The Trigger of Bedtime, as a Survivor Parent

Wednesday, May 4, 2022


I used to sort of dread bedtime with my kids when they were younger. I looked forward to it too; as an exhausted parent of 3 young boys I was so very, very ready for the lying-down part of my day. I loved the reading of books too, and the side by side snuggling with their sweet little bodies. Sometimes singing a song or two to help them to feel ready for sleep. But I hated the triggers. So. Many. Triggers.

The feel of breath in my ear if they turned to say something to me. Their afore-mentioned sweet, vulnerable small bodies, reminding me of my own when I was their age. Being in the bathroom while everyone was brushing their teeth made me apoplectically nervous, like someone was going to get hurt, the message of “Danger! Danger! Danger!” in my head and body, but NOTHING in my present to warrant that kind of fear.  I was in general in a fight/flight state most of the time during my kids’ young childhoods, therefore. And it got worse after I was diagnosed with breast cancer and went steadily through cancer treatment for a half a year. Like, much worse. Like the volume turned all the way up on the fear where it had been sort of a constant murmur that I could ignore (when I was well-rested.)

Evening approaching, and bedtime preparations in my growing up years (particularly 6-12) meant the likelihood of readying to be molested in the night by my dad. The fact that I was unremembering all of it as it happened just meant my mind didn’t know why I was so freakishly nervous at bedtime later on in my life. But my body has remembered everything. And so, a lot of the healing work I’ve done over the years has been through my body speaking its traumatic memories, being heard by me, sharing feelings and thoughts and sometimes visuals of the painful truths that it’s held in fear and shame all these years.

One of the amazing things about healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse is that a lot of the individual trauma’s leftovers are at some similar “level” in the body-mind. So, when you heal trauma through one incident, there’s sometimes this ripple-out effect and other aspects of trauma residue from other events and experiences are healed at the same time.

I’ve noticed this happen with my fear of being tired. Being tired used to put me in a sort of panic. The possibility of being tired could make me freak out with my boys if they weren’t settling down for bed. Being tired, I’ve come to realize, was a common state during the worst of my childhood abuse experience, from about ages 6-9. So, for my high-alert body in evenings as a parent, being tired meant some abuse was right around the corner. And it would happen again. And again. All the physical pain and discomfort. Out of control arousal. Sweaty, exhausted lingering after-effects. And then up for breakfast before school like everything was fine.

Anyway, recently, even though I haven’t specifically worked ON this issue, I’ve felt a softening of that fear response to being tired, and to fear OF being tired. I’m able to see the thoughts panicking in my mind as they happen and say: “No, it’s ok. I’m not in danger. If I’m tired tomorrow, it’s ok. I’m ok. Tired is just tired now. Not abused.” And I can let those thoughts float away from me a bit, and enjoy my kids being silly and hilarious and having trouble settling down for sleep.

Last night this process happened when I was with my 9 year old, and I could look at him and really see him, right now. His smiling face with the tiny dimples right beside his mouth, and his wild, huge hair, and his lilting voice telling me about the powers of some fearsome beast he has encountered in a game, or his imagination. I could feel all the love I have for him, and I could enjoy him in his exuberance, and it felt like such a gift. It’s one of those survivor things that feels absolutely earth-shifting, and at the same time so minutely small it’s hard to explain.

One last thing: now when I’m tired during the day I can sort of go “oh. I’m tired. Just tired. Maybe I need to rest a bit today.” And if I feel despondency rise up, (and it often does, Despair being the feeling-part of the after-abuse experience that I didn’t process at the time) I say to myself: “yeah, I know. Being tired used to mean horrible things were happening to me at night. But it doesn’t mean that now. Now: I’m just tired. So, I can maybe move a little slower today.” And the hard feelings lessen, and I can get a bit of distance from them and feel ok. Not great, maybe. But ok.

Being tired can just be: being tired.

Healing is possible.


In safety and love,

Deb Talan

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