pain killer for my broken hip.  I took no pain pills, just drank a six pack of beer a night.  NO PAIN PILLS.  If you can’t imagine how much it hurt you come over hear and I’ll show you.

On the flip side:

alcohol makes me fat.

alcohol is expensive.

alcohol is poisonous to the liver.

alcohol is not good for the heart in the quantity I drink it.

alcohol carries with it a heavy stigma if you are seen to be anything but a very light drinker.

Perhaps I’ll need to ask my doctor for some sleeping pills.  What’s weird is that, for me, there is a greater stigma attached to being addicted to sleeping pills than there is to being a lush.  I resisted medicating my mental illness long after I had access to health insurance because for some twisted reason I thought it was a weakness to get help.  Like I was somehow stronger and better if I didn’t get therapy and definitely never took pills for my brain.  I was so wrong.  I was so very misguided and wrong.  I have, forever after, been thankful that I got over myself.  Taking sleeping pills though, I have heard so many people over the course of my lifetime refer to people who take sleeping pills as somehow lesser than themselves and it has poisoned my consciousness.  Why should people with severe insomnia not get help for it?  Why should anyone think less of a person who values themselves enough to think they deserve some sleep?  Why do we have such a puritanical view of such things?  As though never medicating anything less than a severed head is noble, suffering is admirable.

There is a camp of people who insist that there are powerful natural ways of combating insomnia.  They are fairly aggressive in their adamant belief that modern medicine is evil.  Well, it has it’s negatives for sure.  I’m the last person to argue that.  The most annoying thing is that this group of people never believes me when I say that I have tried so many natural methods of addressing my insomnia and they have FAILED, all of them.  The only thing that ever might have helped – drinking hops tea with peppermint and honey I seem to recall helped a little.  So little I never could be sure of it.  Certainly it wasn’t effective against the worst insomnia.  I recently tried it again with zero success.

Meditation, let me tell you, did nothing for me.  First of all, a mind like mine has a very hard time meditating.  My head is full, all the time.  Every hour, every minute, of every day, it is full and buzzing with noise and voices, snippets of conversation I heard or had, scraps of thoughts or big dissertations of thought, mental footnotes, running commentaries on what the eye sees, and some laundry lint.  There is only one way I know of to silence my head and that’s to write.  Sitting on the floor with my legs crossed and listening to my breathing and emptying my – I said it’s impossible to empty it – ignoring the noise in my head… ?  I think only a dead person could ignore the noise in my head.  But, for the record, I have put hundreds of hours of my life into the effort of meditating myself to sleep or into a state of calm.

Writing is the only way.

I did once get some codeine pills for soothing the great jagged pain of having gotten a root canal but instead of taking them after the first day I saved them.  I saved them because once, after three weeks of sleeping only one or two hours a night I was beginning to get seriously delirious and a concerned friend gave me extra strength codeine and it knocked me out of the dangerous cycle of no sleep and gave me the best dark undisturbed sleep of my life.  So when I got a few pills of my own, years later I saved them against the worst kind of insomnia, knowing that if it got really bad I had relief.  But I never took them, in spite of lots of bouts of bad insomnia.  They expired.  I was not brought up to treat maladies with anything but herbs.  I was not brought up to take even aspirin for headaches.  Relying on pills to get decent sleep seemed like a major failing to me.

I’ve changed though.  I’ve come to recognize that it’s easy to be puritanical when you aren’t afflicted with things that only modern medicine can aid or fix.  It’s easy to be puritanical about medications, about taking pills, if you don’t have mental illness that gets in the way of your life or your safety or your ability to leave the house.  It’s the easiest thing in the world to abstain from getting help for your pain or your broken brain or your inability to sleep if you thrive on pain, which is in itself a kind of indication of mental illness and a need for intervention.  If suffering is purifying to you then it’s a thrill to fight the insomnia with chamomile tea, it’s a thrill to feel that pounding head and know that you’re superior because you can handle the pain.

I joke about putting on the horsehair shirt to punish myself but it’s meant as a metaphorical expression of my personal shame or anger at myself and my knee-jerk reaction to punish myself.  A benefit of punishing myself is that then I don’t have to punish anyone else which is fraught with terrors for me and always comes with repercussions.  Saying what you really think to people, telling them they’ve disappointed or angered you always comes with a price and it is one I find hard to pay.  The other benefit is punishing myself before anyone else can.  But the hair shirt is all a mental exercise in punishment.  I don’t actually like pain and I see no value in suffering pain for extended periods of time, I don’t admire people more who are able to withstand great pain than those who need relief and aren’t afraid or too messed up in the head to get it.

