Embracing the Darkness

Musings on becoming the early riser I have always aspired to be.

When I was 3 or 4, in fact, all throughout childhood, I remember getting up early. Like, 5am early. I can't pinpoint exactly when I lost that joyful gift, but I can estimate. There was a distinct moment in High School, as I neared the end of senior year that teenage rebellion kicked in. I realized, with glee, that my parents couldn't stop me from staying up. As late as I wanted. And, being the hormonal and moderately rebellious (albeit timid) kid I was, (I never got into drugs or partying, but staying up late was my rebellion) I followed through on this realization, working on homework late into the night, and staying up talking to my best friend on the phone. (Shout out to Anthony and our landline phones dying at midnight!) I was going to do what I wanted damn it, and no one could stop me.

The thrill of this experience carried on with me into the chaotic years of college, and only to the detriment of my health and well-being, but it wasn't until my late 20s and early 30s that I started to notice that many of my issues could be avoided had I a more healthy and consistent sleep schedule. But the habit had been formed, in, let's be honest, a very formative time, when the brain is gathering the goods for the trajectory of life. Fast forward to relatively recently, as I wove together the threads of my path so far, and finally landed a "real" job which required me to be up early, and unequivocally on time, the reality settled in that I would have to face one of my most difficult demons; time and my use of it.

To be fair, I have gotten much better at this, out of necessity, but the resistance has been brutal, and it is still a mad rush to get where I need to go in general. Those habits die hard. And the worst part? I don't WANT to get up late. Not even in the slightest. What I DO want, is simply more time.

So what does a formerly rebellious girl do? Re evaluate her relationship to time, being on time, and waking up early. Like 5am early. With joy, gratitude, and not even the slightest hint of resistance. Getting to work a half hour early everyday, to read, walk around, even drink tea. A dream. A heavenly aspiration.

Sounds good right?

Until life happens. Instead of watching one episode of The Office at night, I cave and watch two. One more chapter of that book. Oh, let me just paint something. I'll just be 15 minutes. A phone call from a friend. An unexpected anxiety attack. Social media sucks me into its own version of hell. Before I know it it's 10pm. 11. 12. And the cycle begins anew. I want to go to bed at 9:30, but I demand everything. My cake, and eating it too. Yum yum. Until the morning that is.

Well, 2020 is here, and I feel fed up. Officially. It's not a resolution per say, or perhaps I just want to change that word. It's more a change in perception. In looking over the past year I saw successes; things I thought I'd never be able to do, achieved. And I thought; this year? I will achieve 5am. Blissfully, gratefully, and with grace. Quite honestly, I can't take this anymore; missing the dawn, missing the quiet. No time to wake up gently with space to get grounded into the physical world again. Because let's face it, sleep is a journey unto itself. You go into another state. You need time to transition. I know I need this, and that my health and mental wellness will benefit.

All this considered, I came to a conclusion over the last few days. Obvious to some, but perhaps not to me, who for some reason still has an aversion to following the rules.

I can't have my cake and eat it too.

Deal with it.

So, as strange as this may sound. I'm taking the military approach. I'm in training folks. Hardcore. For the next few weeks, I will hit that wall. Face that frustration of having to put the book away. Of the discomfort of waking up at 5am because I didn't hit my bedtime. But I know that if I keep waking up at the desired time, my body will fall into the rhythm. The new rhythm I have truly wanted for years and years.

To be honest, there is more to this than simple rebellion. There is also depression. And I recognize that for many years, even back in high school, waking up came with loads of anxiety. Still does, on the regular. The thought of dealing with people, classes, money, stress; not waking up was the ultimate avoidance. Until the fact of having to wake up got me out of bed, and I had to add running late to the whole mess. I am facing that too, head on. And the thing I am learning is that getting up is the antidote. Facing the anxiety. Sitting with it in the darkness before the sun comes up. Drinking something warm. Doing all the things anyway. With the anxiety. For the anxiety. I suppose one could say, making friends with it. And isn't that, psychologically, what I am supposed to do?

Easier said than done. (this also sometimes makes falling asleep difficult as well, which is a whole other piece of the puzzle).

I have a lot of compassion for people who have trouble with time. Clearly, because I have done a lot of thinking on this for the last few years leading up to this critical point in my life dealing with it myself. When my students struggle, or even my friends, I am understanding to a reasonable point. (How could I not? I know how it feels). Emerging into the world is really challenging for some people. I have literally almost cried leaving my home some mornings. The idea of going "out there" seems inconceivable sometimes. And I think that for people who don't struggle with this, it is hard to understand. I wish they could. And hold space for me. And others.

That all being understood, there is something to be said for discipline. And living with a former athlete has opened me up to this. His whole young life was getting up early and getting to the field. He got up regardless of how he felt, all for love of the game.

Perhaps I am not an athlete, but there are things I care about just as much. Writing. Reading. Creating. Eating a healthy meal. Being on time for someone who made time to meet with me. Sitting quietly. I get up for those things. Because they are of value to me. And despite all of this, that terrible demon of self doubt and anxiety still sometimes slows me down, and everything I must do feels like trying to move through molasses. Even things I love and truly WANT to do.

The more I reflect and engage with this new work, the more I realize it has always been about attitude. And it has also always been about dealing with anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression thrive on lying around. Putting things off. Avoiding the inevitable. I don't go into this naive, I go into this humbled by the painful reality of life and human emotion. And by my many self implosions over the years. And the people I have hurt because of them. (Including myself). The thing is, the only person who could ever care enough to make this change was me, and for years I have berated myself and hated myself for losing that 3 year old motivation; that joy of waking up. I have wanted it for so long. But a-lot of hard things beat me down. And the rebellion didn't help either.

No more. I don't care what happens. I want to see the periwinkle sky, and hear the birds in summer. I don't want to miss anything else.

In musing about this though, It feels important to note that terrible challenge of dealing with others perceptions of people who run late, or who struggle with this too. It's a-lot of people. If I could say one thing in defense of us, it would be, go easy on us. You are right to be frustrated, we are in the wrong. But there is a-lot going on there. A lot of anxiety, fear, and self deprivation. Don't give up on them, and believe them when they say they don't mean to mess up. At least, speaking for myself, it has been the antithesis of who I aspire to be. And I thank the many people in my past who gave me second and third chances when I lost my battle with time and I was late far too much. It got me to where I am now.

I have much respect for punctuality. I also bow down to the difficulties that come with bad habits, and debilitating anxiety. I tip my hat to both and beg the world to see both sides with kindness. People come around. If they are supported and not abandoned. And I give myself that gift too, and forgive myself most of all for how hard it's been. It's ok. I've done good. Better than expected even.

A balance of military discipline and compassion has been the eventual antidote for me, as I sit here, dressed and showered on a Sunday, watching the snow begin to glow under the brightening sky, enjoying the flicker of my candle, the chai in my cup.(I actually got up at 4:45). I felt true joy this morning, and my little 3 year old self twirled around and around, saying, "see? remember? this is great!"

I know it isn't going to be smooth sailing this month, thinking otherwise would be foolish. But the time is now. For no one else but me, and the beauty of the sunrise.