My Alien Abduction Story

I’ve set a simulation to crunching away in the background, so for a little while, I can tell myself that I’m being “productive” whilst in fact tossing up a quick blag post. An interesting experience which used to happen to me fairly often recurred a few days ago, so I figured I should resuscitate some old thoughts about it. You see, I enjoyed the privilege of an alien abduction every few weeks during my junior year of MIT.

Let me elaborate on that:

Junior year for us physics majors is deliberately designed to be a brutal experience. To use flamboyantly gender-biased language, the professors want a chance “to separate the boys from the men” (you can substitute “sheep from the wolves” if you prefer). Key ingredient in the witches’ brew is Junior Lab, a class which the course catalog says will require eighteen hours of work per week. Well, if you’re a slacker, perhaps: I never knew anybody who did a decent job doing less than twenty. And you’re expected to be taking three other classes at the same time, including your first real encounter with quantum mechanics — a nice, intuitive subject which gives you time to relax and contemplate — and if you believe that, I’ve got a very attractive deal on a bridge in Brooklyn. . . .

Put simply, if you survive junior year, you know you can make it as a physicist. You also learn just how productive you can be in a state of sleep deprivation. I was a lightweight, usually tumbling into bed between two and four A.M. when others could go all night long. However, I would wake up around six, when the sun started hitting my bedroom window, and damnably, I would have the hardest time falling asleep again.

So I would curl up there in bed, not able to be awake, not able to sleep. And then, pretty dependably — when I was truly zonked with exhaustion but somehow unable to doze off — I would feel a wave of numbness, followed by a strange paralysis. With my eyes closed, I would see my room, but with the sizes and proportions all distorted. If the experience lasted long enough, I would sense myself rising into the air and sometimes even flying through abstract tunnels of light.

“This is so freakin’ cool!” I would exclaim. Curiosity and enthusiasm quickly overcame me, since I recognized the exact phenomenon which Carl Sagan had implicated in alien abductions of today and demonic visitations of yesteryear. After a few such experiences, I discovered I could give myself a good shake and break the sleep-paralysis. Sometimes, after I did that, I could relax into my little hypnogogic trance again.

I expect lots of people have had similar experiences, half-awake and seeing odd things. (I mean, I tripped out in a dentist’s chair at age eight after inhaling too much nitrous while they fixed my sugar-rotted baby teeth. Weird things can happen to the brain, even in daily life!) Junior year at MIT gave me the chance to explore the phenomenon, to test it with a little repeatability.

A couple weeks ago, I went through a siege of allergies. Generally, I get my worst allergic reactions in the spring, when all the flowers fall in love and spray their gametes into the air. Springtime came late this year, and so I found myself popping Claritin pills in order to function. During the worst of it, I realized I’d rather wallow in Nyquil than in self-pity, so I downed a couple gelcaps and tumbled into bed, early, in a decongested daze. I woke up about two o’clock the next morning and, in the sodium light shining through my Venetian blinds, went through the whole paralysis experience again.

Just as before, it was pretty freakin’ cool!

As Carl wrote,

And if the alien abduction accounts are mainly about brain physiology, hallucinations, distorted memories of childhood, and hoaxing, don’t we have before us a matter of supreme importance — touching on our limitations, the ease with which we can be misled and manipulated, the fashioning of our beliefs, and perhaps even the origin of our religions? There is genuine scientific paydirt in UFOs and alien abductions — but it is, I think, of a distinctly homegrown and terrestrial character.

4 thoughts on “My Alien Abduction Story”

  1. I’ve had several episodes of sleep paralysis throughout my life, usually during stressful periods — particularly after moving into a new house or apartment. My most recent bout with it was while taking a prescription smoking cessation medication called Chantix. After about two months on that stuff, I began having nightly attacks; mine involved becoming aware of a vicious animal at the foot of my bed just below my field of vision. I could move my eyes but no other part of my body, so there was no way to defend myself or call for help until I actually woke up. After three straight nights of these episodes, I stopped taking the medication and the bouts ceased immediately. I still smoke, but at least I don’t wake up screaming in the middle of the night!

  2. My only experience with this sort of thing came one night about 3-4 years back. I’ve always kept to rather bizarre hours and generally sleep very little anyway, so I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more often, come to think of it.

    Anyway, for me this involved a false awakening, and during this false awakening I was completely unable to move and felt short of breath. Looking off to my left, I could see a shadowy presence, one that resolved itself into a more-or-less humanoid figure, reaching out towards me. It was absolutely horrifying, perhaps one of the scariest moments of my life.

    You would think that, having a prior awareness of hypnogogic/hypnopompic hallucinations, I might have retained the presence of mind to think “This isn’t really a shadow-ghost attempting to possess me!”, but at the time the feeling was overwhelming. Even after I woke up, it took the better part of the day to shake the eeriness of the thing.

    Anyway, ever since then (and particularly since reading Carl Sagan’s take on the phenomenon) I’ve found it a BIT easier to be understanding towards people who think they’ve been haunted/possessed/abducted. Especially if they get into a state like the one you describe, Blake, where this becomes a regular thing. Obviously, one should still attempt to inform them about what’s really going on, but having felt that fear and helplessness makes me reign in my snarkasm just a bit when I do so.

  3. I’ve experienced sleep paralysis several times myself, and I’ve also had a lifelong problem with vivid dreaming. It is an “off” night if I haven’t had a dream where I knew I was dreaming, even if I couldn’t completely control it. I can’t say for sure that it’s made me the neurotic person I am, but it can’t have made me any saner.
    And being completely neurotic, I have anxiety problems, which I used to take Real Medication for, but now I’m too poor for that so I take valerian root sometimes. It really does chill you out, but it also gives you some truly insane dreams/quasi-waking experiences.
    But the real reason I’m commenting (super after-the-fact) is to say that this post really takes me back – I used to date a physics major at MIT, and though we broke up before his junior year, I knew all about junior lab and general junior-year craziness from his floor-mates. You people are maniacs…

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