Dear Journal: Night Lights

thDear Journal,

I’m afraid of the dark. There aren’t many things that cause me actual fear, but the dark just happens to be one of them. For ages I had to sleep with a nightlight on just so I wouldn’t jerk myself awake in the middle of the night sweating from the exposure to the dark. When I found out we were going to be blindfolding ourselves in spin class I skipped rather than deal with the anxiety I knew would result if I went. What is wrong with me?

I did some research, though, and fear of the dark is the number two fear, right behind fear of heights (which I have too). It has something to do with the unknown. We like to know ahead of time what’s around us so we aren’t negatively surprised, whatever that means. I think maybe it’s really just about control, like most everything else. I like to have control over things, over where I go and what I do, and being in the dark shifts that control and leaves me literally and metaphorically helpless.

We have a nightlight in our bedroom now, and it switches on automatically when the larger light goes out. So when I jolt awake in the middle of the night I see that spark of light and I calm right down. It illuminates, however softly, my wife’s serene face beside mine and that comforts me. It takes away that element of the unknown and I can breathe easier with it. Once, not too long ago, though, the power went out at some point in the night and when I shook myself awake the light wasn’t there. I had to get out of bed and wander the house like Heathcliff across the moors, taking my phone as a flashlight.

I’ve tried to get over it. Seriously, I have. Short of anxiety clinics and self-help groups, that is. I went to spin class the following week, and blindfolded myself like everyone else. I worked hard on controlling my breathing, and it worked. It helped, of course, that I was doing some strenuous exercise that helped me keep my mind off the fact that it was being done in the dark. I did talk to my shrink about it a long time ago, and she told me that fear of the dark was really some deep-seated fear of something that happened in the dark that subconsciously still affects me today. I have no idea if that’s true or not. I don’t recall any traumatic experience in the dark, but who knows?

Anyway, I have a tendency to turn on more lights than is necessary. If you walked past my house at late dusk you would notice it’s lit up brighter than the sun. From room to room I need lights, the more the merrier, to ward off the shadows, because no one knows what lives in the shadows, and I don’t want to find out. And it struck me last night that I’ve transferred that fear to Lexi. She too is afraid of the dark, but for her it’s about being alone, or the dark making her feel like she’s alone. She needs the lights on so she can see that she’s not alone, that people are there for her, and then she relaxes.

She too has a nightlight. It helps.

Sam

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