Just like a street kid flying high on PCP, sleepwalkers can do incredible things. They’re capable of physical feats they could never manage if they were awake. They’re kinda like unconscious superheroes.
If you’re familiar with Mike Birbiglia’s film Sleepwalk With Me or listened to his stories on This American Life, you’re aware of the funny and dangerous things he’s done while sleepwalking. His condition is so severe, every night he locks himself in a sleeping bag so he can’t get into any unconscious mayhem. He’s even worn mittens to stop himself from unzipping the sleeping bag and escaping.
One time Birbiglia dreamed guided missiles were targeting him. Trying to avoid them, he jumped right through the window of his motel room like he was the Incredible Hulk. He fell two stories to the ground, got up and started running from the imaginary missiles.
When you wake up in a hospital bed and cops are telling you how you got there, it tends to make you want to understand the triggers for such dangerous behavior and find ways to change it. Mike Birbiglia learned a key aspect to his condition is his mental state prior to falling asleep. He discovered his fears, anxieties, whatever he represses, emerges when he sleepwalks. Consequently, he now labors to resolve his fears and anxieties rather than just bury them, since they don’t stay buried.
I have a friend and former roommate who sleepwalks. He takes the opposite approach from Birbiglia. Rather than examine his triggers, his fears and anxieties, he’s decided whatever he does when he sleepwalks isn’t his fault. In his opinion, it isn’t him, because… he’s asleep. He only takes responsibility for his conscious self. I find this a fascinating approach to one’s psyche. He divides his consciousness in a way that would make Freud giggle.
Otto von Bismarck once paraphrased an anonymous Latin proverb, “It is said that only a fool learns from his own mistakes, a wise man from the mistakes of others.”
My friend’s sleepwalking “adventures” have taught me all sorts of life lessons. If he’s not going to learn from them… at least I will. One of the life lessons I learned was…
1. Just because you can fit in a bed… doesn’t mean you should get in the bed
A friend of mine lived by himself in a four-bedroom house in a small college town. Naturally, it turned into a crash house for his friends. On any given night, you might find a pro skier, private pilot, and an industrial dope-grower all sleeping in different bedrooms and still have space for a fifth dude on the futon in the living room.
One weekend, my sleepwalking friend and I stayed there. The owner of the house was away traveling and a couple was sleeping in his master bedroom. Halfway through the night my sleepwalking friend needed to pee. So he got up and took off all his clothes. He almost made it to the bathroom. Instead, he relieved himself in the hallway. Then he headed into the master bedroom and noticed a girl in the bed. He must’ve assumed she’d like some sex because he crawled into bed with her.
The girl woke up to a naked stranger dry-humping her. Naturally, she freaked out. In his defense, my friend was dreaming and purely motivated by the desires of his Id. When her boyfriend woke up and saw what was going on, he told the stranger in their bed to get the fuck off his girlfriend. But my sleepwalking friend was enjoying himself so he told the boyfriend, “It’s cool, it’s cool… Don’t worry.”
Unfortunately, it was not cool. The girl tried to escape the humping machine now clamped onto her leg. My friend must’ve thought he’d win her over. Women are known for changing their minds but in this instance he was wildly optimistic.
The boyfriend sprang into action. He steamrolled over his girlfriend and shoved my friend out of the bed and into a wall. Somehow my friend didn’t wake up. Instead he was insulted by their rude behavior. He stood up with an erection at half-mast and told them, “You guys are fucked up!” He felt they needed to learn some manners.
Which brings up to life lesson…
2. Spooning leads to forking… so keep your silverware to yourself unless you mean it!
That same night, a traveling professional wake-boarder was sleeping on the futon. He’d been doing events all day, was super-tired and stoked he could catch some sleep before his long drive to his next event. Unfortunately for him, he’d picked the wrong living room to pass out in.
Kicked out of the bedroom, my naked sleepwalking friend headed for the living room. Still looking to cuddle, he crawled into the wake-boarder’s sleeping bag. Naturally, the dude was totally confused when some naked guy who wanted to spoon with him started dick-poking him with what was left of his hard-on.
Somehow the dude stayed calm. Well… relatively calm. He shoved my friend out of his sleeping bag and onto the floor. Since it was clear no one wanted to cuddle, my sleepwalking friend hopped up and quick as a horny jackrabbit ran back to his bedroom. I’m guessing the wake-boarder didn’t fall easily back to sleep.