I have come to find the middle ground on many things.  I grew up not taking aspirin or getting medicines for anything not qualified as an emergency.  I grew up thinking that it was a weakness to turn to western medicine yet I have come to be deeply thankful for it as well as concerned for what people like me will do if the medicines that make our lives so much better are no longer produced.  I don’t jump to take Advil for a headache but if it doesn’t go away on it’s own in an hour or so I take the pills because they work.  I don’t take cold medicine but I’ll take medicine for bronchitis.  I’m looking for the middle ground which may sound like a place of mediocrity but to me it represents balance.  I’m looking for balance in things.

I drink too much alcohol and I want to have a life where I can drink sometimes but don’t depend on it for my daily comfort.  I want to be always capable of choosing not to drink.  I want to find a balance so that I can have the pleasure but not poison myself or be fat or dependent because of it.  Last night it wasn’t difficult to not drink.  Once I really decide not to drink for a night or two or three it usually isn’t difficult, most nights I don’t sit around wishing I had some beer once I’ve committed to no beer.  I do it and feel like it’s fine to have a ginger beer or a tonic and lime without alcohol.  But then I pay with lack of sleep or crappy sleep.  So maybe the middle ground is to talk to my doctor and get a prescription for some sleeping pills.  Preferably not ones that cost $25 a pill.

This is a great time for seeking balance.  Balance for me would most likely be way off kilter to someone else.  We all have our own center and none of us can tell each other where to find it.  When you start to find it, you’ll feel it.  You’ll feel yourself getting closer to it.  What it feels like is: right.  What it feels like is: relief.  The more you feel the rightness of your center, of your balance, the more attracted to it you’ll become.  It’s self generating, just like pain, anger, and hopelessness can be.  It’s in the little details.  The small decisions you make every day that add up to a whole picture of the life you’re living.  Patience is the only way to the center.

A lack of patience has been my enemy.  My friend Robin recently had knee surgery and I’ve been following along in her recovery and feeling her impatience to heal, to get  back to doing what she’s used to be doing.  There have been setbacks and pain and frustration for her.  I understand all this because I went through it while healing my hip.  My impatience led to so many setbacks, but I didn’t see it back then.  I didn’t know how to control it or damp it down.  Three months of  being bedridden and I wanted to just get up and walk.  It took six months after breaking my hip to be able to actually walk without a cane.  On my own.  But it took a year to walk without pain.  Then it would hurt every time I tried to do any real exercise.  It would hurt for sometimes days afterwords.  I was impatient and got depressed and hopeless constantly.  I’d think I saw light and then it would just be dark again.  I had expectations and no patience.  Not a winning combination.  Now I understand what kind of patience you need.  I only understand because I’ve been developing it and now I feel it.  That the process of healing, healing of any kind, takes time and deliberation.  There are those superstars who get injured and “press through the pain” and heal fast and those people are your worst enemy because they believe deep in their bones that it can be like that for everyone if only they will it to be that way when the truth is, most people will hurt themselves worse if they “press through the pain”.  But if you listen to the rare people for whom that isn’t true, you will hate yourself for not healing fast enough, for every setback.  You will feel inferior, inadequate, and weak.  These feelings will feed off of themselves and grow stronger and more debilitating.

Cultivate patience.

*********************************

As if on cue I went downstairs to get more coffee and told my mother about my night of bad sleep and how I was considering asking my doctor for some pills.  She gasps in horror (literally, not theatrically) and says “Oh no!  Don’t do THAT.”  As though I’d just said I was thinking of amputating my head to get some sleep.  I asked why on earth I shouldn’t do that and she says “Well, you haven’t exhausted every other option yet.” as though sleeping pills are some evil thing that must be avoided at all costs and that only drug addicts take them and that somehow taking them will make me a lesser person.  It is easy to see where I came by my feelings about taking medications.  But when she says I haven’t “exhausted” every option I want to say that new “options” are being thought up by people constantly and at what point do I say “Hey, my sleeplessness may be part of my wiring just as my mental illness is and not be fixable with gentle herbs, and I deserve to have good sleep.”

I’ve already had 30 years experience of some pretty hardcore insomnia cycles and never had really good sleep until I got pregnant, and then the sleep was gone again when I had Max (which is normal), but then I started drinking more and getting better sleep.  In the last ten years the best sleep I’ve gotten is any night I drink beer.  No wonder I love it so much.  It also makes panic and general dread disappear.  30 years experience trying natural remedies and tricks for the brain and therapy – exactly how long do I need to go sleepless before I can take sleeping pills without a stigma?  How many natural remedies must I try before I can, with respectability, try what modern medicine has to offer?  How many times do I need to crack my skull against the brick wall that isn’t going away before I decide to stop trying what doesn’t work?  People will always be coming up with new natural remedies for insomnia, so how many more years of crappy sleep (or NO sleep) do I need to go through before considering my efforts at not turning to modern medicine honorable enough?

Meanwhile the cacophony of people saying really helpful stuff like “Getting good sleep is vital for losing weight” and “Sleep is important for brain function” and “the most effective beauty aid is plenty of sleep” is like a constant little needle in my side.  Yes, I know, I know sleep is one of the most important things I can do for my body but if the same people all think it’s a cop-out or wrong or evil to take sleeping pills and none of these other things work- I’m just stuck in a constant trap.

