For most of my adult life, I have been sleep deprived, and I know I'm not alone. Our society thrives on Starbucks coffees, sugar-filled energy drinks, and burning-the-candle-from-both-ends types of lifestyles. Over committing, over promising, and under delivering. That's the American dream! ...Right?
There was a period of my life, mostly from my late teens to mid twenties, when I never slept. When my life was one big party and the only way I made it to the next party was by napping. In college, I thrived on procrastinating my school work by pulling all nighters. I once wrote a 25 page paper on the night before it was due from 1am-4am. I got a B+. It's what I did, and really, it's all I knew.
Although I have always really enjoyed sleeping, there was a long period of time where I wasn't getting much of it. As a result, I was sick a lot. I regularly felt like shit because I was always tired and always sick. I was so sick that I actually had my tonsils removed at the age of twenty because I was getting strep throat so often, my tonsils had swelled so large that they were touching to the point that I was having trouble swallowing and breathing. It was as painful and gross as it sounds.
Whenever anyone (and "anyone" was usually my mom) questioned my lifestyle and lack of sleep, I would always respond the same way: "I'll sleep when I die."
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
I eventually learned that the life I was living was not sustainable. Staying out until 6am and sleeping until 6pm was not how I wanted to spend my weekends. Drinking on weekdays and battling work with a hangover was not enjoyable for me. The sleep deprived version of Julia is not my best look. The hungover version of Julia was even worse. It was obvious to me that something had to give.
After starting to see my therapist in 2012, it became clear that I was using alcohol to numb my feelings. I didn’t want to feel anything. I was attempting to numb my depression, my anxiety, my lack of self-respect, and my self-worth. What I hadn’t realized is that when you numb the bad, you also numb the good. You can’t choose -- when you numb, you numb it all. When you’re numb, you miss A LOT. For me, it felt like I was barely awake in my own life.
I have thousands (quite literally) of pictures from this period of my life. What I find interesting as I look through old pictures is that I remember waking up most mornings and saying, “I don’t remember anything about last night! HAHA! We must have had so much fun!”
Why is this idea of drinking until you can’t remember what happened so appealing? I lived it for years and I don’t have an answer.
I’m a bit embarrassed to show these photos, but it gives you a good idea of what my life looked like at the time.
Any person who met me around age twenty-six or older may not even be aware that I had a party side to me because that's not the type of lifestyle that I currently live.
In my mid-twenties, I found a passion for cooking and exercise which made me feel good all of the time, and I realized that my late night partying didn't really compliment this new lifestyle. Instead of staying out until 6am, I wanted to be in bed before 10pm so I could wake up at 6am to go for a long run or practice yoga. Instead of drinking alcohol excessively, I discovered the joy of having an occasional glass of wine in a more low key social setting.
Once I started working with my therapist, I learned new coping mechanisms for dealing with my feelings. I learned new ways to communicate my feelings, deal with my anxiety, and created newer, healthier habits to maintain a happy life. I found ways to respect and love myself. Overall, I discovered that sleeping more and drinking less alcohol allowed me to feel less depressed, less anxious, more patient, more aware, and happier.
I wanted to make a lifestyle change, so I had to make changes to my ENTIRE life -- where I was living, who I was spending my time with, what I was eating, how I was spending my free time, who I was dating, when I went to bed, when I woke up, and where I worked. When I started making changes to all areas of my life, everything got better.
Before I knew it, my sleepless nights of partying and drinking were a thing of the past, and I found myself living a healthier life filled with lots of restful nights.
Now, on the days when I feel tired, I take a nap. When I feel anxious or depressed, instead of looking to numb, I look for ways to express my feelings. I keep a journal, I talk to my therapist, I practice yoga, I sit in meditation.
I found new ways to cope. I found new ways to live. I found new ways to really feel alive.
Everything in my life now has a purpose and fills me with joy. Despite how tired I might feel some mornings, I wake up every day and can't wait to start my day -- it's an amazing feeling!
I am writing all of this to say that when I was in my early twenties, I was an idiot.
"I'll sleep when I die." Really? That's something I said?
I'm ready to sleep now. I don't want to die. I want to be awake and alive and enjoying every second and every breath of this life. I care very much about living which is why I have made so many changes to my life -- so I can really feel alive!
I gave up drinking coffee years ago. If I'm tired, I want to feel tired. I want to take a nap. I want to learn my lesson about why I am tired and go to bed earlier the next night.
I gave up drinking alcohol because I want to enjoy a life of sobriety, a life without hangovers and sleep deprivation. I want to remember every single experience of my life and feel confident that I am making choices because they make me happy and not because I am drunk.
I want to live a life with my eyes wide open, ready to see and enjoy everything that life has to offer.
Ask yourself: why is it that you need that drink after work “to relax”? Why is it that your weekend feels less interesting if it wasn’t spent at the bar? Why is it that socializing some how feels incomplete without some kind of buzz?
If drinking isn't your thing, what is? What numbing habits are part of your life? Food? Drugs? Sex? Work? Do you make yourself so busy that you have no time to sit alone with your thoughts?
People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.
I'd love for you to see things from a different perspective. I promise you, it could change your entire life. Making changes can be pretty scary and challenging, but when it's for the better, it's always worth it.
Sleep well, and when you wake up, really open your eyes. You don't want to miss this moment.