When I was a little girl I used to wait until my parents fell asleep. I would crawl down the long hallway from my room to their room. I would then sleep on the floor next to the bed. I would wake up before they got up and go get back in my bed before we had to get up for school. I always remember doing this. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. I remember the sounds of my mom and dad breathing in their sleep. I slept on my mom’s side of the bed right under where she was, tucked halfway under the bed.
I felt safe there.
How and where do we find safety? Where is the place we feel the most safe? Where do we feel we can be that provides a complete peaceful and safe state of mind? Is safety found in a physical space or can it be found in your mind?
I slept next to my parents bed soundly. I felt safe there. As I got older and felt the need to be a “big girl” and stay in my own bed, I rarely got a good night sleep. After I moved out and had roommates and various different places that I lived, I rarely slept well. I just didn’t feel safe.
It wasn’t until I met my husband and we moved into our house that I truly felt safe. I remember our first night in our house, I slept like I hadn’t slept since I was a little girl sleeping next to my parent’s bed. I slept because I felt safe. I realized sleeping equalled feeling safe. I think there are many who cannot sleep because they do not feel safe and are ever searching for that feeling of safety.
We went to a family reunion when my daughter was 3 and I stayed awake for almost 3 days. I was away from home and I could not sleep. I even had medication that the doctor had prescribed to help me sleep and I couldn’t. My home with my husband seemed the only place that I now finally felt safe again. A few years later we went to the beach and stayed a night in a hotel. I was awake the entire night. I decided after that I needed to resume some therapy.
My therapist at that time was phenomenal. Best therapist I have ever had. She put things in such logical simple terms. Safe meant at home in bed period. Being away from home meant feeling vulnerable. She helped me to see the most obvious root of my issue which was that being away from home ALWAYS resulted in abuse when I was a child. Every where I went whether it was vacation or visiting friends or even staying in a hotel…being out of my own bed and away from home meant something was ultimately going to happen that I did not want.
I had finally found comfort and peace in my own bed in my own home with my husband.
My husband came to terms with this lasting affect from abuse after my daughter was 3 and we went on that vacation. He understood that if I go away it is not fun for me. I don’t sleep. It is not worth it at all. He has been understanding of that for 20 years. He has taken my daughter to the mountains horse back riding, snowskiing, family reunions, and much more. I turned my issue of not being able to sleep away from home as something that ended up being very cool for my daughter. Every summer she and her dad got to go away by themselves and create memories that were just for them. My daughter and I had tons of our own memories because I don’t work and we spend most of our time together. I became happy for them to do these things on their own. He told me once though that he wanted me to be a part of those memories. Every trip they went on was not something I could have done anyway. Having a muscle disease stopped me from being able to go. But I realized after he said that he wished I was well enough to go, that even if my physical body was healthy, my underlying issue of being away from home at night would be a determining factor.
That is so sad to me. Knowing that even if I were well from this muscle disease and even if I could experience these things, that it would be most likely miserable for me. I feel incredibly robbed of my freedom because another person took my freedom away back then and is still taking away my freedom now. Ongoing issues from sexual abuse really can make a person feel robbed…cheated…stolen. Because they took it when you were young and now the lasting results just continue to rob you of what you want to be. People that tell me, ” That is why you have to let it go and you have to forgive because the only person who it is hurting by remembering is you”. That is much easier said that done! It has nothing to do with forgiveness or actually the other person at all. It is now all just about me. And what is left of me after what was taken away. It is the process of mending the damage that is my process.
I don’t have issues leaving my house. I have issues with sleeping away from it.
It is literally the biggest childhood abuse side affect that I cannot get past. The triggers, the memories, I have found a way in my daily life to cope with. I have found ways to release memories and I have found ways to accept and deal with feelings that arise. My therapist tried all kinds of things to help with the bed. She had me sleeping in different beds in my own house. She had me trying to sleep at another house that I felt truly safe in. Nothing worked. I just stayed awake all night and as soon as I got home in my own bed I slept.
This whole subject has been weighing on my mind with our impending move. We are currently looking for a new home. Everyone thinks that looking for a new home should be “exciting…..new adventure….”. It isn’t exciting. And I don’t like adventures. I like that for the last 20 years I have slept, in my home, and felt safe. I like that I have had a feeling of contentment in this house for a very long time that I was missing most of my life.
So this got me thinking about what other people find safe. Anyone. Anywhere. In other countries. Do they find safety in their mother’s arms. Do they find safety in their spouses arms. Do they physically ever feel safe. Can you only feel safe in a situation that you create in your mind. If you can’t feel safe in your physical environment then can you create an environment in your mind that makes you feel safe.
