Listen in as I share a very recent lightbulb moment about why waking up is so hard for me. It’s not just that I’m a night owl, but that I’ve experienced multiple traumas around waking up. If you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, this episode is for you. I hope you gain validation and understanding from my experiences.
So I had an experience. It’s been about a week and a half now that its been percolating in my mind. And I feel like this experience is going to be a turning point of sorts for me, so I wanted to share it with you because I do think that it relates to my trauma healing and so, We’ll just see how this goes.
I don’t have fully formed thoughts, but I do have a list of 10 things and relating to the title; The waking is the hardest part, that is coming from that Tom Petty song, the waiting where he says “The waiting is the hardest part.” We’re talking about waking up here and I do have an old podcast episode about sleep shame.
For the longest time, pretty much my whole life I have really struggled with being a morning person, should I say. I’ve just said I’m a night owl. But recently I have come to figure out where this puzzle piece lands in the landscape of the trauma that I have endured. So that is what I hope to talk about today and I hope that it is validating if you also struggle with getting out of bed in the morning.
So the main idea here is that I just wanna tell some stories from my own life about waking up and why that has been difficult. And if you listen regularly to the podcast, you know that I am working really intently this year on waking up and getting up earlier, and it is bringing up a lot of my stuff. It is a tedious and long process. I’ve already wanted to give up and we’re just four months into the year, but I am continuing to move forward and it has been a learning experience.
The other day I was in the shower, and of course the shower is the place where we get all of our inspiration and where all of our ideas and creativity flow to us, but this day it was like a light bulb moment or a lightning bolt moment. That’s what it felt like. A lightning bolt moment where I just kind of recognized some experiences that I’ve had that consciously, I knew about. I knew these stories, but all of a sudden I could feel the weight of them.
I could feel how they play into my trauma healing journey and it is about waking up and getting out of bed. It was like this moment in the shower where your life flashes before your eyes. Not my whole life, but rather dozens of memories of waking up. An experience that was scary or uncomfortable or full of resistance in some way.
Then I was just thinking, “oh, no wonder waking up is difficult for me.” So I loosely ordered these experiences from youngest to oldest age, but some of them have happened across many ages. And I just want this to give you a context. Honestly, I’m just operating out of my intuition here and feeling like someone out there really needs to hear this.
So the very first memory I have that has to do with waking up is, I remember a nightmare that I had when I was three or four years old. In my nightmare, this wicked witch was chasing me and it involved very high emotion and felt very scary. And when I woke up from that nightmare, I was laying on the floor outside of my parents’ bedroom.
I wasn’t in their bedroom. Their bedroom door was closed and I was on the floor with my blanket, or a sleeping bag. And I just remember feeling a lot of emotion, feeling a lot of fear. I woke up and my legs were kicking and thrashing and screaming and nobody came.
My parents didn’t hear me, so that was really scary. If you’re a person who has experienced nightmares, I’m not generally a person, at least after that, who has experienced nightmares. My dreams are very vivid, but they’re usually not scary, so to speak. But that is one of my earliest memories is that nightmare.
Being alone after waking up
The second one is also around age five. This actually several memories of being awake in the morning and being alone. So my parents were there in the house sleeping. My sister was there sleeping, and I was awake by myself and I didn’t wanna wake anyone up. So I would turn on the TV and watch cartoons until people woke up. But it was very much a lonely feeling and feeling like I needed to be quiet, like I couldn’t just be me as a kid. So there’s another experience.
Resistance to waking up for kindergarten
I remember when I was in kindergarten, I was in the afternoon kindergarten class, so it probably started at 12:30 or 13:30 in the afternoon, and I remember several times waking up to my mother, dressing me. So as I was waking up, I could feel her moving my legs or my arms, putting them through sleeves and through pant legs and having this experience of resistance. Like, “ugh, is it time to get ready for school already?” And not really wanting to.
This speaks to something that I think as humans, we do a lot. I think it’s normal, but it does play a role in trauma, which is this idea of pushing through. Such as I don’t really wanna do that, but I have to make myself do it. So pushing through and especially when you live, generally speaking, in a freeze response you’re pushing through, working against what your body really wants and needs.
