The curing of a sleepwalker: hypnosis, trust and a pretty fish

The sharp click of the breaker box was what woke me up.

As my eyes came into focus, I snatched my hands away from the fuses and looked in horror as I wondered which ones I’d already flipped in my sleepy panic.

I was in my garage. And I was sleepwalking again.

Being a chronic sleepwalker is truly bizarre. Sleepwalking has a distinct undead quality. You wander around in a subconscious fog, unaware of surroundings but somehow functioning, albeit on a low level. Being in this limbo between sleep and wake feels both fascinating and terrifying. If you can get a little distance from it, it’s pretty damn funny. It’d be even funnier if it were not an offshoot of my anxiety and panic attacks.

I’ve been sleepwalking since I was a child. It’s something most people grow out of, but I never did. I’ve walked out of my house, I’ve wandered around like a creepy little zombie while staying at other people’s houses, I’ve rearranged everything in my kitchen and have written myself desperately important notes – like “salad dressing singing.” I walked out of my dorm room when I was studying for a summer at Oxford, franticly stumbling around the ancient halls like the ghost of Percy Shelley.

But eventually, the whole thing became less of an amusing quirk and more like it could lead to my unintentional death. My sleepwalking could be more appropriately called sleep running. Which, thanks to my inherent clumsiness and the fact that I’m not actually conscious, often means that I fall down. Falling down stairs and playing with electricity while in a undead state is just not good.

When my grandmother noticed the bruises on my arm, I explained that I had fallen down the stairs again while sleepwalking. She nodded knowingly; sleepwalking is a family trait. My grandma reported that her twin sisters used to sleepwalk — together. (Yeah. I thought of The Shining, too.)

“You should try hypnosis,” my Grandma said.

I had been to many doctors, who all claimed that sleepwalking is only manageable with drugs. The idea of knocking myself into oblivion every night didn’t sound appealing. Also unappealing is the way comedian Mike Birbiglia deals with it, which involves a highly restrictive sleeping bag and wearing mittens so he can’t undo the zipper.

But I had never been hypnotized before, and it sounded…out of control. It sounded like handing over my subconscious to be splayed open for judgment and manipulation, while I napped.

My poor, sleep deprived husband was building elaborate structures with chairs and sheets, topped with precariously placed bells, in his attempt to safely cage me in our bedroom. I still escaped every night like a sleepy Houdini. Something needed to change.

I went to a hypnotist who came highly recommended and was not one of those people who had a neon hand flashing in the window. Her office had a large bowl with one of those beautiful Siamese fighting fish in it, something that I found inexplicably comforting. It seemed to indicate permanence. Who would abscond in the night after training my brain to cluck like a chicken at the mention of the word “eggs” – if they had a fancy fish to care for? Fish are not easily transported, and who would leave a nice-looking fish like that to die of starvation?

The fish convinced me.

When I explained my almost-nightly routine, along with the graphic and detailed nightmares that involved violent acts with much blood and torment, she said,

“Okay, this session, we’ll get to know each other, because I can’t hypnotise you if you don’t trust me. Next time we’ll go into deep trace, then we’ll have one last clean up session.”

“That’s it?” I asked. She was so calm and confident and didn’t seem unnerved by my 30 years of undead behavior at all.

“Well, trance is difficult and exhausting work. But yes, three sessions ought to take care of it.”

Know what else is exhausting? Waking your husband up with your screaming twice a night. That’s tiring, too. For a couple of people.

I decided to trust her.

Hypnosis is strange. It feels like being half-awake, like in those moments right before you fall asleep. I remember everything that went on. I never felt out of control or scared. I saw some really wild stuff way down there in my subconscious. Memories and thoughts and images float around. I told stories about things I hadn’t thought about in years. I saw scenes play out that and I have no idea what they were. Was it all just my imagination? What is imagination, anyway? She walked me through my own brain, told me to visualize things and categorize them in my mind.

And since my sessions with her, four years ago, I’m pretty much cured. I’ve had a couple of relapses, which were largely margarita-induced.

Even after all this time, I can’t really explain why it worked. Even though I don’t run screaming through my house anymore, I still think of myself as a sleepwalker. It’s kind of like being an alcoholic, you always hold on to that label of yourself.

