Waking Up to Reality: Accepting the Burdens that Wake with Me

When I awaken this morning, I think that I am a murderer. The remnants of the dream dissolve in the warm morning glow, but my subconscious keeps spinning for minutes. Did I really commit the crime? If I did, how could I forgive myself? I eventually become awake of a cat between my legs, a second purring on my chest, and a jaw locked tight to hold back some vague fear. I always hope to awaken to a bright morning with hope and optimism. But more often I awaken to burdens that seemed to have increased through the night, dreams that leave a foul taste in my mouth and an stiffness brought on by attempting to not squish the cats.

My boyfriend’s alarm rings for the first time and he swipes snooze. I also don’t want to leave the bed. For one, that would dislodge the cats. The swim back to reality rarely brings any illumination. I remember that I still don’t have a paying job. I feel unresolved emotions dancing across my tongue. I hold my tongue to the top of my mouth to keep them from escaping. As the world clears before my eyes, nothing actually becomes clearer. Each day looks different from the last. I have been working hard to resolve some of my unfounded fears, like the belief that any criticism is a poke at my intrinsic worth. As the blinds of fear fall away, I awaken to different colors every morning. My list of jobs that seemed so golden begin to lose their shine. Without the false light of fear, I see they are not a good fit for me. Other options previously invisible spring into focus. I am lost in the constantly changing world around me and the confusion presses me deep into my covers.

Although the crushing confusion seems unpleasant, it’s far better than the way that I have awoken for the previous twenty years. I used to wake up in the midst of writing a to-do list. Actually, it was more of a do-this-to-avoid-feeling-like-a-failure-today list. If I checked off everything on the list, the clutching self doubt that whispered that I was not good enough would stay at bay (waiting, of course, until I didn’t make everything on the list). I used to leap out of bed in the morning as the anxiety sent sparks up my spine, already panicking about everything I had to get done.

My boyfriend’s alarm trills a second time and once more it is pressed into silence. As I lie there half-awake, I think that being pressed into the covers is preferable to my shooting anxiety, but not perfect. I want to awaken to golden shimmering light, a purring cat pressed against my face and the thrill of being alive. I want to awaken like I do on the second day of a long vacation, swollen with the freedom of an empty day – ready to be filled with lying on the beach and exfoliating my face with sand while bodysurfing. Despite the openness of my unemployed days, it’s not vacation. Although the hours are technically “unscheduled,” I know that from 10am to 3pm is “freak out about making money” and 3pm to 5pm is “apply frantically to any job that I may qualify for.” I long for that vacation feeling as I watch the patterns of sunlight play across the ceiling between my boyfriend’s snoozed alarms. I force my jaw “relaxed” and pretend that I am far away. My body feels even heavier. This forced pleasantness soon swims away from my consciousness – as unreal as my dream of being a murderer.

As a cat stares me down and demands food, a new thought lightens my leaden body. Maybe it’s not possible to wake up happy and joyous every morning While the need to make money presses down on me now, when it fades, there will be others. It’s quite possible that there will be a new discomfort pressing my jaw tight and my tongue against the roof of my mouth every morning. For weeks, I have fought these feelings. I wanted the hope and joy, manufactured though it may be. The frustration with my inability to maintain these false feelings might be a part of what’s dragging me down now. I still awaken trying to push away the uncomfortable thoughts of dissolving dreams of murder or the pain of a locked jaw. What if there’s another choice?

When I inevitably awaken with a jaw locked in fear and a stomach roiling with anger, I hope that someday I can respond with kindness. Perhaps my most wonderful morning is not awakening free of every discomfort, but accepting of whatever is residing in my body right now. I feel the 7 mile weekend backpacking trip pulling at my hip flexors and tightening my back. A perfect awakening seems unlikely to me.

My boyfriends third alarm goes off and he shuffles to the shower, leaving me alone with my thoughts. While I might not spring from the bed with happiness this morning, I can slowly ease my aching limbs to the ground. I can revel in the feeling of stretching my sore feet, pressing my toes into the floor as I rotate my heel in midair. Instead of swallowing hard, I can gently brush the teeth that have been locked in battle with my anger all night. I can relax my poor tongue and let the anxiety its been holding back surge through me as I drink a comforting cup of tea. I might not be able to awaken totally light and free, ready to take on the day. But I can awaken in my own skin with the burdens of life pressing down on me. And, like the furred warmth that locks my legs into place, the familiar weight of my problems can be okay.