Night Terrors

I walked through the house at 2am. It was at least the second time that I checked on the kids that night, not counting praying for them and saying goodnight before bed. My mind was doing mean things. I had played over in my mind what I would do if one of them wasn’t breathing, if something was wrong. I went through my CPR steps, was it five chest compressions or ten?

About a year before Tiffanni was diagnosed in 2011, my subconscious starting “doing work” the counselor would later tell me. Something was wrong in my family and my mind played games with all of the possibilities. So many people told me later, “We knew something was wrong, we just didn’t know how to tell you.” So my mind toyed with my emotions and fear crept in.

So many people know me as happy and fun, but nights were terrifying. Endless outcomes of pain haunted my imagination. One of my children dying was the worst. I have no doubt that every parent fears this. But for me, it was out of character. So every night I couldn’t fall asleep until I checked on the kids multiple times. I began to lose sleep, walking back and forth to their rooms just to make sure they were ok. I would tell myself, “If you don’t go check on them now and they die in the night, you’ll find them in the morning and regret for the rest of your life that you could have done something.” So, I would get up and check on them- over and over. Every night for months.

I even became superstitious about prayer. Fear does this. I thought that if I didn’t pray for my kids each night at bedtime and say the mantra, “God protect my kids”, that somehow there was a greater chance that something would happen. It became part of the routine- prayer for protection, and then I would double check that God was doing his part throughout the night, since I had done mine. I pretended like it was normal. Or maybe I just didn’t let myself think about it.

I was in the middle of my doctoral studies and taking a class on counseling. One of our requirements was to work through a current problem with our teacher. I couldn’t point to anything to talk about, when it struck me, I guess I could talk to him about the fear for my family how many times I check on the kids at night. Maybe it’s not normal.

So, we talked. One of the most amazing things that a professional can do is make you feel normal. Not that what I was doing was normal, but it was human. There are moments of our lives that things get out of balance and we don’t even realize it. He told me, “What you’re doing isn’t healthy, but it’s not surprising. You’re a parent.”

I asked him, “What should I do?” I expected wisdom. I anticipated that he would look deeply into my childhood and diagnose some stunted maturation process. Like I slept with a nightlight too long as a child or watched Jaws too early in my adolescent development. What he told me was frustrating.

“You’ve got to stop.”

“Stop what?” I asked.

“Stop checking on your kids at night.”

“What do you mean I have to stop? Like, I just don’t do it anymore? That’s all you’re going to tell me?”

“Yes, that’s it. What you’re doing is normal, in that it’s common. It’s just not healthy. So stop.”

And that was it. That was my professional. Sometimes things don’t need complicated answers. The first night was miserable. I fought all night. I dreaded waking them up the next morning and throughout the night projected horrors into that moment. But there they were, sound asleep, sun peeking through the windows, wadded up in a comforter. Alive. So, I did it again the next night. I don’t think it was any easier. But I stayed with it. I gave in once in a while and graciously chided myself. Doesn’t every addict relapse at least once? I don’t remember when it went away. I just know that I don’t feel that same fear anymore. Sure, some nights are a little harder, but I can’t live that way again.

I don’t check on my kids at night any more. Although I pray with Addyson, Carsyn, and Brayden every night, I don’t ever ask for protection. I can’t go back there. I can’t live in a world where everything bows to my fear, even God. I can’t worry about breaking a mirror, seeing a black cat, opening an umbrella inside, or checking the protection box off during my prayers. I’ve taken my step of faith toward a God who loves me, my children, and Tiffanni more than I do with a perfect love. And perfect love casts out all fear.