Remember that strange “creep-me-out” fad in the late ’90s when we had the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine, and that book of scary stories with that ugly skull on the cover? And there was that TV show, Are You Afraid of the Dark? To be honest, I don’t remember anything about them, but I do remember one thing: I WAS afraid of the dark. Not in the “there’s a monster under my bed!” kind of fear. My fear was not that irrational. No, I believed in ghosts. And then after watching a re-run airing old crusty footage of UFO sightings, those ghosts became aliens. Now I was afraid to look outside my window at night. I was afraid of the unexplained sounds that tinkered in the living room. I was afraid of the planes that flew outside my window. Those planes looked weird. I kept my glasses on at night because I knew I would be too afraid to reach for them later when I was woken up by the alien sitting in my closet.
And that was only a couple years ago . . .
Okay no, I just lied. I was a little girl when those things kept me awake at night. The truth is I’m not going to talk about childhood fears. I’m going to talk about the days when I was an adult and still afraid of the dark. This time was different though. My fear began in my dreams. There was the dream where I could not wake up no matter how much I tried, and the dream where someone was sitting inside my room only a few feet away, and the one when I was sleeping next to my mother and a sinister, Voldemort look-alike was about to attack. Sometimes I would manage to make a sound, and my parents would hear me in the other room and check on me (during the days I was still living with them). A couple of times I woke up standing next to my bed. Every time I woke up my heart was racing and the fear stayed with me as I woke up in the dark. There was this sense of panic I couldn’t shake.
So I thought about it. I’ve spoken to others who have experienced the same thing, my father being one of them. We are grownups, but once we enter our dreams, we become vulnerable and our sense of reality gives way to the imaginary, and we become afraid of the “dark.” We spend eight hours every day living an imaginary life with fantastical elements, scary, beautiful, dark or light, and impossible. In a dream, anything can happen, and the feeling of helplessness can be just as real as if we were awake. So how do we change those feelings that give us acid reflux and cause us to hyperventilate? Well, we could start by cutting down on those trips to Panda Express. Hhhhmm . . . Chinese American food.
In case you are a diehard Chinese food eater, or if you’re like me and refuse to give up eating sugar (another nightmare causing agent), you can do what I’ve learned. Fight back. It’s simple: punch the air like you have superpowers. Or if you like to pray, pray while you are punching the devil in the face. No really — punch the air. Prayer emboldens the mind, punching or doing some sort of physical movement adds energy to your body because the truth is, our mind is still working in our dreams, but our bodies are lying still, lifeless and useless. Bring security to yourself when you’re lying in bed and have just woken up from a dream. Kick that pillow in the face, punch that ceiling in the eye. Get your body moving and remind yourself you’re not helpless, trapped in a dream. After doing this I began fighting back not just after I woke up, but during my dream state as well. I was not helpless anymore. I was empowered and confident. I was a ninja. At least for eight hours. I have not woken up in a panic for about two years now since I started punching that bad dream in the face.
I’ve actually learned to use this technique with many things—bad thoughts that enter my head, insecure feelings, sickness, annoying people (Ha! Just kidding). Sometimes when I sense that my thoughts have become victim-like (e.g. I’m not cool, I’m never going to amount to much . . . etc.), I like kicking a branch. Some may prefer cleaning that glass window vigorously, running a mile, or taking that trash to the curb (metaphor intended). Or you could do what I did when I was a little girl shaking in my room. You could sing “Jesus Loves Me”. That totally worked by the way. I haven’t seen any aliens since.