As I started figuring out how to end insomnia, I had the impression that as I am on this path I am not supposed to spiral down, things aren’t supposed to get worse. Boy oh boy have I been wrong…
We all imagine the recovery path as an upward line: as soon as we start learning and applying the fundamental principles, things get easier and easier. That’s not nearly the truth, and those who’ve been on this journey can attest.
So whether you’ve been on this path for a while or just about to jump in, I find it so helpful to be aware of possible ups and downs that are going to happen on the way. And be ready for them.
“Setbacks” are the natural part of the journey
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anyone who’s done it without spiraling down from time to time, including myself. Insomnia is accompanied with the fear and worry around sleep, so that means we are going to deal with a lot of beliefs that keep those fears alive. And at some point the fear might show up in the form of a scary “what if” thought or an “odd” experience – naturally making us more worried and thus sleep can become elusive.
“Setback” is also an opportunity to face fear and to resolve it. The most straightforward way to deal with the fear is to be willing to get in contact with it instead of trying to hide from it. This is why setbacks give us a chance to show the brain that we are safe.
I know, it sounds scary and no one really likes the idea of going through such an experience but the good news is that setbacks always end. No matter how long or intense it is, it is destined to end because sleep is unavoidable.
Think about all the setbacks that you might have gone through. Each of them probably felt like “the worst”, didn’t it? That’s exactly how each insomnia episode feels – unique, special, never-ending, but what really happens is that the brain is trying to make us very uncomfortable so that we could do something about it (that’s why we get into the fight, flight or freeze mode – it’s a coping mechanism). And it will use all the tricks to make this setback feel like no other. But in reality, setbacks are just a way the brain is trying to keep us safe. By showing it that we are safe (because insomnia is based on a perceived threat) we can help turn off that fear response which results in less and less setbacks until they fade away.
The recovery journey doesn’t have to be a torture
Think about all the rules that we hear: get up if you can’t sleep, stop drinking coffee, don’t talk about it, don’t take naps, don’t dare to sleep-in… When we do things out of fear of losing sleep, without kindness and self-compassion, the journey gets unnecessarily stressful. And unfortunately with some practices like classic CBT-I that is a common experience.
We begin to pressure ourselves into certain rules, but even though we do everything right we keep struggling the whole way. Having gone through this myself, I can say that we can be much gentler on ourselves without sabotaging the recovery path.
For example, we feel bad for sleeping-in or taking a nap and that makes us more worried “What if I screwed up?”, but when we forgive ourselves for it and keep going, then the pressure is no longer there which helps to break the vicious cycle.
Just know, at any given moment of the journey, you can provide comfort and care for yourself.
Rough patches can happen in the end of your journey, too (and that’s okay)
And that can make us feel so frustrated! Like we’ve spiraled down to the square one.
I’m gonna tell you my experience: just before I ended my insomnia story, my setbacks looked worse than what I had in the beginning! In the beginning I had all-nighters and I hated them, and as I was progressing, I stopped having them… while in the last stage there were ONLY all-nighters. So it was either a good night or no sleep at all.
If you‘ve been on this path for sometime and now feel like you are doing worse than before just know that you are no way near the square one – it might actually be one of your last obstacles after which you forget about insomnia for good!
As the saying goes: the darkest hour is just before dawn.
What triggers these setbacks? Well, anything that you find unacceptable for yourself. Sometimes I get comments like: “I’ve been doing so well, but then I read or heard about X and now it set me back. I feel worse than before. I wish I never knew this.” Understandably, a very frustrating experience, but the truth is we can’t protect ourselves forever from anything that can trigger us. As long as there is a thinking pattern: “I’m okay with this and I’m not okay with that” – we are going to get in those traps and we will feel angry at ourselves and at the triggers themselves.
I talked about this issue at length in my video, including how to deal with that. Check it out.
Take care ❤️