I had to do something right away so that I could get a good night’s sleep before the important tennis practice that I had the next day. After the practice would be a match in the afternoon, another typical day I had while training and playing professional tennis in Milan, Italy. Since I had my stash of benzodiazepines in my bag, I decided I could pop a few of those pills that night if, once again, I found it difficult to sleep. My benzo of choice was Ativan, which was a bit of a two way street, so to speak. On one hand I got a great eight hours of sleep because it knocked me out quick, but on the other hand it gave me the worst hangover imaginable. It made me walk slowly, talk slowly, it added to my depersonalization, and worst of all it made my foot speed look way below average on the tennis court (which was supposed to be my strength).
The morning of my practice session I had a really tough time getting out of bed due to my overuse of Ativan the night before. I missed the shuttle that took the players to the practice courts, and really struggled to get my breakfast down in time to get to practice. I was hitting with an eighteen year old junior player who actually carried a mirror in his tennis bag so he could keep checking out his hair (Italians love their hair). We started warming up in the short court close to each other and I instantly felt as if the world was slowing down in every way – the tennis ball felt as heavy as a bowling ball and I was impacting my shots consistently late. We proceeded to go back to the baseline and as I made the walk back there I knew this wasn’t going to be pretty. The ball looked increasingly hazy to my eyes as it got closer to me and on my very first forehand I caught the ball on my strings late and hit a spectator who was looking elsewhere at the time smack on the chest. As most Italians do he gave me a few different hand gestures and he said the word “cazzo” a lot which I knew didn’t mean “good day”.
After a few more minutes hitting from the baseline, I started feeling sick and the heat of the day was getting to me already. I thought to myself, ‘I am NEVER taking that many Ativan hits again no matter how long I stay up at night.’ I started hitting my practice volleys at the net, which really tests your reaction time. On exactly my fifth volley I prepared my racquet as I normally would, but completely misjudged the incoming ball and it struck me right in my family jewels (yes, that area) at the speed of around 80 miles per hour. To this day I have never felt such agonizing pain and I instantly hit the ground with a thud. This was definitely a first for me, and after about fifteen more minutes of being ‘coached’ by some of the Italians around me trying to make me feel better and being laughed at by the others, I slowly got up and made my way to the bench just outside the tennis court. Many people around got a real good laugh out of the situation except me, and after a few more minutes of lying in excruciating pain I rose up, told the director of the tournament that I was in no condition to play that day, and caught the next taxi back to where I was staying.
‘Boy, did things ever go the wrong direction quickly,’ I thought to myself that day as I lay on my bed, and it could all snowball from bad to worse, so I needed to take control over certain parts of my life right then and there if I wanted to make an impact on the tennis world as well as have a coaching career in the future. To take back control I looked a little bit deeper into what was really going on in my life. I recognized a pattern of thinking that was keeping me awake at night so I was able to apply better methods to overcome this insomnia. In order to get a good night’s sleep so I would feel fully charged for my tennis the next morning, I needed to start realizing that my day was actually done when my head hit the pillow at night, rather than feeling like I had unfinished business from that day. The other part of the puzzle was that I put so much pressure on myself to fall asleep thinking that I needed the next day to be perfect, that I had to have no panic attacks the next day, I had to eat perfectly clean, and all of my fears needed to be overcome. All of those things rode on whether or not I got a good night’s sleep! In reality, deciding to think about how I am a work in progress and that I didn’t have to be so perfect during the day lifted a lot of the pressure off and helped me to overcome my insomnia over time. And I was able to do it naturally and chemical free, without the ‘benzos’. I learned a lot from my experiences that day in Italy, but most of all I learned that once I stopped worrying so much about how badly losing sleep would impact my day, the less worrying I did at night, and the more sleep I got.