I’ve been afraid of the dark since I was a little kid. I couldn’t tell you the day my fear started but it has been a life-altering fear that has affected my sleep and even my marriage in a big way. Until a few months (yep, months) ago, I couldn’t sleep alone in a room even if all the lights were on because I knew it was dark outside. The fear was not logical and it felt childish. Here I am, a 30 something mother who is afraid of the dark? It was embarrassing and annoying and even caused issues in my marriage.
When I was a little girl, I would sleep with the sheets over my head even if it was sweltering. I wouldn’t allow even one hair on my head to stick out because I thought I could hide from ghosts and witches under the sheets. I didn’t stop this until I was a teenager. As an adult, it was so bad that when I tried to sleep alone in a room, I would doze off for a second then wake up with a start every few minutes and would have to look around the whole room. And this is with all the lights on, mind you. I would never have, in a million years, even tried sleeping alone with the lights off.
And it wasn’t just in bed. When I was alone in a public bathroom, I would leave my stall door cracked so I could see out… just in case. Whenever I would get home from work (before we had Boots) I had to check every single room, closet, and shower in the house and turn on every single light. The fear was exhausting.
But I am proud to share that today, my fear of the dark is no longer a part of my life. I have overcome the fear after literally decades of work trying to do just that. I can go to bed on my own, without Anel in the room, without all the lights on. I still leave the bathroom light on as I’m falling asleep but I think it’s just a crutch at this point.
So what, exactly, was I afraid of? I’ve been afraid of ghosts since I was little so I know it was that, but I think it was also just the unknown. Everything I couldn’t see or hear. What would crawl out of a corner or from under my bed? It wasn’t logical when I explained it, and every day I thought: tonight will be different. But it was never different.
What ultimately ended up making the difference was two-fold: 1. Going on medication for anxiety 2. Seeing Amalia at night… Let me explain.
Amalia– This is going to sound a little woo woo to some of you but I always saw/felt ghosts/spirits as a kid but was told for my whole life that they weren’t real. I know not everyone believes this but I know they’re real. I’ve seen them. I’ve felt them. I’ve even communicated with them. But it took me seeing Amalia interact with a “spirit” to realize that they actually aren’t that scary at all. It’s usually family members who have passed that are saying hello. Literal friendly ghosts!
The first time I saw her do that was at my grandfather’s funeral when she was 6 months old. She had a terrible stomach bug that she ended up giving to every single one of my family members, including my grieving grandmother. It was a hot mess. Everyone had to delay their flights because they were so sick. Somehow I managed to be the only one who didn’t get it. Anyway, on the worst night of it, Amalia was so so sick, projectile vomiting everywhere, and Anel was puking and fainting. I was holding her in bed trying to get her to drink Pedialyte when all of a sudden she looked into the middle of the room and started hysterically laughing. Because I felt it too, I knew it was my grandfather making her laugh. He was a total jokester and saw the humor in the situation.
That was my first huge shift. Then a year later on the date of his death, she did the exact same thing. At that time she could speak a little so I asked her what she was laughing at and she said a man. I mean, goosebumps, right? We’ve had a few more instances like that, one where she named my great uncle by name even though I had never told her about him.
Seeing her interact with “the other side” without fear has been instrumental in me overcoming my fear.
Medication– When I started my SSRI, I had no idea how many areas of my life it would touch. It not only helped get rid (for the most part) of my anxiety, but also helped my insomnia, and fear of the dark which I was not expecting at all. It was last Christmas, about a month after I went on meds when I went to bed on my own one night and actually fell asleep before Anel came to bed. The next morning I was jumping for joy but figured it was a fluke and that I must have been extra tired. So I tried it again the next night and was shocked to find that I was able to fall asleep again. Since then it’s been smooth sailing. This was after the Amalia incidents so although it had already been getting better, I think the meds were the final thing I needed.
Before all of this, I had tried seemingly everything and anything to help. Not being able to sleep alone was a huge issue. I couldn’t go on trips by myself. I had to wait until Anel wanted to go to sleep before going to bed myself, even if I was exhausted. And my sleep was terrible because I would wake up scared. And for many other reasons but that was one of them.
Here are a few of the ways I tried to overcome my fear over the years:
Traditional therapy– I started seeing a kid psychologist at age 5(ish) about my fear of the dark. I remember that I loved going because she always had fruit roll-ups and I wasn’t allowed to have them at home. We would talk and play with toys and she would make me draw pictures of what I was scared of. The photos were always of a witch under my bed.
Hypnotherapy– I worked with a hypnotherapist (over the phone) for years and out of everything I tried, this was the only one that moved the needle at all. She is the same woman I worked with for my hypnobirthing, Laura. She’s wonderful and we’ve been working together for 10 years now. When we first started, she told me that it usually takes 2-3 phone sessions with meditations in between to get over a big fear. After our 5th session, I finally started to improve and was able to sleep in my apartment without waking up every few minutes. This was before Anel and I moved in together so I was still alone a lot of the time.
Meditation– As part of my hypnotherapy, Laura made me guided meditations that I would listen to nightly. They helped but I was literally too afraid to keep my eyes closed to meditate at night so I would have to do them during the day or with my eyes opened… So I don’t think I got as much out of them as I could have.
EMDR– EMDR stands for “Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing” which is a type of psychotherapy that is supposed to help with deep-rooted fears and PTSD. I did this for about 6 months and it did nothing for me with the fear, sadly. But was cool and helped with my anxiety!
Photo by Julia Dags.