Thursday, March 5, 2009

Topic of the Week: Insomnia-- Hypnosis and Meditation

I'm happy to report that I actually got a decent night's sleep last night. Perhaps my acupuncturist's new course of treatment is working. In my blog on Tuesday I think I made it pretty clear how I feel about drug treatments for insomnia (evil), so I'd like to spend today and tomorrow talking about some alternatives I've tried.

One of the things I used most to get to sleep at the beginning of high school before coping with the abusive relationship just made things way too hard was a meditation tape. There was a cool new agey shop in my town that I visited obsessively in junior high when I was super in to tarot (which I was pretty good at) and love spells (total failure) and that sort of thing. I was also really interested in dreaming so I had dreaming dictionaries and also my friend got a tape that was supposed to help you control what you were supposed to dream about. It was a strange tape where two voices talked at the same time. Sometimes the white noise it created really helped me sleep, but more often than not I needed something to focus on. I bought a tape called Rainflowers by a woman named Amber Wolfe. It was this feminist meditation tape, kinda weird, but empowering. You visualized yourself walking down a path, crawling into this rock cave, which was representative of the womb and then there was something about becoming flowers floating in a stream, which represented releasing your worries. If I focused hard enough, this tape could put me to sleep. At least for a little while. Like I said, eventually the insomnia got worse.

But the reason I tell you about walking the path and the cave and the floating and all that was because that became engrained as really comforting imagery for me and it's immediately what I went to when I did hypnosis.

So as I mentioned, I decided to do hypnosis when the stupid sleep study turned out to be useless and I desperately needed to get off the Ambien because I couldn't afford it. Of course insurance didn't cover hypnosis and I could go on a whole huge rant about how insurance is happy to cover these expensive drugs that I'll be on forever, costing them (and me) thousands upon thousands of dollars, but god forbid they cover something like hypnosis or acupuncture which could actually provide a permanent solution for the problem.... Anyway I saw the hypnotist five times and he WAS NOT like the creepy Vegas hypnotist whose billboard I am pictured with above. He was a liscensed psychologist who my psychologist knew. I drove out to Naperville (this was before my driving fear) to be hypnotized in his home office and I paid out of pocket about 80 bucks a visit.

The first couple visits were spent with him hypnotizing me to find out what the cause of my sleeplessness was. Well, of course, at first he had to see if I was susceptible to hypnosis because some people aren't. I was. Now it's been a while since I've been hypnotized, but I'll try to remember how it goes as best I can.

It starts with breathing, deep breaths in and out. Then you visualize/feel all the tension leaving from each part of your body, starting with your toes, working up to your head. Once you are totally relaxed, the counting begins. You sink deeper and deeper into yourself until the hypnotist reaches 10. Now I can't recall if I was encouraged to visualize or if I just naturally did because of my experience with meditation. But I would picture myself walking further and further into this forest. When the hypnotist reached 10, I would be at this house in a pool overlooking the ocean. (I'm a Cancer, I'm water obsessed). A lot of times my childhood cat Snuggle who died when I was 19 would be there, sitting by the pool hanging out with me. This was the safe place where my conscious mind would go while I was under hypnosis. I could hear my psychologist talking to me and feel myself responding to him, but mostly I was just chilling with my dead cat by the pool. I know. I'm a freak. Whatever.

Anyway, I remember that he would ask me to lift one arm and then the other and how weird it felt. And then he would ask me about memories of nights I couldn't sleep. I was not at all surprised when the first memories he uncovered as causes of my insomnia had to do with my abusive relationship. Then the next memory was of that night before 8th grade when my best friend moved away. Again, not so surprising. The shock came when I remembered the night before I started 3rd grade, right when we moved to Oak Park. Apparently I was unable to sleep a lot back then too largely because I feared I was going to be alone and friendless. Apparently the root of my sleep problems go all the way back then! It was weird because I barely remembered what my bedroom looked like at our first house in Oak Park, but I saw it crystal clear under hypnosis.

So once we got to the root of the problem, my psychologist taught me how to do self-hypnosis, in the hopes that I could teach myself to fall asleep in a hypnotized state. Self-hypnosis was basically the same as the hypnosis he did: the breathing, the relaxing of the body, the counting and walking through the forest to the pool...

And it worked quite well. Using self-hypnosis I was able to cut down my Ambien usage from an insane 30 mg/night to 5 mg/night. And honestly, if I hadn't been in a stressful life situation at that time (I was dating an alcoholic, it was not good), I bet could have cut the Ambien out completely.

But yeah, I couldn't. The Ambien usage eventually crept up again, but when I decided to try to quit, I asked my pilates teacher to record some meditations for me (because, sadly, my Rainflowers tape was lost-- I think it might have ended up going with the alcoholic boyfriend in his boombox when he moved out. If anyone can find Rainflowers for download anywhere I will reward you kindly because I have tried and failed). At that point, I just couldn't get off the Ambien without some sort of treatment, though, which brings us to acupuncture. I'll tell ya all about that tomorrow.

But I will say that once the acupuncture does its job and I'm sleeping mostly regularly, I will be going back to using meditation and self-hypnosis as tools for my rough nights. So I will suggest to those of you with insomnia problems to check into meditation CDs. Go to your local library and see if they have some you can check out for free to see if they work for you because I think with meditation, you definitely have to find stuff that suits your mindset. I recommend hypnosis too, if you can afford it and if you can find someone reputable, meaning make sure they are a licensed psychologist or social worker or something, or recommended by licensed psychologist or social work or other doctor. Hypnosis gets a bad rep because there are scam artists out there, but it can be really helpful if you find someone who knows how to do it correctly.

More tomorrow! Feel free to comment about how weird you think my visualizations are :)  

No comments: