0 In Give Grace/ Grief/ Rest

A Sleepy Revolution

This winter I gave myself a revolutionary gift. It wasn’t fancy or expensive. But it was unnatural for me to receive. It was the gift of sleep.

My mama had surgery in January, and I traveled twelve hours to stay with her for a week after the procedure. For the first time since my daughter was born, I took that trip alone. I haven’t visited my family in Pennsylvania without my daughter in tow for six-and-a-half years. I worked remotely while I was there, and I was there to help care for my mom, so I knew it wasn’t going to be a “vacation.” But I was determined not to feel worse after my week in PA. And I managed it!

As anticipated, the days were full. Caring, cooking, cleaning out, concentrating on work, and conquering errands dominated my waking hours. But each night when I went to bed, I made the conscious decision not to set an alarm. I chose rest as my indulgence of the week. I let myself sleep as long as I needed to, and if I woke up still feeling groggy, I gave myself the gift of falling back to sleep again until I could wake up refreshed.

Sleep as Rebellion


It felt strange and bold. It felt rebellious! Especially because I was receiving this extra rest in my childhood bedroom. This is the setting where I spent loooooong nights studying away my teenage years, convinced my worth came from how much I could produce, no matter the cost of sleeplessness. (I really did not get adequate sleep as a teenager!) So to be back there as a grownup–who typically falls victim to that predictable regression that occurs when we return to our families of origin–but who this time showed up to give myself permission to rest… that was some kind of rebellion.

The kind that heals old wounds deep inside. It was the kind of rebellion that unpacked baggage that had piled up over decades, and allowed me to walk around a little lighter. A rebellion against every notion of my youthful drive to produce and consume in great quantities. A rebellion against all of the “shoulds” rattling around in my brain. And quite frankly, a rebellion against every woman in my family who never rested.

Shaking the “Shoulds”

The extra sleep was important to my body, but it alone did not account for the healing inside. That came from the decision to shake the guilt I typically feel around rest. Remember those “shoulds” I mentioned above? Those are the messages I generally treat as a Mental Board of Directors to whom I report my every behavior for approval. The sleep was rebellious, but letting go of the “shoulds” was the revolution.

Remarkably, everything that needed to get done that week got done. I attended my meetings via Zoom and over the phone. My work tasks were completed. I drove Mama to her post-op appointment. We had plenty to eat even though I planned to cook once or twice more than I did. I set up a new workstation that would be better for her healing body during her busy upcoming tax season. Would I have liked to squeeze in some visits with other family members? Absolutely. (And this was the first PA trip in 23 years where I didn’t see anyone outside of my immediate family.) Would I have preferred to make a bigger dent in the clean-out project? Of course. But I found a way to accept what I accomplished as enough. That is no small feat for this overachiever. Enough–what a concept.

I won’t discount the power of that week in Pennsylvania, but I will acknowledge that perhaps it is easier to shake the “shoulds” when you are out of your normal routine, specifically one that includes parenting. But regardless of what circumstances initially made space for me to indulge in rest, I got a taste of it, and decided I wanted more.

Continuing the Revolution at Home

I began the year with a commitment to do less and be more. As a result, I placed great effort on leaving more blank space in my calendar. (One of the hardest things for a woman with FOMO to do.) I also wrote out affirmations and questions to assist me on this journey. One such example was, “What does this moment need most from me? And what do I need most from this moment?” This is not only a good way to pause and decide what direction to point my energy, but an excellent opportunity to listen to my body.

A few weeks after I returned from PA, I lost a dear friend suddenly. I felt that loss in my heart first, then in my mind, and ultimately the grief infiltrated my body. When I asked what my body needed, it cried out for rest. So I did. I took evenings and sometimes an entire weekend where I let my body hold down the couch like it was in danger of floating away. I took naps–long ones–snuggled up with my girl during movie marathons. Looking out my window, I received invitations from pleasant forecasts that would otherwise entice me to get outside and move my body, and I politely declined.

Previously, that domineering Mental Board of Directors would have shouted at me, “You should go outside and move your body. The weather won’t stay nice forever. You should take advantage of it!” But I calmly and confidently voted in a new Board. It used to be made up of all “shoulds,” but I’ve cleared a few seats to welcome “needs” and “wants” and a few “just becauses.”

Meeting the Need Before I Had It

The space I protected on my calendar wound up protecting me right back. At the time I resisted over-scheduling, I couldn’t have known how desperately I would need that extra time, or what I would do with it. And an old (tired) part of me might have felt like “doing nothing” with it was a waste, but the new and improved (and better rested) me knows better. Sleep itself can be productive. So if you recognize the need for rest in your body and there’s still a “should” breathing down your neck, remind it you are being productive… and go back to sleep.

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