478197_497496390295594_871647963_oI know, I know…that song immediately comes to mind…its screeching drone echoing bleats of horrific codependent tendencies. Pleading caterwauls of desperation. But seriously now, the questions deserve to be answered.

As I find myself transitioning post second divorce, expatriating once again, and pulling taut familial tethers, the pertinence of how we maintain our autonomy, basic needs, and sanity without those upon whom we thought we were dependent deserves to be investigated. I will attempt to do so in serial articles addressing various aspects I’ve found myself wondering and, oft times embarrassingly so, confronting with a tear stained face surrounded by piles of snotty tissues. You know exactly what I mean.

1. SLEEP

I’m a spooner. There it’s out there. I’ve seen the online dating and women’s magazines scantron multiple choice questions on the subject. I may want to cuddle up to another human being when I sleep, but I don’t want it to be an expectation. These nuances aren’t listed in the questionnaires nor readily discussed in the vetting process of the dating do-si-do (dos-à-dos). As if there is some sort of “relationship-bed” obligation I’ve entered into once a commitment is made.

Did I sign away my right to sleep alone once I decided I dug you and want to cohabitate? My first inclination is to say…of course I didn’t, that’s totally ridiculous, right? I am an intelligent person; I know what my right to choose means. It’s no big deal if I want to sleep alone. Right? Wrong.

As an incest and physical abuse survivor my right to assume I was safe when sleeping was taken away from me. I’ve been terrified of being haunted or attacked whilst sleeping for years, due to numerous interrupted and sleepless nights as a child. This and other sleeping disorders are common traits amongst survivors. How I need to arrange my bed, pillows, blankets, and the room all factor into the level of safety I feel when I go to sleep.

Growing up I was not allowed to ever close my bedroom door.

Please pause and soak in the meaning of the above sentence. There was no privacy. A basic sense of safety and respect for physical boundaries was not instilled in me. My body, my sleep, my space was at the whim and behest of those whom at my core I was meant to believe would protect me. I now understand that the sheer fact I am able to sleep and coordinate my space in order to do so is a major win.

I now choose to keep all of the doors in my bedroom closed. If I’m having a triggery night, I might keep a bedside lamp on, but most nights it is completely unnecessary. It’s the layout of the pillows that are the most significant contributor to my having a restful night’s sleep.

I recall when attending group therapy and also when facilitating individual and group support sessions for survivors that the talk of sleep dynamics always came up. Inevitably the question of how the bedroom needs to be arranged was addressed. The foot of the bed facing the door; all windows must be blackout curtained; sleep as far away from the door as possible; make sure there is a barrier between your body and the door.

What is the best barrier? The advent of the body pillow seemed like the prefect solution. Most survivors I’ve met make a sort of “V” shaped nest around themselves. I did the same thing, until I discovered the holy grail of single sleeper nesting bliss: The U-Pillow. Regardless of where I’ve needed to travel or if I’m in a new location where I’d usually have at least 1 sleepless night, with the U-Pillow I feel safe and comfortable. A wonderful friend of mine suggested that I invert the pillow so that the curve is at my feet and I have slept even better since arranging it like that. How does this have anything to do with spooning?

I use to feel obligated to spoon with someone in order to have a good night’s sleep and to feel safe. A phenomenon Dr. Samuel Dunkell, a sleep expert, purports to have noted in sleep patterns of the general public in his book Goodbye Insomnia, Hello Sleep. My tendency has lead to many dysfunctional relationships, fraught with feeling that I was betraying myself by giving in to my need to feel physically protected by spooning with a partner yet not feeling emotionally compatible or safe with the person.

Today I can choose. Today I can make a few simple changes to my environment to enable myself to feel safe and rest well. I can learn to trust my capacity to provide what I need to sleep safely, before I seek someone else to provide that basic necessity for me.

May you listen to your needs for slumber…they are yours, and they matter. Sleep is one of our most basic needs. You deserve to sleep safely. You deserve to choose how you sleep and with whom. What would your realistic ideal sleeping environment be like? What are the steps you are willing to take to make that happen?

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