Breaking Sleep

Trigger warning, I suppose.

On an abstract, social level, I believe most people think that sexual assault is wrong and that it is harmful. At least, I hope that it true. If it isn’t, then apparently I’m not pessimistic enough, and I doubt that.

Lately I have been dealing with a very practical after-effect of having been abused. I cannot sleep.

It makes sense.

I was assaulted in bed. I was assaulted around bed time. For me, the late evening was a time during which anticipatory fear set my nerves ablaze as I wondered if I would be assaulted or not that night. I’ve come to realize that sleep is not a scenario that had a win for me. If he came to my room and I was awake, then there was a good chance I would be assaulted. If I was asleep, then I was not aware and could not control my surroundings or know what was coming.

It is this dichotomy (sleep! don’t sleep!) that has made the last month particularly hard for me.

What I realize, as well, is that when I discuss sexual assault with people, they think I’m talking about something that happened to me, when, in truth, I am talking about what was changed about me. What is still happening with me.

Photo of Sleeping Children taken by Richard Croft

Photo of Sleeping Children taken by Richard Croft

Lately I’ve been trying to find ways to mend sleep. I’ve tried sleeping in different places. Sleeping with noise or silence. Sleeping with and without medication. Sleeping with or without lights. Windows open. Closed. All of these offer varying levels of success, and no strategy has proved consistent. In the end, when I put head to pillow, I do not know if sleep will follow or flashbacks and nightmares. I don’t know if my brain will let me sleep or keep me up until the sun rises.

I’m stoic (I know this shocks some, but it’s true.) I was joking with my therapist and I described, with a chuckle, my schedule: “Get up, drink coffee, complete tasks I don’t care about until I’m exhausted, drug myself to sleep, have nightmares, wake up and do it again.” I smirked.

He didn’t smile back. He looked sad and said, “That must be exhausting.”

I am the little engine that could. I will keep pushing on because what the hell else am I going to do? I will be glib and crack wise and shock the world with my resilience.

And someone looks at me and says, “That must be exhausting.”

I cry. Something I don’t do very often.

“Yeah.” I hide my face in my hands, “It really fucking is.”

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