The Drunk Girl’s Guide to Insomnia

Posted: October 10, 2010 in Early sobriety
Tags: , , , , ,

So, my fellow alcoholics and those of you who love to hate and hate to love us, let’s talk about INSOMNIA!  Yes, every de-toxing manual will affirm that this is an almost inevitable side-effect of alcohol withdrawal.  Once the shakes are behind you and the paranoia has lifted . . . once you’re feeling almost all right . . . you realize you can’t get a decent night’s sleep and have the attention of a gnat during the day to prove it.  And, it’s easy for me to go down the stony road at 4:00 a.m. when I’m pacing the carpet in a haggard imitation of Scrooge with a head cold:  “I got sober for this?”    

I’ve done a wee bit of research.  Most doctors will tell you that the insomnia can last weeks, months, or years after your last drink.  Some depressing articles have suggested that a very severe (recovered) alcoholic may never sleep normally again.  But, even having been underslept for five days in a row, and faced with these maudlin facts about my future relationship to my bed,  I refuse to be anything other than positive and optimistic about my inability to catch Zzzz’s with even the largest of butterfly nets.  (I recognize that this chirpiness is both potentially irritating and undoubtedly the manic result of the aforementioned sleeplessness.)

There are all manner of web sites devoted to solving the insomniac’s seemingly intractable problem.  But, if you’re like me, whatever you’re doing to fall back to sleep is the equivalent of trying to do the same when you REALLY have to pee.  You lie there, your bladder practically splitting your lower abdomen in half, and you (nit-wit) just think, “I can work through it… I can fall back to sleep.”  Just get up and pee!  It’s the same with insomnia, as far as I’m concerned.  No amount of self-hypnotherapy is going to push me back into the cradle of the R.E.M. cycle.  I’d do much better just to get up!

So, that’s what I do:  I get up.  I make a little coffee–because there’s no point pretending I’m going to watch The Weather Channel for 34 minutes and trot back to bed–I read a bit of my morning meditation, I might do a little work, and I screw around on line.  There today, I looked up articles on insomnia (why not?  It was topical.).  Lots of articles about how to solve the problem, but only one if it’s it already beaten you, by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlin:  78 Things To Do When You’re Struggling With Chronic Insomnia.  Now THIS was a list for ME, I thought!

Some of the tips aren’t bad, really.  I liked No. 4:  “Plan your meals for the week.”  I do this regularly before going to the grocery, and today was grocery day.  Perfect.  No. 30 appeals as well:  “Write a letter.”  This is good for us sobering-up alkies because we’ve lost touch with a lot of people while our mouth and typing fingers were strangle-holding the bottle.  No. 68 I love, actually, “Create a unique board game,” but someone’s already done it.

So… No. 68’s out.  Some of these recommendations are just… STUPID.  Like No. 7, “Make someone happy.”  The only thing you can do to make someone immediately happy at 4:30 in the morning is to be quiet.  Nos. 3 (“Pluck your eyebrows”), 33 (“Clip your nose hairs”), and 66 (“Wax your bikini line”) are just plain masochistic; and, if this list is to have the attendant effect of encouraging you to get back to bed, I can’t see how excruciating, self-inflicted pain yields this salutary result.  I could add one for Ms. Pawlik-Kienlin:  “Create a new conspiracy theory.”  Given that Nos. 3, 33, and 66 are divisible by 3 (and the latter two by 11), I can only assume that these suggestions are cruel in-jokes or a taunting clue in a matrix of international secrets associated with a fifth column movement run by insomniacs.

Others are just bad ideas in early sobriety.  So let me just let fly some warnings.  Suggestions like No. 11 (“Write an apology to someone you’ve been avoiding”) could take up way too much of your time these days.  Making the list alone will be exhausting enough to put your newly sober ass to sleep, but it’ll give you nightmares.  Then there’s No. 21:  “Make a list of things to do before you die.”  If you’ve been hugging the “one day at a time concept” close to your chest this could really spiral you out into an existential crisis.  No. 35 is something you’ve already been doing (“Face your demons”), so you can tick that off the list.  And, again, that’s definitely not a suggestion for anyone who might want to sleep in the next few months.

I do think you could try No. 38, “Find a sleep-mask,” which sounds like an interesting middle-of-the-night scavenger hunt.  Where could it be?  This would be even more interesting if you don’t own one or if the one you own is currently being worn by someone else asleep in the house.

I’ll let you know if I try any more of the suggestions on the list.  I know you’ll be insomniac yourself wondering how I get on with No. 14 (“Organize your recipes”), but I think we’ve done enough today!  For now, I’m just going to make friends with my insomnia and look at it as extra time to be the one alert and with a ready offense to take care of the sleeping world.  And I’m not tweezing anything, so forget that.

  1. I am curious about something in regards to sleeping and alcohol. When you were drinking, did you find it hard to sleep sometimes, and that only alcohol could make you tired enough to sleep? I don’t like taking pills to help with sleep, cannot stand sleepy time tea, or any other methods. But when nothing else works, alcohol will do the trick (regardless of how infrequently I consume it). I think it eases stress and the speed of the brain super-highway to encourage sleep. Reading your blog, and realizing you have done a large amount of research, I thought you might be able to share some insight.

    Thank you for sharing, and congratulations on your sobriety.

    • soberfornow says:

      Thanks for your comment. I’m definitely no expert on insomnia–this was my snarky, gallows-humor look at the consequences of recuperating from a liquid diet. In my research, I’ve also discovered that the depressant effect of alcohol gives you a sort of “false” sleep that really isn’t restful. More like “passing out.” I cannot speak experientially about an occasional, moderate consumption of alcohol for the medicinal purpose of gaining a little drowsiness. One drink for me will become five.

      So, an active alcoholic who has trouble sleeping isn’t doing it right! =) I ALWAYS have trouble sleeping without alcohol because my neuro-chemistry is so screwed from years of abuse. That said, in the slightly distant past I have used Valerian Root pretty successfully to help me sleep when I’m traveling. The usual dose is two capsules, and I do find that it helps me STAY asleep without the side effects of OTC pills (which, ironically, I don’t particularly like either). Valerian Root smells TERRIBLE, by the way, but it won’t affect your breath. Gotta think of these things.

      Thanks for reading and good luck snaring those sheep back over the fence.

  2. sheb says:

    No sex, masterbation, nothing about cleaning the house like a crack head, sort out the junk drawer. I like your style of writing; very entertaining. Strange no mention of just a good ole fashion orgasam. i guess like you say why fight it. Oh a huge meal works well making one sleepy if there not a big eater….

  3. Joan says:

    Great blog and some very interesting tips. Thanks for that.

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