Ever since we worked through this last rupture and began to deal with the falling apart, out of control mess that was December me, we have been very focused on sleep. It started when I emailed Bea, telling her I felt a bit more like I had been able to put all the crap away, maybe into a suitcase, and it wasn’t gone, but it wasn’t really with me, either, and I could open the suitcase when I was journaling or in her office and so I was okay during the day, that the bad thing was at night, I couldn’t keep the suitcase shut, it just pops open and I have no control over it, so I can’t sleep because I have to keep the suitcase shut and stop anyone who might open it.
So, 4 sessions ago, on a Monday, Bea asked, “Can we talk about sleep? Because I think we could do some work around this, maybe see if we can’t make it not so scary to go to bed.”
I nodded, sure, okay. “I guess so. We can try.” I wasn’t sure I really believed we could *fix* my sleep, but I was willing to try.
“Can you talk about what your bedtime routine is like? Do you have a routine? Or even what your evenings usually look like?” She asked.
I shrugged, and proceeded to describe how Kat has quiet time, watching a show and snuggling with me. After that, usually around 8, she gets her pajamas on, brushes teeth and we put anything in her room that needs to be there, like pacifier (yes, my 6 year old still uses a pacifier, please don’t judge me. She needs it, it is a sensory thing associated with her autism, and we are working on not using it any longer, but by nighttime, she needs it), or her iPad to plug in, or her current favorite stuffed animal. Then we put on a short yoga video, do a bed time meditation, and then I tuck her into bed, sing a song, do one more bedtime mediation, put on her audio book, and kiss her goodnight. By this time, it’s usually 9:00pm. I clean up, pack lunches, do whatever needs doing. And then I start to find things to do in order to put off going to bed. And then when I go to my bedroom, I won’t lay down, and I won’t turn out the lights. I will sit up, in a brightly lit room, and avoid bed and falling asleep.
“So then what happens when you do try to fall asleep?” She wanted to know.
I shrugged. I didn’t have a great answer. “I don’t try. I try not to. I don’t know. I can’t lay down. I mean, I can’t like, lay down and try to fall asleep. I just stay sitting up. And read. Or listen to a book. Or watch a movie. And I fight falling asleep. Until I can’t anymore. Then I just……I don’t know. I guess then I finally fall asleep.”
“Do you feel less safe when you lay down?” I remember her asking this gently, trying hard not to upset me.
I nodded my head at first, and then told her, “It just….it triggers things. Pictures. Feelings. I don’t know. It is triggering to lay down right now.”
She mentioned that I lay down when I do yoga, but I shook my head. I may twist myself into pigeon, and then take the form of sleepy pigeon, or do an up dog as I move through sun salutations, but never do I lay down on my back. I just skip those asanas in class and take a different pose, and at home, my flows just avoid it. Savasana is done in child’s pose, and it took me a long time to even feel somewhat okay with child’s pose. I used to take savasana sitting up, in hero pose, so child’s pose is improvement of a sort. I tried to explain this to Bea, but my words got twisted up, and it didn’t make sense when I spoke out loud. So I simply said I didn’t know.
Three sessions ago, on a Wednesday, Bea asked me if I felt okay continuing to talk about sleep, or if there was anything else I wanted to discuss. I didn’t have anything else, sleep and flashbacks and nightmares had become my new normal and I was fine with talking about and trying to mitigate the flashbacks and terrifying dreams.
I’d written to Bea on Tuesday, upset that I never got the chance to be *normal*. I said that all I ever remember was being afraid of the dark, of wanting to hide under blankets or in my closet, of being afraid to sleep. I said all I remember is having bad dreams and being scared and alone. I said it was like that now, when I go to bed.
“When you go to bed, and you fall asleep, or lie down and have a flashback, what is that like?” She asked me, after reading back over my email.
“I…..Its like I can’t move. I get trapped there.” I told her.
“Do you feel frozen?” Bea suggested, and she wasn’t wrong to suggest that, because frozen tends to be a common state for me.
“No, not like that…..like……a child, afraid to get out of their bed in the middle of the night. More like, because it’s night so it’s sort of scary, but also, my mother had rules about getting up and getting out of bed. Until I was 5, she had to come get me out of bed in the mornings, because she had drilled that rule into me so well.” I explained as well as I could.
Bea hesitated then, but she eventually asked me if it was the same when Kenny would put me to bed.