For me, not feeling safe means I simply stay awake with large amounts of adrenaline. But I am sure everyone has their own reaction to a situation or place where they cannot find safety. How can you feel safe if you are in a war. How can you feel safe if you are with an abusive spouse. How do you then create safety when you leave those environments. it does not come easily and it is very effortful and purposeful to find these answers.
I am way from all dangers. Even when I am on vacation with my husband in a hotel, there is not danger there. I should logically be able to sleep in a hotel. But logic can not always overcome a feeling. I have created a safe place in a physical space. So if I am away from that physical space at night, then nothing can recreated safety. This is a real problem. It is a problem because I need to prepare myself to move to a new home and this even idea is paralyzing for me.
I’ve spoken with women that have escaped abusive husbands. It takes them years, if ever, to know they can sleep without worrying they will be found. I have spoken to people who have come home from war and they have trouble sleeping because they told me they are always waiting for something to happen. I have spoken to men and women who have been raped who, just getting into the bed will trigger anxiety.
I know I am the not sole carrier of this sleep/feeling safe challenge.
I am not ashamed to admit that this is still an ongoing problem for me. It is very common. I am sharing this problem that I have so that you can know you are not alone in your challenges. It may seem absolutely crazy that I cannot sleep anywhere but my own bed and it may seem so silly to others. But for me it is real. What is real for you and me deserves validation.
Trauma leaves an imprint. A dent. We can smooth it over and pack it full of good thoughts and good intentions. But the dent is still there. We can come up with coping skills. We can overcome obstacles that it has created. But it is very important to allow yourself to be OK with the fact that there may be situations that remain hard. Plain and simple hard. Especially when we find a way to make that traumatic imprint feel almost unidentifiable with therapy, coping skills, and healing practices. Because sometimes then we are asked to do something that reminds us that the dent is still there. It is still there. I can never undo the fact that I was abused. It happened. My mind and body remembers even when I don’t want it to. I am not in any way saying you can never be healed. I think that dent can, in the end, only be a tiny smudge. We can move forward. We can overcome what seems like the impossible. We can become survivors and not just victims. But we have to be kind to ourselves. I encourage you to not minimize your feelings when they come up. Those feelings are real and deserve to be validated.
I share this part of my life because this is my journey. I am not perfect. I accept my flaws. I accept my challenges. I want others to know that their obstacles are not silly and not crazy. No matter what they are. You should not be afraid to share the things that are hard to overcome.
No one knew this about me. No one knows that being date raped at someone’s house, among other abuses, has made it impossible my entire life to feel safe except in my own bed at home. Before this moment I felt like I needed to keep it a secret because of many reasons. The biggest reason is because I don’t want others to judge me and think that I am not OK. I don’t want them thinking I am still damaged, that I am still suffering. I have heard from a family member ” You are STILL talking about this abuse?” I have heard from a friend, ” I hope your writing helps you to heal since I can see you are still having a hard time”. People constantly feel the need to question where you are and why you are there. Someone else’s assumption I will not allow to rock my process or my purpose in writing.
Sitting here today I had this revelation that I no longer care why anyone thinks I am writing. I don’t need to explain why I am talking about what happened when I was abused. I don’t need to keep it a secret that I still do have some ongoing issues with the abuse that occurred. It is those assumptions and judgements from others that have kept me from being me. It is those comments made that keep other’s who have been abused to continue to be silenced.
Just yesterday I was asked, ” Is your husband worried what his coworkers will think about you when they read your blog?” NO! My husband encourages me. My husband supports me. My husband empowers me to keep moving forward unafraid, and above all to continue to speak my truth.
Don’t be silenced by others. Don’t worry about what those others even think. They did not experience what you did. Their comments, questions, and opinions do not matter. You matter. We matter.
Talking about my challenges does in no way mean that I am suffering. Writing about my experiences in no way means I am having a hard time. It is just telling my truth. Sharing my experiences.
So, I can’t sleep away from home. Now everyone knows that this is something that I face. There are people who are reading this right now who have those little things that they have kept to themselves that are direct outcomes of abuse. I am sharing my story. Every part of it. Because in speaking my own truth that is in every part of me I can only hope to help someone else come to their truth.
There is no shame in your truth. There is no shame in your fears. There is no shame in your search for whatever it takes to make you feel safe again. That is real.
So I come back in the end of this to safety. I searched for safety for a long time. I feel it now. But it is only in a physical situation that creates my mind to feel safe, and in that safety I can sleep. I am on an ongoing mission to be able to create a safe place in my mind that in turn makes my body feel safe anywhere! I have not found that yet. But I will not stop trying.
It is not until your safety is taken away that you realize the profound and primal need to have it.
It is not until it is lost that you realize the depth of the effort it will take to find it and reclaim it.
I pray that everyone reading this can once again find and feel safe again.