It’s strange to realize that you don’t always know what is going on in your own mind. It’s scary to admit that you don’t totally understand. But eventually, you might need to surrender a little control and trust someone who is worthy of your trust. Sometimes you can find help in unusual places, and sometimes when you get there, there’s a really nice fish.


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19 Replies to “The curing of a sleepwalker: hypnosis, trust and a pretty fish”

  1. What an amazing story. I also had not heard of many “cures”, but it makes sense.. she went into your brain and switched off the right circuit breaker so to speak. the brain does have a lot of very strange wiring, thankfully you found the cure before you got seriously hurt. As you acknowledge, our past is part of who we are. It molds us continuously. We are ever evolving creatures in our own lifeline. Beautifully written by the way. alan

  2. A hypnotist worked?! I’m almost 27 and still wake up in the most random places or rearrange things as well 😒😑 This is a great idea to try. Thanks!

    1. It still surprises me, but it worked! I was lucky to find someone highly trained in hypnotherapy and dream work, so if you can work with someone good – the results can be amazing. Sorry you end up in random places, too. It’s such a weird feeling…

      1. I will look into this 🙂 Haha, I’m sorry YOU end up in random places too. Agreed, it’s the weirdest. Have a fantab day!

  3. For another perspective on sleepwalking, take a look at the Honeymooners episode aptly titled “The Sleepwalker.” Available on YouTube. You’ll love it.

  4. Hi Lisa, luckily I do not sleepwalk anymore. As a child I would wake up in the strangest places: bathroom tub, laundry room, linen closet. Hmm…come to think of it they all relate with cleanliness. Anyhow, I am now 36 and I have not had a relapse in over 20 years. I don’t know how or why I stopped sleepwalking, but I am grateful. 🙂 Hope your relapses become less and less until they completely stop. The mind is powerful as it is astonishing, it never stops amazing me! ~Nelly

  5. Been there. I’ve been sleepwalking only when stressed since I was a kid. It somehow only happened once in college, which is absolutely nuts, but when we moved last August, I walked every night, doing random packing. My mom works out of our house at night, as a telephone triage nurse, and has encountered me while walking. She’s says it’s the most bizarre thing she’s ever seen. Maybe I should consider hypnosis.

  6. What an incredible post. I’m so glad that she was able to help you. I used to as a child and then like you spoke of I outgrew it. I’d forgotten until now. Thank you for sharing what you’ve been through.

  7. Wow! I’m glad the hypnotist worked for you. I’ve only ever sleepwalked a couple of times when I was younger, but my Dad suffers with it quite badly. He doesn’t tend to leave the bedroom much anymore but he has a tendency for acting out his dreams. My Mum said the other week in the middle of the night he sat bolt upright in bed with his eyes open but was clearly dreaming. She asked him what he was doing and he calmly explained he was whale watching and could she be quiet as she would scare them off! On another occasion he rolled off the bed at high speed wrapped in the duvet and when my panicked Mum asked him what he was doing, he said he needed to roll into the trenches!!! He soon woke up when he couldn’t get himself un-wedged from between the bed and wardrobe…Ha! It’s really amazing how fine that line is between being asleep and awake is for some people, and actually quite scary!

    1. I love the whale watching story, but yeah, that can get so scary! My friend, sound asleep, once yelled “fucking goalie!” and smacked his wife. Acting out dreams can be hard on a relationship… 🙂

      1. Ha! Oh my gosh! That did make me chuckle!! My Dad has accidentally kicked out. We all laugh about it and always ask for the ‘latest tale,’ but I do feel for my poor mum! If we all didn’t laugh so much about it, she’d probably cry 🙂 If that’s not a case for separate beds… I don’t know what is!

  8. My brother, well into his teenage years, would crawl into bed with me in his sleep. I used to try to convince him to go back into his own bed, but eventually I just gave up. I just wanted to get back to sleep.

    We’ve also had an argument for going on thirty years now about who sleep-peed in the hardhat. I still maintain it was he…but it may been I.

    Don’t tell him I said that.

  9. thank you for sharing some very personal things. I’m sure it helps people who are suffering too feel less alone…had I suffered from sleep walking I would feel better. I don’t, but I have always wanted to be hypnotized…but I have this unnerving fear of quacking like a duck when the phone rings or all of the sudden have an insatiable need for bjs. Anyway maybe that was way TMI, but those are my fears of hypnosis.

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