I remember feeling extremely foggy, and not wanting to feel anything while I talked. “No..I…he would put me to bed and sometimes, right away…..he’d, well, you know, rub my back, sing a song, I don’t know…..and then….he’d stay in my room and bad things would happen.” As much as I didn’t want to feel anything, fear and shame and disgust still lurked around the edges of feeling.
Bea murmured something validating and understanding and it seems it was the exact right thing to say, because I continued on with the story. “Sometimes though, he would put me to bed and then leave. And he might come back. And he might not. And I never knew. I couldn’t know. So I just stayed awake and waited. And waited. And I was trapped and stuck and couldn’t do anything!” I remember sort of shouting the last sentence at her, but Bea never gets upset by that type of thing.
“That was hard,” she told me, “Really scary and really hard. Worse in someways, to just be waiting, not knowing.”
I nodded. Exactly. And then, in a very tiny voice, I said to her, “I wanted and didn’t want him to come back. It’s confusing.” I felt so much shame when I told her that.
There wasn’t any judgement in her voice, though. “Of course you did. That’s what we talk about, how bodies respond, and how these things can get very complicated, because our bodies are made to feel good.”
I remember physically shrinking away from her words. “I’m disgusting.” I whispered.
“No, I don’t think so. Not at all. Bodies reacting, that’s part of the confusing part, but it’s also part of that touch being too much for a little girl. You never should have been touched in that way when you were little. You were a child. You weren’t disgusting, you weren’t bad. That is all on him. And that’s when you went away, right? You went away because it was too much, too confusing to handle?”
I nodded, I agreed with her. She continued then, when I didn’t say anything, “You protected yourself in the best way you could. That little girl was very smart, and very brave.”
I shrugged, and I felt even blurrier. “I went far away to the place in my head. That was different than here not here.”
“Yes,” Bea asked, “Did you create a place you could go and feel safe? Did you have a place you imagined?”
I remembered sort of day dreaming as I tried to fall asleep, but I don’t share that. They were always dreams of my Sunday school teacher or regular school teacher or my favorite aunt taking me home and letting me live with them. I desperately wanted to live in a place with no secrets. Instead, I opted to share something else. “Maybe a place from my book…..”
“Ahhh, yes. Books were very important to you, weren’t they?” Bea remembered. I learned to read really early, before school, even, so by first and second grade, I was reading chapter books. “Was there a certain book you pictured places from?”
“Maybe the secret garden?” It came out as a question, but I had meant it a statement. It was just difficult to share that part of my story. I’d never before shared how I used the garden Mary finds and creates to feel safe. It made me feel vulnerable, like Bea could see through me and see all my secrets.
“Oh, that is a good one. I didn’t read the book, but I imagine the garden was beautiful.”
I didn’t respond right away, and then I told her, “You should read it, it is a really good book. It was one of my favorites, I read it all the time.”
We discussed the storyline, but I didn’t remember much of it. It’s hard to recall facts, when the last time I read the book I was probably 10 or 11.
“What does the garden look like, when you picture it?” Bea had wanted to know.
At first, it felt too embarrassing to say anything. I cant explain why. I just get embarrassed when asked to share things from my imagination. I finally described how the garden is a secret, so no one can find it or even knows about it, and then I described the weeping willow tree with a bench under it, and how I liked the tree because it sort of hides a person who sits on the bench, and I shared how there are purple flowers on vines that climb every where (morning glories, Bea supplied the name) and pink roses, and other flowers, too, lavender, and ones I don’t know the name of.
Bea told me it sounded wonderful and very safe. “I think this book could be a resource for you. Maybe you could read some before bed, see if it can help?”
Before we ended therapy that day, Bea carefully broached the subject of trying some SP around my sleep issues. She told me she felt like SP was the perfect thing for the sleep troubles, because they were so much more than a memory, the sleep issues are happening right now, in my present day life, and they involve feelings and thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. She was very careful in the way she suggested it, making sure to stress that SP was just an option, not something we had to do. I agreed to think about it.
During my session, I had shrugged off her suggestion of reading The Secret Garden at the time, but when I got home that night, I found a copy of the book on kindle with the audible companion, and downloaded it. I’ve been listening to the story at night, when I am trying to fall asleep. So far, it’s not helped, but it’s only been three nights that I have tried it.