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  • Writer's pictureJack Shain

My Sleep Cycle Is Off

I don’t know about anyone else, but my sleep cycle has been completely off. Ever since Covid-19 hit, I cannot fall asleep before midnight. I pride myself on being a morning person. Yes, I know what some of you are thinking. My wife is on your side. There is nothing that feels more productive to me than being able to wake up before anyone else and start my day. But it wasn’t always this way. As a recovered alcoholic and amphetamine addict, the late hours into the early morning were my playground.

In my early days of sobriety, before my job at Coffee Bean basically forced me to become a morning person, I could not wake up before 10am. Albeit, I was 22, in college, and a drug addict. Looking back, it was a form of self-sabotaging. If I slept the day away, I would not have to face any responsibility (of which I had none to begin with). I hit a climax with this habit when one morning, after staying up till 4 AM watching TV, I was woken up by my sober living manager at 9:30 AM. That day, I had my judicial hearing at LMU to present my case as to whether or not they should allow me to stay in school. The hearing was at 9 AM. I recall just screaming. I eventually rescheduled the hearing, but they kicked me out anyway.

The night I got kicked out, I remember sitting on my bed feeling simultaneously like a failure and oddly relieved. It had been a draining day. But I felt relieved that I didn’t have to continue playing a role I could not play. I ran from very academic challenge I had faced in college. I was tired of running. I was so tired, I fell asleep at 10 PM that night and woke up at 7 AM. I then made myself breakfast and checked into the office to report that I was awake. My sober living made us do that every morning and evening. The house was specifically designed for students and they allowed us to sleep in. I was often shaken awake at 9:50 AM by the staff. The staff actually commented on this morning that I woke up early later on, when I took my first sober birthday, because I never went back to sleeping in. As my friend Bryce said, “It was the beginning of your sobriety.”

Looking back, I never realized that having a proper sleep schedule was an underlying success of my sobriety. I used to try and stay awake as long as I could, hoping the day ahead would be shorter, and I would be too tired to be present. But having a sleep cycle gave me structure. So I began to look for more. My sponsor gave me the simplest form of instructions that helped save my life. He told me three things. Make your bed every morning. Read five pages of the Big Book a day. Call him every day. I called him so much that when I got a year sober, he told me to stop calling him. I began to write to-do lists with the most simple actions. I wrote “Get out of bed”, “Put on clothes”, “Brush teeth”. And I would write down like 20 things I had to do a day. None of them were complex. My friends were writing their thesis' and designing lighter and more durable hip replacements. I was crossing off actions they teach to kindergarteners.

As the years passed, I still write my to-do lists on my whiteboard in my living room. They aren’t as simple, but my morning routine has changed throughout the years. I have incorporated meditation, spiritual readings, prayers, and exercise. In the last few weeks, my routine has been off and I just can't seem to wake up. A friend of mine asked me how my sleep cycle was. I told him it was awful. After consistently staying up way too late writing this blog, my mind just continues to churn. I also know that I have nowhere to be. The reason to get up seems a bit harder to find these days.

One member of LMU's administration that I have been working with over the last two weeks shared a book she had written with me. I was curious about what she did with students in terms of life skills. I am always trying to find another skill or concept I can use to run a therapy group. Her book is called Miracle Morning For College Students and she goes into great detail on how to begin and improve a morning practice and routine. It reminds me of a passage out of the Big Book that I used to read every morning, “On Awakening.” That passage outlines the day for a recovering alcoholic. It offers silence, reading, action-based and realistic affirmations, and visualization. All of these are major principles The Miracle Morning stresses to establish a successful and meaningful daily reprieve.

The end of "On Awakening" ends on an important 12 slogan, "Faith without works is dead." It reminds me that nothing will change in my life if I don't do what is in front of me. All the little things I did in early sobriety like making my bed and writing elementary to do lists created the structure I needed. Often I am looking at the result and not worried about the actions it takes to get there. But what I want usually does not line up with reality. So I have to swallow my pride and listen to someone else's direction. I never like it but it took contrary action and the relearning basic life skills to begin my first steps in recovery. I don’t know about you, but I am quite tired. I think I’m going to go to bed. Sleep cycles take time to correct but when I wake up, I’ll be sure to crack open my Big Book and read that passage.

This article was written by Jack Shain, CADC-II and founder of Keep Left Recovery.

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