When I was young, I used to sit and my Nanna’s and Poppie’s house and we would listen to Lawrence Welk. They always ended the show with a song that said, “good night, sleep tight and pleasant dreams to you”. I wish that was true for my Veteran, but it is not. Nighttime is a struggle for him.
We have a nightly routine. It starts with him having a glass of milk, usually chocolate, and a cigarette or two. When we head to bed, we tuck the boys in. Mind you the boys are a large Boxer and a Pitbull. They each have a bed in our room. They are covered up with their blankets and get loving before bed. There is a window unit in our room that cools the room to 65 degrees and a box fan to drown out the noise. We live near a train track and even though our room is on the back side of the house he still can hear the train. I do not hear much other than the two dogs snoring, the fan and the AC. He can hear that train and the sound reminds him of helicopters. I never heard the train until he mentioned it. It is amazing how heightened his senses are. He hears everything.
I crawl into bed and roll over on my left side. He gets in bed next to me, says, “Goodnight beautiful”, gives me a kiss, three kisses to be exact and then it begins. The kicking off the covers to get them exactly right. He must always have a foot out from under the covers. I learned that came from him being deployed. After two or three minutes of getting adjusted he rolls over and puts his hand on my right side. He moves his fingers like he is counting my ribs. He does it to feel my breathing. I had a partially collapsed lung in January, so he always feels to see how far my lungs are expanding. I love those moments in his arms although the still and quiet does not last long.
As I lay there enjoying the peace and calmness that moment quickly fades to him fidgeting followed by a deep breath. I can usually tell his mood by his breathing. He has something on his mind if his breathing turns into five seconds of taking a breath, five seconds of holding it in and five seconds of exhaling. He calls it boxing. I like that term, although I am not sure if it is a way for him to calm down or if he is fighting something in his mind. There are times he pulls away and does not want to be touched at all. At this point he either lays on his back with his hands crossed across his chest or rolls to his left side and covers his head. I used to take this personally. I thought it was something that I did wrong, and when I got “snippy” about it an argument ensued. Trust me when I say that an argument while in bed is never a good thing. It took me a long time to realize that it was not me.
I usually fall asleep quickly. My Veteran takes much longer. Some nights it can take hours. When he falls asleep it is usually only for a few hours at a time. His nights are restless. He gets out of bed often, goes to the bathroom, smokes a cigarette or covers the dogs up again. The quiet, muffled sound of the train will wake him up. The noise from the train gets to him and he has to calm down. It may take him an hour or more to fall back to sleep. There is rarely a night that he sleeps tight all night.
This is normal for him on good nights. It is much worse on nights that he has a “date”, nights where he has a lot on his mind are difficult. They are full of night sweats, heavy sighs, and lots of tossing and turning. This constant interrupted sleep leaves him tired in the morning.
Just think about how you feel when you are tired. What if it was a daily thing? How well could you function? What would your mood be like? I cannot function on a good night’s sleep without a few cups of coffee, it would take pots of coffee for me to function without sleep.
I cannot begin to imagine this constant battle. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like not to be able to sleep. I cannot begin to imagine always hearing noises that never become silent. All too often it is the little things that we take for granted that our Veterans can not experience. Things that they will never experience again, like a peaceful night’s sleep.