Ryan Berg is a former U.S. Marine Corps combat infantryman and deployed twice to Iraq.  In 2004, he was with 2/24 Echo company, Weapons Platoon, in Mahmudiyah, Iraq.  In 2006, he served with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and was in Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Asad.

He studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and completed his MA in Leadership Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California.  He is most interested in understanding the ways that the system of patriarchy in America affects male military Veterans – and argues that this system is fundamental in perpetuating suicides in the Veteran community.  He is married to his wife Nataly, and lives in the SF Bay Area.


Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

As the whole world knows by now, I am a patient and advocate of psychotherapy.  And ever since about nine months into treatment, there was a major shift.  There have been several major, profound life-changing positive shifts in my outlook, behavior, and feelings so far — but there’s one I’m particularly grateful for. 

Sleep. 

I have never in my life slept so well.  Nor have I ever gone to sleep feeling so much hope in thinking about the following day – or awoken in the morning with so much joy and excitement to be alive.

When I expressed my awe about sleeping better to my therapist, she replies customarily, “And what do you make of this?”  I smirk, and reply honestly: “I feel like my sleep has improved because I have taken off an eighty pound pack of psychic pain.  My head feels lighter.”  She nods. 

Yet there are also other factors.  Namely, that my habits before I fall asleep have changed.  No matter how I’m feeling, I always take a hot shower, light incense next to my bed, do a few of my go-to yoga poses very briefly, drink hot tea, and put lotion on my hands, face, and feet.  Yes, Jocko, I moisturize.  Not because I’m so concerned about my skin, rather because it feels good.  It further calms me down and is a routine that fosters internal safety, and emotional and spiritual nurturance. 

Of course, I’m also winding down around 8PM, and falling asleep at 9PM.  I intentionally do this because I often can’t fall sleep right away, and so I give myself the time I need to adequately start getting drowsy.  Sidenote:  Who knew that hot, decaffeinated tea was so damn enjoyable in the evening?  It’s feels like a warm internal hug, and often makes staying awake impossible.  First its the yawns, then the eyes begin to water, and then it’s: goodnight, Chesty, wherever you are.  Hot tea is now a staple of self-care and self-love in the evening.  By the way, I can’t help but be reminded of how many men reading this are likely cringing about now.  Why is this? 

I then drift away for six or so solid, deep hours.  And since I’m resting deeper, I require less sleep to feel energized the next morning.  I no longer begrudgingly force myself out of bed in the morning – you know – feeling dread with a tinge of fear attached not knowing how this day will play out.  I’m now completely inspired to awaken, without fail, every single morning – and I do so at 4AM consistently, with no alarm clock.  Some who I’ve sent emails to at this time reply back around 10AM concerned about my welfare, “Ryan, are you having trouble sleeping?” 

What they don’t know is that this time is the most sacred experience of the day for me.  This is my hour with God.  It’s my time with myself.  Where I go on walks through the pitch darkness of my neighborhood and breathe in in the cold, crisp, newly born oxygen – and experience the deepest possible feelings of gratitude while looking up at the galaxies.  “I have reclaimed myself”, I utter internally.

Despite these positive improvements, I still have chronic sleep issues at times.   I am occasionally haunted by very disturbing dreams, filled with anxiety, fear, sadness, and sometimes terror before, during, and when I wake up.  This is typically when I am processing something deep and important in therapy.  It is a sacrifice I am willing to make in order to continue with the process of self-reclamation. 

What does self-reclamation mean to you? What might help you facilitate that in your life? If you’re reading this and we know each other, don’t hesitate to mention it next time we see each other – I’d love to learn more about you.

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