It’s been awhile now since I’ve found myself here in the quiet lamplight of 3am. I used to spend most of my time here, alone in the dark and soaking up the silence. Sobriety has given me plenty already, but among it’s most generous gifts has been giving me back something I lost years and years ago: sleep.
Sweet, uninterrupted sleep.
The kind of sleep where you sink and fold into yourself, lost for hours in a shameless, sober blackout. The kind where you leave for a little while to wherever it is that still no one can explain. We’ve taken photos of pinwheel galaxies that are light years away, and have photos of the earth taken from the dusty corners of our own universe, but we still can’t see where we go when our eyelids are weary and our brains turn off.
Or, finally turn back on.
I woke up drenched in a cold, wet sweat, as though someone threw a bucket of watery awareness on me, the sheets stuck to me like a bad dream. I just needed to get up and dry out; my middle of the night metaphor for sobriety. The uncertain blackness, the clammy discomfort, the what-the-fuck-just-happened moments of waking that cling to you like sweat-drenched bedding, trying to piece together where you’ve been and what you’ve done using the few mismatched pieces of what you actually remember.
I’ll trade drenched and sober in the dark at 3am for drunk and in denial at any hour of the day.
I love this hour of the night, when ideas aren’t shamed away. Imagination must be an insomniac, always wandering through our sleepy dreams and startling nightmares, painting scenes and ideas our waking brains couldn’t handle or muster. She waits until you can’t think her away, releasing the absurd and ingenious like storm-crazed sparrows once you’ve fallen asleep, turning all the bits of your day they’ve collected into tidy nests in your dreams, hatching tiny little monsters that couldn’t otherwise survive while you’re awake.
Sleep and all that happens when our senses shut down is eerily similar to being drunk: unconscious and abandoned in a world beyond our control, created from all the dark places deep inside us that only come out to play at night. Maybe that’s why I find this witching hour so provocative, caught in the throws between twilight and dawn, not lost to the ethers of sleep but also not exactly awake, either.
It’s like being drunk without the drink.
To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come.
Our poor brains. They never stop, not even in sleep. It’s no wonder Hamlet craved that dreamless sleep with such distrust, as even in death there’s no certainty of what might come. And so, we drink to usher on that dreamlessness like a half-alive kind of dying.
Like being awake at 3am in the strange limbo between days.
Addiction was my personal purgatory, as though I was bound there alone in the dark. All the tiny monsters from my nightmares would cross over, blurring the lines between a waking hell and tormented, sleeping oblivion. I was never sure of which was worse as neither was better than the other; to be haunted and conscious or blacked out and dreading daylight.
Because drunkenness craves darkness.
It craves it so much that it creates it. But not the romantic 3am sort of darkness, like the kind that called me from my sleep tonight. It craves the indulgent, thick and intoxicating kind of darkness that spills like ink into clear waters; overtaking it, consuming it, transforming it into darkness itself. It creates the next-best-thing to the dreamlessness all addicts desire: a dead and numbing dullness, a sort of sensory blindness that leaves you sleepwalking through your life.
When I was drinking, I would wander in my sleep. I’ve been known to crawl into bed naked with house guests (sorry to all of you I’ve done this to) and to scour the kitchen cupboards to eat whatever I could find. I’ve left the carnage of half a dozen, half-eaten chocolate Easter bunnies all over the kitchen with only the ears eaten off of each one. I’ve woke up with a mouthful of half-chewed cashews, nearly choking on my unconscious midnight snack. I’d wake up in places I know I didn’t
fall asleep pass out, and I’d never have any recollection of how I got there, or why I was fully dressed when I know that I wasn’t just hours before. The next morning I’d listen to the stories of my sleepwalking adventures from my unfortunate (though entertained) witnesses as though they were talking about someone else entirely. I’ve been caught struggling with locks trying to leave the house, and Hubs hated our 6th floor apartment in New Orleans with windows that opened and had no screens, for fear in my sleep I’d be sure I could fly (I was once found by my friend in the middle of the night, naked and alone in the bathroom, dreaming I was a mosquito). I’ve woken up upside down and unclothed with my legs up the wall, battered and bruised from somehow navigating my way to the other side of our old hoarder-esque storage room in what I can only imagine must have looked like Gollum traversing a junkyard in the dark.
And even sober, I still sleep-eat. Just the other night I woke up halfway through eating 3 slices of banana bread in bed that I must have gone downstairs to actually slice and retrieve; it’s terrifying to think I’m using knives when I’m not even awake. But that’s what addiction and being drunk is like: running with scissors on slick, wet ice.
Even in sleep, I’ve always struggled to rest, always caught in the surreal space between being awake and dreaming.
Suspended somehow in the 3am window of being alive, where it’s not quite twilight, and not quite dawn.
It’s as though whatever remained of my sober mind would try and compensate at night for all the waste and loss of my drunken days, my reality becoming blurred to the point of being asleep while awake, and awake while asleep.
And that’s how things end up in the inky, watery darkness of being drunk all the time, your up becomes down and your down becomes up and it’s forever 3am and you’re disoriented and sleepwalking through life in search of something to fill you up.
It’s morning now.
I’ve made it to the other side of 3am, the side where it slowly grows decisively brighter and where I’m not alone in the dark anymore, bookended between yesterday and tomorrow. I’m not upset that sleep was elusive, or that 3am called me like an old friend so we could ride out the darkness together with sobering nostalgia.
I’d rather be awake through the night than still sleepwalking through my days.