Not waking up family
Another experience around the age of five, which I have talked about on the podcast before. It’s a really early episode before episode 55. At age five, I was awake. My parents were not, and my dad’s alarm started going off and I didn’t know what to do. I remember standing there paralyzed next to my dad’s side of the bed, looking at him, looking at his alarm, and being like “well, he’s a grownup. Maybe he wants to sleep, but then why would he set an alarm? Maybe he forgot that the alarm was set and maybe he wants to sleep, maybe it’s okay.” Just going back and forth in my head, trying to decide “Do I wake him up? Do I not wake him up? If I wake him up, maybe he’ll get mad at me.”
He woke up before I was able to wake him up and he rushed to work. He was late to work and he came back 30-60 minutes later, and he had been fired for being late to work one time. He was a garbage man. So from what I know of, garbage pickups that usually happen early in the morning. Not always, but I was awake pretty early by myself.
I had so much guilt and shame from that one experience. For 30 years, I felt guilty. I felt like I should have woken him up and our lives would be so much different. So it’s not an experience of me waking up, but definitely associated with waking up early in the morning and fear and shame in all of that around the age of seven.
Finding out Santa wasn’t real
When I was seven years old, I woke up on Christmas morning and I was all excited. I was like, “ah! it’s Christmas!” in my head. We lived in this little trailer that was 50 feet long. And you can could see from one end of the trailer down to the other, just one straight shot.
I was all excited and I got up and then I saw my mom arranging the gifts under the Christmas tree and then I knew the truth about Santa and I was disappointed and sad. So within about a minute or so of waking up, I felt some intense negative emotion.
Now that in of itself is not traumatic. All kids learn this at some point in their lives. But the fact that it happened for me right upon waking up, I don’t think is coincidental. I think it Feeds into this theme of waking up is scary and hard.
Waking up to my sister having wet the bed
I pegged this experience around age eight but I think it happened several times over the years. My sister, who was two years younger than me, she struggled with wetting the bed, which is actually super normal. Two of my kids really struggled with wetting the bed until they were about 10 years old. I’ve talked to doctors about it, very normal, runs in families and it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but yet we do, right? We’re ashamed about it. I remember waking up to feeling and my sister and I shared a bed and thinking “ugh, she wet the bed again.” Just knowing that she would be getting yelled at.
As a sibling, it’s really hard to watch your sister get yelled at for something that doesn’t seem like she has much control over. Those intense feelings of dread and “ugh.” I know that happened several times.
One time my parents spanked my sister with a belt and I was so upset about it that I had to leave. I had to walk away and not be around. I just felt like it was so unfair. I’m sure there were even times when I went to bed, I don’t remember specific times, but I do remember specifically waking up before school and my sister had wet the bed and knowing she was gonna get in trouble and that I was gonna feel for her.
Waking up to loud, shrill whistles
So there’s another experience. I put this experience around ages 9 to 18. Probably happened all throughout my life, but I remember waking up and my Dad, if ever he woke us up, which was fairly rare, but it did happen regularly. He would wake us up by whistling a very loud, shrill whistle. It was like if you imagined getting woken up by the smoke detector. That like feeling was so unpleasant.
Also when my dad woke us up, he was like, “you’re awake, you move right now.” There was no transition between waking up and being up and that always felt really abrupt and cold and ugh, I just hated it so, so much.
Frozen Marbles dumped on me
He might have learned that from his dad because I have an experience, I think I was about 12 years old. I stayed with my grandparents for the summer. And I would sleep with my grandma in her bed. We were just very close and I don’t think it was anything weird, she just allowed me to sleep with her. My grandparents did not sleep in the same bedroom and we would just stay up talking and chatting, sometimes she would read and so I would read. It was actually a very pleasant time, but one morning my grandfather did not like it that I would sleep in so late and of course my grandparents had the typical old person routine where they would wake up super early at like 4-5 in the morning. They would get up and do things.
They would go gardening or whatnot and then they would take naps at noon or one or two, and then they wouldn’t be able to go to sleep. So they would stay up and their sleep schedule was scattered throughout the whole day. So my grandfather did not like it that I would sleep in until 9 or 10, probably later if I was allowed.
One morning he froze marbles and he brought them to the bed where I was sleeping and he dumped them on me, and that is how I woke up. So, talk about a experience. It was so awful. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I can feel that emotion coming up right now just thinking about it. I think it was actually quite traumatic. I don’t think my grandfather had extremely cruel intentions. I think he just wanted to teach his granddaughter a lesson, but obviously he wasn’t very trauma informed and my experience with that was not good.
