In the past, I used self medication to force my body to sleep. I needed to feel the sensation of being ready to pass out in order to have peace of mind that I would fall asleep.
I spent so many nights getting revved up the second my head hit the pillow that anything less than barely able to keep my eyes open would send my mind racing.
For so long I couldn't count on falling asleep, so the fact that I sometimes took herbal, alcoholic, or pharmaceutical remedies was fine as long as it got the job done.
Get it done, Hooah!
For several months now I have not used anything to fall asleep. Last night however was the first night I felt like I needed an aid again.
My head hit the pillow and I began to feel that familiar feeling of worry.
To people who have never feared sleep this might not seem like a big deal, but in my mind that feeling has a history.
I remember a conversation I once had at the Humvee washing station on FOB loyalty.
Myself and two other guys were BS'ing while waiting for the Humvees ahead of us to finish when a couple of Mortar rounds hit way off in the distance.
These rounds hit at least a mile away--you can tell by the sound--but one of the guys who had been on base for almost a year turned white.
It happened in a flash, we laughed it off, but the guy said that every time a mortar hits he gets really anxious.
"I can't help it, man", he said
I now understand what this guy was going through more than I did back then.
Part of my understanding has come recently from a conference I attended last weekend called Veterans Trauma and Treatment.
During the conference, I learned a little bit more about how the brain works. One lecture in particular really stood out.
Bessel van der Kolk, MD is an internationally recognized leader in the field of psychological trauma. He has been active as a clinician, researcher, and teacher in the area of post-traumatic stress and related phenomena since the 1970s.
His lecture discussed how areas of the brain are affected after a trauma and he showed a video of PTSD suffers from WWI to present day.
He described the way some people's brains are effected by trauma.
Two important foundations of the brain are the stem and the limbic system. You might be familiar with the limbic system: it's the arrangement that looks like the Eye of Ra and the area of the stem always makes me think of cauliflower.
Anyway, the smooth operation of these two foundational areas dramatically influence how our higher functioning frontal lobe operates.
Well trauma, like TBI from IEDs or constant mortar strikes, can interrupt this dynamic relationship.
I like to think about the inter workings of the brain like the inner workings of our nation.
For our nation to run smoothly three things need to be consistent: energy, economy and environment.
When those things are going well we have great improvements: economic growth, ideas, wealth, etc etc.
For our brains, think of the stem area as the manager of our internal environment, the limbic system as how we manage our energy and the pre-frontal lobe as our economy.
To the brain, an IED is like a nationwide natural disaster. All systems, energy and economy are disrupted. Some systems get right back on line while others take time. Sadly, some don't ever recover.
For me, the IED was the initial environmental disaster. My systems came back on line but there were deep disruptions in my brain that manifested later as sleep problems among other things.
I use the analogy because my frontal lobe isn't smart enough to explain the science, so I'll just get right to the most valuable information: What can you do about it?
According to Dr. Bessel, the only known way to influence the inner operations of the brains foundational processes is---Mindfulness!
Apparently, mindfulness can impact the deep wiring of our brain. Now, I don't claim to understand how this happens, but I'll tell you this:
Last night I started to get nervous about falling asleep. All the demons started laughing and my memories of past sleepless nights came rushing back. I started to get out of bed to reach for my Tylenol PM, but remembered my training.
I started to take my mind into my feet and then to my knees. I started focusing on the sensations of my body instead of the thoughts in my head.
Next thing I knew, it was morning!
Hell yeah, baby!
King 1- Demons 0