I haven’t decided to take or not taking sleeping pills.  I haven’t decided to try or not try more natural remedies.  What I have decided is that ignoring my mother’s shocked gasp or all the people pushing more natural remedies at me as though the magic one is still waiting for me and it’s my fault I don’t get sleep if I don’t try absolutely every single one of them.  People want to be helpful and I’m going to let them make their suggestions.  Maybe one of them really will turn out to be the magic solution I’ve been waiting for all my life.  But what I have decided is that I will not feel shame if I decide to take sleeping pills.  I will not let anyone besides myself drive this body of mine.  The best thing I ever did for myself was get medicated for my mental illness and I ignored a lot of negative input about that from people.  I have thanked myself every day that I’ve taken my medications.  Even the Paxil which eventually did so much damage by causing that enormous weight gain.  I still benefited so much from taking it.  I will not let anyone influence my decisions with value judgments about my options.

It’s like the contest between women who have their babies completely naturally, without any kind of pain killer, and the ones (like myself) who opt to benefit from the pain killers.  The ones who don’t use any modern intervention are often (NOT ALWAYS) self congratulatory and there is a general idea that they are superior to women who go for more comfort.  A lot of times they don’t mean to do it but they  believe they are better women for having endured the pain and done the whole thing without intervention and that belief leaks out and stabs other womens sense of worth.

I’m happy for any woman who does her birthing completely naturally, especially if it’s meaningful for her to do so.  But I don’t think they’re better than women who don’t go completely natural and certainly they are not superior to women who get C-sections.  I don’t believe I’ve ever felt defensive about my choices in giving birth but I have felt the need to defend others and angry at the arrogance I have experienced in some women over this issue.

Why should there be such value judgments attached to these personal decisions we make?  How can we know what is ultimately the best solution for another human being?  How can we judge whether being hooked on sleeping pills isn’t better than becoming an alcoholic?  Do YOU face that same scenario?  What would you choose?  What works for one person doesn’t work for another.  It’s the same with diet.  Nothing but protein might work really well for one body and be disastrous for another.  It is arrogant for any of us to assume that our personal experience of things is automatically universal.  That our answer is everyone’s answer.

I choose to follow my own path and make decisions specific to my needs and what I know of myself and many of my choices are between two evils.  Maybe the choices aren’t great, but I always have choices and they’re mine to make.  I don’t think people who take sleeping pills are inferior to those who either continue to suffer a life of little sleep nor do I think they are superior.  No value judgments at all.

Once again, I am cultivating patience.  My mother means well, but she doesn’t know what’s best for me.  She never has.

I reject the idea that patience is a “virtue” but embrace patience as a great tool.

5 comments

  1. Ann says:

    Sleep is more important than what other people think. I have a two weeks good sleep/two weeks bad sleep cycle. No insomnia, but any bad sleep sucks. I can see getting some help to get it. Why not?

  2. angelina says:

    for most of my life I just resented sleep because it was so hard to get and I was always having nightmares (still have those more often then dreams) and then I’d have crappy sleep- I never even liked sleep until I got pregnant. That was the first time (early, not later in the pregnancy) I got really good sleep. Like dreamless solid sleep for 8 to 10 hours in a row without interruption. It was amazing. So ever since then I know what I’m missing when I’m not getting good sleep.

    My friend MSS reminded me that you can get over the counter sleeping pills. If I decide to take anything I might try that first. I am just going to sit on this sitch for a little longer. I’m going through a lot of transitions with my eating and exercising habits right now- gotta tackle one thing at a time.

  3. Aimee says:

    I suppose you can guess what I would say – you HAVE exhausted the options, to the point that you’re exhausted thinking about it. It’s easy for me to say let the stigma go, and see your doctor, though. I owe my life, literally, and those of my sons, to modern medicine. (Not to say that I don’t know the problems inherent in the world of medicine, but it had it’s benefits, as you well know.)

    You know yourself well, and I trust that you will take care of yourself. Big hugs!

  4. angelina says:

    thank you Aimee! It is good to hear from another person who has had plenty of cause to appreciate the benefits of modern medicine. With any medicine, natural or not, there is a balancing act you have to engage in where you are weighing the benefits versus the side effects. I was just super shocked at my mom’s reaction because even though she raised me not to take western medicine (we did vaccines, just no antibiotics or pain relievers or cough syrups or anything like that) she is bi-polar and taking a combinations of meds for it and has admitted that they have made a huge difference in her quality of life. But she seriously freaked at the idea of me taking a sleeping pill. She did apologize for it later but it totally underlined the whole point I was making in the post about people’s attitudes about sleeping pills and how I came to be reluctant to take them myself.

    But I definitely won’t hesitate to take them if I need to.

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