Having to rush to school; Pushing through
Speaking of this pushing through energy that I talked about with waking up to my mother dressing me in kindergarten, In high school, I actually lived within walking distance to the school, and I would set my alarm for about 10-15 minutes before the bell at school rang, and I would have to wake up and immediately get up, get dressed, brush my hair, brush my teeth, GO. I never ate breakfast. I had a few minutes to go and it definitely felt like this pushing through. Like, “I just have to go to school. I don’t want to go to school, but I have to go to school. It’s what we do.” Now I can see how, maybe that wasn’t the healthiest thing to do, but I was waking myself up.
I didn’t have additional support. It’s one thing to wake yourself up because you choose that, my teenagers choose that. They wake themselves up. I’m happy to wake them up, but they prefer to wake up to an alarm. So when we have agency around it, it isn’t the same.
Going to sleep listening to my parents fighting; All ages
The last one that applies to all ages from newborn until I left home at age 18, which is going to sleep and or waking up to my parents fighting, yelling, screaming, throwing things at each other. I could hear them physically fighting each other. I remember trying to fall asleep with my fingers in my ears going, la, la, la, la, la, la, la. I would breathe really loud to try to drown out the sound of them fighting. I remember one time i was going to sleep in the evening and they were fighting and it was a hellacious fight. I took my two sisters, I was probably 13 or 14 years old and so one sister was probably 11 or 12, and then I had another sister who was 2 or 3, and I took them outside and I said, “okay, we’re leaving.” I remember hugging them.
We had this little tiny patch of grass. It was summertime, I believe, because it was warm in the evening. It was dark, the moon and the stars were out and I put this sleeping bag down. I remember huddling with them and telling them that it was gonna be okay and trying to reassure them. I try to avoid getting emotional, but I reassure them that everything was gonna be okay and that we were fine. It was like an adventure to sleep outside. But we lived in rattlesnake territory and young brain started thinking about “what if a snake comes and curls up with us?” So then I got really afraid.
If you know anything about medical trauma, the way we fall asleep is often the way we wake up. If we cry ourselves to sleep, we’ll oftentimes wake up and feeling like crying again. So these experiences apply to going to sleep as well.
However, if there’s fighting, discord and fear when you’re falling asleep, then it’s likely to have that experience when you’re waking up as well. And. So while I consciously knew these stories, my logical brain knew that these things happened to me, It wasn’t until less than two weeks ago that it like clicked, not in my mind but in my body. All of a sudden I could feel the weight of all of these experiences waking up. It was like my body was finally ready to admit how hard, how scary this was. I was in the shower and I just started crying.
I could feel these experiences and the weight of them on me and with the knowledge I have about trauma, how it gets stored in our bodies and that sometimes we don’t remember things until it’s time to remember them, until we have capacity to remember and be with them. It was just this moment of, “oh, no wonder why waking up is so hard for me,” and it felt so validating. It felt like a missing piece of a puzzle.
And I just want to say, this is what somatic work does for us. The things that we logically know and understand, find their place in the landscape of our emotions and our inner selves, and we feel like, “Oh, it make sense.” Up until that point I was telling myself, “Just get out of bed. It’s easy. Just get up. Why do you have this problem?” It was so easy for me to shame myself. I really have been working on not shaming myself and speaking to myself with so much kindness, but it didn’t make sense to me. My logical brain was like, “why is this so hard for me?”
So working somatically, and I haven’t even worked directly with this experience of waking up somatically. I have been waking up a little more of a gentle, spacious experience, but it’s like slowly our bodies warm to these memories. These logical understandings of when our bodies are ready, the logical understanding drops into our body. Then it becomes kind of a felt knowing, a felt validation.
It seems to be almost beyond words for me, but you slowly are able to acknowledge things on a visceral felt level that you were only able to acknowledge on a logical level before, and then you become just a smidge, a hair more available to feeling and those little tiny changes, that’s what changes our lives.
That’s what shifts how we feel inside of ourselves. So, these are just some examples. This is one example from my life that is super fresh and real that I wanted to share with you if this is something you struggle with or something similar.
If you understand something on a logical level you keep butting your head up against a wall and you don’t quite get it. I just want to invite you to try out somatic coaching. It’s a free session. What my desire for you is to really feel a sense of safety, safety with another person, but also safety in yourself. It doesn’t always happen on that free session, but a first step toward really feeling safe with someone else and feeling safe in your own body.