Discover more from the cure for sleep with tanya shadrick
The Cure for Sleep: Out of Body
Season 3, 002: Share a story of boundary crossing or transcendence - a time when you felt yourself joining with someone or something beyond your self. What is the legacy of that experience?
Welcome to Issue 2 in Season Three of The Cure for Sleep on Substack: this long-term companion project to my memoir of waking up, breaking free and making a more creative life. It’s a place where you can explore your own life’s most intense and transformative experiences with those who are also interested in authentic ways of seeing and being.
And if you’ve already read the book, you’ll know it was a sudden boundary crossing - during my near-death a fortnight after becoming a mother - that placed me on a slow and strange path towards this beautiful communal undertaking we have here now.
How abruptly my haemorrhage removed me from the ordinary everyday:
My body was going to hospital. My self, however, set out in another direction.
Where was I? (In no pain, I had mind enough to talk to myself like this.) Upwards and tidal slow, I was floating on a blackness that had distance, volume. Words and phrases began happening.
And here I was, going through the dark towards a distant, tiny whiteness that contained an immensity. It was – oh why was I so far away still? – it was an inhabited light in which every being that ever lived had slipped its skin, and divisions, and prejudice; a portal to good intent, where anything in this earthbound life not simply kind and courageous was burnt away on entry. I travelled faster, glad to go, unburdening myself of old hurts and longings as I went.
Only then, as I gathered momentum, did awareness of husband and baby begin – lately, faintly – to exert a backwards pull. How I hated it. And if they’d each been ropes around my feet, I’d have bent down and let them loose. Kept going. Instead, I accepted – with sadness and deep fatigue – that I must make every effort to return.
I’M NOT DEAD I’M NOT DEAD I’M NOT DEAD
I bellowed this, over and again, with increasing force (although only my lips moved, I learned later, from the woman holding my hand). And each time I shouted, I came only a little further back, and with the unsteady motion got on a river, as if my voice and words were oars. The Awful Rowing Toward God: book by a poet who’d tried to die several times before she did. Yes. This was that. Where she had gone, I was going. Heavy now with duty, I fought the pull, even as I hoped it would carry me away.
But after that brief and blissful transcendence, I was left with a painful legacy - a yearning to live with greater connection and purpose that just wouldn’t leave me alone: precisely as my days were even more constrained than usual, by new motherhood and physical damage from the operation that saved me. And once my surprise second child arrived - just two years after the emergency - I had only an hour a week to myself. At first, I used that time simply to cry over the impossibility of ever doing something with what the out-of-body experience had awakened in me. But then:
At precisely this point – when the time I had to myself was reduced to almost nothing and the money of my own was gone – this is when the raw hunger for experience surprised in me during the haemorrhage reasserted itself.
How? In those car-bound hours, once I reached the end of tears and self-pity, I began to hold on to it as a thing in me hard as a pea, felt through all the layers of culture and convention that seemed to swaddle others from the passing of their numbered days. Disturbing my peace; a memento mori. A discomfort of soul that I chose to keep close so I shouldn’t forget the terror of regret exposed in what I’d believed were my last minutes of living.
I accepted then that my second life was never going to be altered in the mystical way experienced all too briefly during the blood loss: that delicious slipped skin sensation, as in first lovemaking or finding oneself arrived finally to a great and warm welcome of like minds. But if the yearning to reach beyond my roles as wife and mother I’d been left with was still burning so strong despite everything – and it was! it was! – then I must treat it as my vocation, even though it didn’t yet have any worldly form I could articulate to others. It was nothing I could hand over at the doors of a church, medical school or university; there was no clear course of study I could apply for and undertake in the way I’d given shape and status to my first life.
Instead, I would need to start navigating only from my own deepest instincts and values. Relax my infernal will, accept my obscurity and experiment with a more fluid way of being. Strike out into the unknown, with more energy than I possessed, and spend whatever few free hours I had as if I were rich in them, not poor. Become a spendthrift of time, not a miser. I, more than most, should understand by now the error of trying to save it.
It was that obscure but stubborn decision, made in a council car park on a cold Saturday, witnessed by no one but myself, that led - slowly, so slowly; by trial, by error - to the richly-connected life I live now.
But I’m aware today - in sending you this on the morning of the book’s paperback publication - that I’m arrived once again on the quiet far-side shore of another similarly intense experience. Because it’s a rare and unrepeatable event - publishing a book so full of one’s place, people and most personal moments, and receiving so many heartfelt messages from those who’ve read it. An interviewer ended a recent email to me with these words:
Where do you go from here? I wonder where you go from here.
