I’ve been battling something quite familiar to survivors of incest and child sexual abuse, sleep deprivation. Over the years it’s been one of my biggest challenges. Although I blogged on this back in 2015 it needs to be revisited from time to time. Until three weeks ago, for many years, I fell asleep at 10 pm every night. Then came total knee replacement surgery and as the result of pain all the peaceful slumber disappeared. I had broken my normal sleep cycle and now needed to get it back again.
I fell asleep this morning as the sun was coming up after two days of this demon. My doctor gave me a little white pill to take and so far it has only worked two nights out of all those weeks. In the meantime, my life (and all its responsibilities) are on hold. I told my husband Tom to load the gun. He never worries about anything, falls asleep within seconds and sleeps so soundly he’ll never hear the gun. In the meantime I toss and turn while I worry about my kids, my grandkids, our finances, sales on my books, missing Guinevere, our Golden Retriever who went to Retriever Heaven on March 11th at the age of almost eleven, falling behind on chores, the Lamplighter Movement, food and medicine needed for my chapters in Africa, world peace and the damn politicians.
In the middle of the night I unload the dishwasher, chase spiders (wondering if it’s true what they say about violin spiders), try to figure out why the noise from our bathroom window sounds like a freight train, obsess on why my feet are hurting so bad when I take pain medication for my neuropathies and so on. My brain during the hours of 10 pm to 6 am is not a pleasant place to visit. If there’s something left to worry about I’ll get to it as soon as I finish with the others. Tom just shakes his head. He said if you look in his brain you’d hear a dial tone. Lucky him.
All humor aside, sleep deprivation is an enormous problem for survivors of child sexual abuse and incest. When your father wakes you out of a sound sleep when you are thirteen and brutally rapes you, there will be times in your life when you will be afraid, subconsciously to fall asleep. In the middle of the night, the lions and tigers and bears will assault you. You need to emerge the victor in this.
40 million people in the United States have a chronic sleep disorder. 30% of adults suffer from insomnia in the course of any year. According to the website at www.encognitive.com/ “New clinical research at the Boston University Medical Center suggests that a pattern of adult insomnia may be related to a history of childhood sexual abuse. Unexplainable lifelong insomnia is usually attributed to a neurological abnormality, according to sleep disorders specialist Sanford Auerbach, M.D., but he found that in nine of his patients’ insomnia was tied to previous sexual abuse. After these patients relaxed and were ready to sleep they experienced feelings of fear, anxiety and tension, which disrupted the sleep-wake transition. During periods of low stress, such as vacations, their symptoms actually worsened, instead of remaining the same or improving. Ultimately, Auerbach says, the only real treatment for insomnia in these patients is treatment of the underlying problem.”
Sleep deprivation is dangerous, especially if it is chronic. When you sleep your body goes to work, replacing and repairing cells. In my case, my Orthopedic surgeon said that my body needed to heal from the surgery and lack of sleep was slowing down my recovery. If you are deprived of a good night’s sleep your responses during the day can become knee-jerk reactions. Other side effects can be an inability to talk clearly, dizziness, an inability to focus, a heightened awareness of problems, confusion, an inability to operate a vehicle safely and the ever present fear that tonight will repeat itself. Fear of not getting enough sleep is a large part of insomnia.
I’ve tried everything. I even have a section on this topic in my book It’s Your Choice! Decisions That Will Change Your life. While it may be a question of “Physician Heal Thyself, I know from my past history that “This too shall pass”. Many years ago I wrote a poem about this particular problem. The last two lines often help me fall asleep.
Insomnia is a room where all my torments dwell.
They lie in wait to persecute and make my life a hell.
At night they march in front of me, while I sort them one by one.
They permeate my mental state then make me want to run
And hide beneath a willow tree, where grass lies at my feet,
And ruminate on nothingness, until I fall asleep.
My ordeal will soon end. Whenever insomnia rears its ugly head I seem to find a way to cherish going to bed instead of dreading it. Distinguished author Emmett Fox in his book, The Sermon on the Mount, said, “If you can raise your consciousness about the limitations of the physical plane in connection with the matter that troubles you then the conditions on that plane will change, and in some utterly unforeseen and normally impossible manner, the tragedy will melt away, and to the advantage of all parties to the case.”
In other words, pray.