The Dark

It’s time to come clean here. I am a grown-ass woman, and I am afraid of the dark.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I suffer from night terrors. Which means that I have a tendency to confuse what I see in the dark with what is real, not only when I’m asleep but also when I’m awake, upon reflection fueled by a fear that what I see when I’m semi-unconscious (scary, threatening, unexplainable things) is actually truer than what I see when I’m fully conscious (no scary, threatening, unexplainable things).

That sort of blurring of reality tends to happen when you spend what should be your sleeping hours “seeing” things like a man standing in your hallway and your room, a beam falling from the ceiling about to crush you in your bed, bugs floating through the air above you, spiders in your sheets, and a red light emanating from no apparent source. Just to name a few.

A few times I’ve hurt myself running away from what I see in the dark. Since I am still technically asleep when I’m running, I fail to pay attention to the obstacles in my way. Once, trying to get away from a shadow beside my bed, I hit my lower back on the footboard of the bed as I propelled myself off it, and then hit my hipbone on the doorknob as I fled from my bedroom. That was probably the most violent one.

For a while I took these things in stride. I wrote it off as a sleep disorder. I crossed myself every night after turning out the light as I lay my head down on my pillow, and that was that. No big deal.

Then Boyfriend and I made the mistake of watching Paranormal Activity on Saturday night. I used to love scary movies, but my passion for them has waned in recent years, probably in direct proportion to my increasing fear of death. After I saw The Strangers, I vowed never to watch another scary movie again. But then I decided that was a little hasty and would limit myself to supernatural stuff. You know, the stuff that isn’t real.

Right?

I thought Paranormal Activity would be about ghosts. Ghosts really aren’t that scary to me. They’re just dead people, and I have difficulty believing in them because I have difficulty believing in the afterlife. Ghosts can only be real if humans possess a soul that lives on after death, and I don’t believe that we do. Once the synapses stop firing, that’s it. We’re gone. Worm food. From dust we came, and to dust we shall return. Etc. But if ghosts are real, that means I’m wrong and we do live forever, even if we spend it trapped in someone’s shitty house! Yay! Win/win.

Well, Paranormal Activity is NOT about ghosts. Oh, no. It’s about a demon. A really nasty one, one with presumably three hooves that breathes (?) and roars and talks in a barely-audible-to-human-ears otherworldly language and blows like the wind and likes Ouija boards and is very, very strong. And very, very evil. And has claws. And, like, sixteen sharp teeth.

I may not believe in the afterlife, but I do believe in God. Many people say that you cannot have God without Satan, which I don’t really buy. I think that God is another word for love, and what we refer to as “evil” is merely the absence of love. And making evil its own entity is giving it much more power than it deserves. Humans don’t hurt others because they’re evil or possessed; they hurt others when they fail to love.

When the lights go out, however, yeah, okay, I do believe in evil. Which is to say that I’m afraid it does exist whether I believe it does or not.

I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t seen Paranormal Activity yet, but because so many things that happen in the movie are exactly what I go through when I have a night terror, basically the moral that I took away from it was “if you have night terrors, what you actually have is a demon haunting you, and you are fuuuuuuuucked.”

Which is to say that I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since Friday night. Complete with night terrors EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.

Usually I wake up and I remember them. The other night I woke up grasping in the air beside my bed at what I thought was a red thread dangling from the ceiling. The night before last, I woke up standing beside my dresser after having yelled “WHAT IS THAT?!” to no one in particular. “That” being a balled-up jacket I’d left on my dresser the night before. Yeah, I thought it was a demon.

Other times I awake in the morning with nothing more than the creepy-ass sense that I’d been up and afraid of something in the middle of the night. I told this to Boyfriend last night, and he said, “Did you stand beside your bed for two hours?” (something from the movie), which shot a cold rush of adrenaline right to my heart.

By yesterday I began to consider the idea of buying a cross to put on the wall above my bed. I realize I sound crazy, and I really don’t think that a piece of wood in a certain shape has any special powers, but the way I see it, if demons are real and one in particular likes to hang out with me while I’m sleeping, then maybe crosses really do have protective powers, so they cancel each other out. Which is to say that it’s equally ridiculous to believe in either one.

So I did what any 27-year-old in this day and age does: I posted my dilemma and possible solution on Facebook. Some people suggested sleep aids, but I pointed out that I have no problem falling asleep; I’m just afraid to. Then a friend suggested burning sage, which, I had read on wikipedia in an attempt to make the movie more like a movie in my head (to no avail), is part of the plotline of Paranormal Activity 2. Sage would save me!

Last night after I got my hair cut I hopped on over to Whole Foods with the intent of buying some fresh sage from the herb department when I thought I’d check out the incense display first and found a wide selection of white sage for the specific purpose of burning. I bought two bundles for $7, which, yeah, is absurd, but I would gladly pay any amount of money at this point for some peace of mind, in which case $7 seems like a steal.

I burned it on my bedside table as I watched True Blood. It kept going out. And the smell wasn’t my favorite (a pungent combination of incense and weed). But…for the first time in several days I didn’t have a night terror!

Now, you could go with the scientific explanation. The scent of the sage as well as the idea of burning something to drive away evil spirits allowed me to relax a little, which allowed me to sink into a deeper sleep, which prevented a night terror. Or you could go with the supernatural one, which I’ll refrain from typing out here. I don’t really care which one it was that worked, just that something did.

On a quick run to Walmart over my lunch break today, I spied a $1.75 guardian angel candle and bought it. One of those Catholic things on the ethnic aisle. I thought about the Jesus one, but the guardian angel one looked less scary. And also, it smelled better. Apparently Jesus smells like dirty roses, but angels smell like airy vanilla.

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5 Responses to The Dark

  1. Try an unbroken ring of salt around your bed.

  2. holly says:

    The son of one of my coworkers has had night terrors since he was a little baby, and she said that the doctors told her that when he sleeps his body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate drop faster than normal, which make his body think it is dying and it panics and goes into fight or flight mode, and that is what the night terror actually is. So maybe that is it for you. Maybe the scent works because it is an external stimulus that keeps you connected to reality a little longer so you drift into sleep more slowly. That is my own made-up theory.

  3. Leah says:

    I was just listening to an old Halloween podcast of This American Life yesterday about spooky stories that were actually real. The first story was about a family that experienced similar things to what you’re describing. Turns out, they had a carbon monoxide leak that was depriving them of oxygen & making them see/hear things. Maybe you should get a carbon monoxide detector. Do you have these terrors only at your place or do you have them elsewhere, too?

  4. @Holly, that’s an interesting thought. Does her son have the hallucinations too, or just the gasping/abrupt waking/running while asleep?

    @Leah, I was just recounting to Boyfriend last night about a story I heard on TAL in which a man was accidentally allowed to watching The Shining as a young boy and had nightmares about it for three solid years. He developed a sleep disorder because of it–he was terrified to go to sleep every single night. And he never told anyone about it. I can’t remember now if he said what made him finally snap out of it. At any rate, I’ve been having them for a few years now, that I can remember, and in several different apartments. I do have a carbon monoxide detector, but I’ll be sure and check if the batteries are still good! Thanks!

  5. And this is why I don’t watch scary things. There aren’t enough episodes of Golden Girls in the world to undo the damage that Paranormal Activity would do to me.

    The only thing that’s ever worked for me is working on the awake-time anxiety (cognitive behavioral therapy), so it doesn’t manifest itself during the night.

    Interestingly, and relatedly, did you know that a lot of reported “ghost” sightings and alien abduction reports have been debunked and later attributed to hypnogogic hallucinations? It’s a testament to how real they can seem.

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