I don’t know, is the honest - and exhilarating - answer.
Here are the only certainties (barring any further accidents and emergencies):
The book advance means I can be free of salaried work this year while my mother goes through her end-of-life journey. And what a state of unexpected grace: that the book of her life and mine gives me the financial freedom to be with her just when she needs me most.
And however I earn my money in future? This project will remain a rest-of-life commitment for me - a service offered to you and whoever else may come across it over the coming years. A quiet, enduring legacy come from that brief out-of-body experience, now so long ago.
your invitation to write
In 300 words or less, share a story of a time when you experienced intense contact or a sense of merging with someone or something beyond your self. Was this an experience you sought, or was it arrived at through chance, accident or emergency? What legacy has it left you? In what ways have you changed because of it?
Throughout Season Three, I’m going to be showcasing stories by subscribers who have each created a real body of work within the project, responding to multiple themes from the first two years of The Cure for Sleep…
Unforgotten by Steve Harrison
It’s always there, wandering in the backstreets of my mind. In idle moments, fragments of woven memories stitched together from old photographs of ‘her’ meld with faded childhood impressions and become someone I remember.
My mother was taken on a school day, an ordinary day; a day of algebra, geography and metalwork which shaped the contours of that day until she became no more. That school day became a desperate, misshapen day, unfocused and unformed.
I knew she was ill. She led in bed for days. No words. No movement. Only glimpses of her blonde, Diana Dors hair style, now limp and drained of its shiny vibrancy. She wilted and became cold.
I lost her. She was locked away in forbidden territory, hidden under a sad sea of blankets and sheets. The glowing coal fire in her bedroom had no one to warm.
Fourteen years old. Crushed and cast adrift into an adult world of be seen but not heard and speak when you are spoken to and keep away from that door.
My emotional compass was compromised and spun out of control. I needed to get close. Skin to skin. Look into her eyes and see life’s spark, get past that adult door closed by adult rules.
Emotional intelligence was something from a psychology book. No books in this house. Unable to process. My fourteen years had given me an incomplete deck of coping cards. I was not equipped to navigate my way through the powerful theatre of emotions that played out during her last days.
Reflection. Time was in a hurry to take her. I had all the time in the world to regret my weakness and forgive myself for not being strong enough to open that adult door and rescue myself.
How did you come to join The Cure for Sleep community?
I watched Tanya and Natasha Carthew discussing Working Class Writers on YouTube. It piqued my interest coming from a working class background. Following that I applied for a mentoring session with Tanya through the Ilkley Literature Festival, and was one of the six mentees that she chose for 2021. That session opened up a creative pathway for me that I have followed ever since.
Where are you in your creative journey right now – and how does writing for this story-sharing community support that?
It's been a creative, cathartic journey exploring the writer inside. These short, shock pieces of personal narrative gifts me a safe space to examine the essence of self; a carving out of personal layers through expressive language. Sharing this space with others allows me to be brave in laying bare my thoughts and the support it gives me to be creative without being judged. A truly, symbiotic community. I am just amazed at what I have written. I never thought I could write about me, using such charged language; revealing such emotion wrapped up in a new stylistic form.
Wiltshire born, council estate trained, secondary modern schooled; Steve Harrison shaped a future on the factory floor, he then pushed against the grain. He bent the straight path and followed a curved ball into Open University enlightenment; fed himself on the rich nectar of ideas. Seventy-three orbits around the sun.
Follow Steve: Twitter
explore the story archive
Desire, time, longing, friendship, regret, faith, promises . . .
There are now hundreds of thought-provoking true tales on these themes and more in The Cure for Sleep story archive.
There are several ways to explore it:
By theme - all the stories, organised by monthly prompts
By A to Z - read a single story from each contributor
By name - search for all the stories written by a single author
Thanks for reading The Cure for Sleep with Tanya Shadrick! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
let’s all say hello to each other…
Thank you to all of you who’ve already used the new introduction thread to say hello and share links to your own Substacks or other online projects. I’m soon going to spend a lovely few hours reading through all your posts there!
ask me a question…
If you have a question about The Cure for Sleep or writing more generally, remember that I have an always-open thread for this. I always try to give answers with links to further resources that might keep you good company in your own creative journey. Do read through questions asked by other members of the community too, in case my answers to them are of use to you too.