Your Grown-Up Night Light
You’re too old to be afraid of the dark. You’re also a human being facing very real monsters.
At what age are you supposed to grow out of being afraid of the dark?
I don’t mean the unmanagable terror that overtakes you when you have to go downstairs alone in the middle of the night and can’t turn a light on or risk waking up your loved ones — this is a universal consequence of living that we’re all stuck with no matter how old we get. The dark is meant to be feared, we have evolved to cower from not only what we cannot see, but from the inability to see in general.
Rather, I refer to not the dark itself, but instead the terrors that lurk within it. When you were young, you may have called them monsters.
Whether they hid under your bed, in your closet, outside your window — when the darkness came, they did too. Perhaps you, too, failed to adequately explain to every adult in your life what was so scary about these monsters only you could prove existed.
Why didn’t anyone believe you?
No one told you the problem was that you simply didn’t have the years of experience required to accurately name your monsters. The kind of experience that only comes with time and, by default, age.
They weren’t just shadows, whispers, or the fault of your imagination in that dangerous, blissful place between wake and sleep. They were very real monsters that manifest much differently now that you have an education, jobs, and a mortgage.
Your monsters have names now. Anxiety. Fear. Despair. Longing. Grief. Hoplessness. Anger. And possibly the worst of all the monsters: Uncertainty. Because there’s nothing more terrifying than not knowing.
If you were lucky, your adults — the ones who cared for you, even when they didn’t understand your monsters — did the one thing they could do to protect you from the dark. And once it was installed, whenever the monsters came, you had the perfect weapon.
You turned on the light.
When you were young, it was socially acceptable to fall asleep with a night light. Lots of kids had monsters. But you didn’t have to remain defenseless. Your night light kept you safe, at least until you reached the age where you were able to convince yourself you didn’t need it anymore.
You were wrong, of course. But you didn’t know that then.
Now you’re older, and the monsters have returned. But they look different than they used to. They feel different. Your monsters take the form of these things called thoughts, not all of them rational. What if he doesn’t really love me? What happens to my dog if I leave the house and don’t come home again? What if my children hate me? What if I suddenly become allargic to every cheese? What then??
There’s no night light to help you now, at least not an actual light plugged into the wall to keep away your no longer nameless foes. There’s no one to turn on even a metaphorical light for you. When the sun goes down and you’re lying in the one place designated almost exclusively for sleeping, the monsters come out. Not every night. But you can feel the possibility that they might appear, which is really what robs you of sleep more than the monsters themselves.
You’re a grown-up now. You can name your monsters — but that’s not all. You can quiet them. You can make them leave.
What is your grown-up night light — the thing that makes the shadows disappear, the whispers die down, your imagination succumb to its own form of rest? Assuming it’s not a literal night light, though if it is, that’s great for you. Whatever gets you through. Carry on.
Maybe it’s counting backward from 100. Maybe it’s snuggling up to your person or your furson or perhaps you have a tiny human close by. Or maybe you really do count your blessings in the dark like in that song, or you tell yourself, even when you don’t believe it, that everything will look a thousand times less scary in the morning.
The thing no one tells you about the dark is that there really are monsters embedded in every shadow. In the dark, every worry doubles in size. Every past awkward conversation replays ten times louder. The monsters cannot sleep, and are jealous of us. So they do the only thing they know how: They try to make the dark feel alive.
You still have a secret weapon.
Every good thing you can come up with to counter the bad — he does love you and you know it; your dog is a strong independent lady; children are not born with the ability to hate, it’s taught; there are dairy alternatives and some of them are delicious.
Find the light.
Get some sleep.
Do it all again tomorrow, and repeat.