The next morning the wake-boarder was gone, but the still-angry couple yelled at my sleepwalking friend for crawling in bed with them. They wanted to know what the fuck he was thinking. My sleepwalking friend said, “That wasn’t me. I wasn’t there.” And he refused to apologize.
They asked me what the fuck was wrong with him. I tried to tell them but I found discussions of Freudian analysis and Jungian theories of the unconscious don’t soothe the anger of a pissed-off boyfriend. Which brings us to life lesson…
3. When you’re in your parents house… you have to live by their rules
My sleepwalking friend and I grew up together. His house was like my second home. After I left for college my family moved out of my hometown. Anytime during college or just after college, whenever I visited the old hometown, I often stayed at his house, which was really his parents’ house.
During one visit to town, he and I went out drinking with old friends. We went back to his parents’ house to crash. I was dead tired, so I found the guest bedroom and went to sleep. Sometime in the night, my friend had a dream he was “camping.” That’s all he remembered.
The next morning, his mother wanted to know how much we’d had to drink. She was curious because when she woke up she’d noticed a foul smell in the air. For once, my sleepwalking friend made it to the bathroom. But convinced he was “camping,” he’d dropped his pants and answered Nature’s call. The next morning, his mother was horrified to learn her adult son had crapped on the bathroom floor.
As we ate breakfast, he insisted he had no memory of doing it. I almost spit eggs across the table when he said, “Mom, you know… that wasn’t me.” His mother looked like she was certain she’d totally failed as a parent. I shook my head to let her know it had nothing to do with her. But it didn’t seem to make her feel better.
Which brings us to life lesson…
4. When someone is a guest in your home… don’t show them your dick
I lived with my sleepwalking friend in a house in Berkeley. We often threw parties. After one particular night, I let a visiting couple sleep in my bed. Unfortunately, I stayed up too late. By the time I was ready to pass out, all the couches were taken. So I slept on our living room floor. No big deal. I had a sleeping bag.
Trouble started when my sleepwalking friend went for a walkabout. Naturally, first he took off all his clothes. It’s kinda his thing. A girl we’d both known since we were little kids was asleep on one of the couches. She woke up when my friend ran into the living room stark naked, waving all his dangly parts. She was very worried about what might come next.
My sleepwalking friend went with his standard move and pissed on the floor. Worried I’d get wet from the splatter and somewhat frightened, she nudged me awake. I woke up in time to catch the rest of the show.
After he finished urinating, my sleepwalking friend spotted a giant stuffed alligator someone had brought to the party. It was one of those ridiculously large stuffed animals you’d win at a county fair if you landed a ring around a milk bottle. Always down for a “sleep-cuddle,” he jumped on the giant alligator and started to dry-hump it like it was the sexiest alligator he’d ever seen. This might’ve been funny if he wasn’t pointing at the girl on the couch while he humped the giant stuffed animal. That part made it creepy.
I wanted to protect her and my naked friend’s last remaining dignity. I told him he needed to go back to bed. He laughed. I got up. Ordered him back to bed. Sometimes a tone of authority helps a sleepwalker. He responded. He got up off the alligator, flashed a devilish grin and ran back to his bedroom.
The next day, when we told him he’d sleep-raped the stuffed alligator, he said, “Ah… Whatever. Wasn’t me. I wasn’t there.” No apology. Nothing. This bothered our friend. She was still visibly upset. Watching a naked man helicopter his dangling parts and take advantage of a defenseless stuffed alligator can leave a person shaken. I tried to justify my friend’s actions but really… What could I say?
Even if you’re asleep… it’s still you. People remember. How could they forget? Denying it was “you” based on some Freudian argument about divided consciousness won’t help you win your case in the court of public opinion.
I learned even if you don’t think you’re at fault, it’s best to apologize. Once someone’s upset, asking him or her to see things your way doesn’t really work. It’s kinda like trying to stuff Christina Aguilera back in her genie bottle. That ship sailed.
And from Mike Birbiglia, I learned it’s important to examine what you repress because it will always find a way to be expressed, either in illness, compulsive behavior, or perhaps in sleepwalking “mayhem.“
Which brings us to the most important life lesson…