Dolores’ Fear of the Dark
Dolores sat down, and as soon as I inquired about her problem, she burst into tears. In between her bouts of crying and with tears streaming down her cheeks, she told me her tragic story. She had suffered many injustices in her native country during a past dictatorial regime there. She was now safe and living in a new country, but sad memories didn’t let her enjoy her current life. She had been battling depression and anxiety for the last 15 years.
Aside from feeling anxious and depressed, she had a fear of the dark. Her anxiety and depression peaked at night. She dreaded sunset so much that she had developed a phobia of darkness. With the help of sleeping pills, she tried to sleep early at 7 PM and to wake up at around 6 AM. She was forcing herself to sleep 12 hours, and of course she couldn’t. She woke up repeatedly at night. But since she was afraid of the dark, she slept with the lights on. This way when she woke up in the middle of the night, she felt at ease because she could see her illumined bedroom and this calm her.
She had also a degenerative ailment that caused her chronic pain all over her body. Although she was smoking two packs a day as a way to sooth her anxiety, depression and pain, she very much wanted to quit.
Beside medication and smoking, she would try to distract herself from her sad and anxiety provoking thoughts by leaving her home and talking to people in bars and cafes.
After talking to her, I found out that Dolores was a fervent Catholic. She said that every day she cried for 4 to 5 hours because she was “stuck with depression and anxiety.”
“My mother used to say that life is a valley of tears”, Dolores said, “I didn’t know what she meant until now.”
Over the last 15 years, Dolores had seen different psychiatrists who had prescribed her anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications. She also had also done psychotherapy with different psychologists over the years. None had helped her with her problems. She wanted to quit smoking but any time she tried to go even a day without a cigarette, she felt more miserable and cried even more.
“You say you are a Catholic, but I want to ask you a question: are you a good Catholic?” I asked.
“No, I’m not.”
“Would you be willing to learn to become a good one?”
Dolores nodded in silence.
“I can teach you how to be a good Catholic. Correct me if I’m wrong, you cry every day for 4 to 5 hours. You take pills to force yourself to sleep at an early hour because you are afraid of the dark. However, you wake up multiple times during the night. You say that anxiety and depression are stuck to you. As soon as you notice daylight, you wake up. You also want to become a happy non-smoker but when you try to quit, you feel terribly sad and anxious.”
Dolores nodded and listened without blinking as I summarize what she had told me. I continued:
““What’s the use of crying for 4 to 5 hours? You cry a little here, a little there. I will teach you how to weep intensely for all the tragedies of your life. Your mother was right – life is a valley of tears! I want you to feel your mother’s description of life. I want you feel the depression and anxiety intensely in proper fashion.”
Then I gave her a task:
“Why cry for 5 hours? It’s far too long and you might run the risk of shedding some insincere tears. You can, instead, cry for one intense hour. During this hour feel as desperate as you can and weep like a good, true Catholic. You can condense all that your crying into one hour. However, make sure that every single tear is a genuine one. It is much more praiseworthy feeling your anxiety and depression for 1 hour with sincerity and intense crying than 5 hours of ordinary weeping.”
Dolores agreed to follow my instruction completely.
I also gave her other tasks to do for her insomnia and I conducted a hypnotic technique that I have developed over the last 15 years with smokers in Spain. However, I asked her that she shouldn’t become a happy non-smoker. I warned against this sudden positive change and instead suggested her to become a “sad non-smoker” for the first seven days. This would tie in with her exercise to learn to learn to weep genuinely for one intense hour. I promised her that in our next session I would teach her to become a happy non-smoker, but that for the first week she should behave as a sad non-smoker.
Dolores came and reported that she was cigarette free and been adequately sad about it. She had noticed a slight change in her mood and woke up fewer times during the night. Then I talked to her about her tragic life and her ways of cope with the adversities she had endured.
“Darkness scares you. All these years you have tried to distract yourself from negative thoughts that made you feel depressed and anxious. You also avoided sleeping with the lights off. You are afraid of the dark, and therefore, leave a light on all night long in order to feel secure. However, avoiding the darkness hasn’t helped you solve your fear of darkness. When you distract yourself from your dark thoughts and feelings, you are just running away from it. You might feel like Sisyphus, the Greek king of Ephyra who, as his punishment, had to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to be destined to repeat this action forever.”
I paused and looked in her eyes intensely and said:
“It’s like being stuck in a dark tunnel. You see a dim light at the other end and rush towards the light but find out that you sink deeper into darkness. The solution is not running towards the light. The only path that can lead you out of this darkness is through the darkness itself. You must face the darkness and enter it. You must feel all the phantoms and beasts hidden there that scare you. You must feel them passing you and feel them brush against your skin. You must touch them with your bare hands. Only and only then you can free yourself from the fear of darkness.”
“You mean I have to turn off the light and sleep in the dark?” she asked.
I told her what she could do (not exposing herself to the dark) in order to feel differently about her anxiety, depression and fear of darkness. One week later she said that her mood had improved and she had slept better. I taught her a technique for chronic pain and asked her to practice it on a daily basis for two weeks. I also asked her to reduce her sincere crying time gradually to only 5 minutes.
In the next session, with an apologetic voice, Dolores reported that she wasn’t able to do the task of crying as promised. There were days that she didn’t feel like crying. She sat there and tried very hard but just couldn’t feel sad. Positive thoughts, instead, would rush into her mind.
I explained to her that she had proved what I told her about the dark tunnel and the best way to get out of it. By facing her fear of darkness, anxiety and depression, she had managed to feel better and had spontaneous positive thoughts. During the next few weeks I helped Dolores to completely overcome her fear of the dark.
After a month she said that ‘the ghosts of the past’ didn’t torment her anymore. She had also learned to apply the techniques I taught her to condense her bodily pain to just a few minutes. She was sleeping better and she was free from anxiety and depression.