The temperature fell into the negatives here in Colorado this weekend. Looking out your window at a world covered over in white is always a peaceful feeling, as long as you don’t have to go anywhere. This weekend, I was lucky to have no plans or obligation. I’ve spent the past two days avoiding leaving the comfort of my house, and the past two nights burrowed under the pile of blankets on my bed.
Being warm in a comfortable bed is a lovely thing, a thing of privilege, and anyone who has such a privilege should be immensely thankful for it. But as thankful as I am to have these basic comforts, for me, it also invokes some not so comfortable memories.
When I was very young, I used to be dumped off with an aunt and uncle with relative frequency. I say dumped off because at one point, my mother claimed to need a reprieve from her young daughter for just a day or two, and ended up leaving me there for several months while she was off doing god knows what. (My father, who lived 10 minutes away, did nothing to retrieve me.) Though I was ultimately raised by my parents, I spent many weekends with my aunt and uncle, and several summers.
I was a bed wetter as a child, up until I was about eleven years old. My parents blamed my small size, restricted fluids after dinner, and even put me on a medication meant to stop the bed wetting. Nothing worked.
I stopped around the age of eleven because by then, I had started to develop other coping mechanisms.
You may be wondering why coping mechanisms matter, and here’s why: Bed wetting is common among children who are being abused. When home isn’t a safe space for a child, it causes high amounts of anxiety and stress. One manifestation of anxiety, stress, and trauma in children is chronic bed wetting.
All kids will wet the bed here in there, but in a child who has experienced some sort of abuse, this bed wetting happens every night, sometimes more than once a night. And I was definitely in that category.
When I first read about bed wetting being a common issue among abused children, everything clicked for me. I’m absolutely certain now that my chronic bed wetting was a result of the abuse I was enduring. Why? Because whenever I stayed with my aunt and uncle, I never wet the bed.
Never. Not once.
The simple reason for this? My aunt and uncle never abused me. I felt safe when I was with them.
But more than that, I think it was the blankets. One thing my aunt and I have in common is that we’re both always cold. Her anxiety that I would get cold during the night led her to always pile multiple blankets on top of me, no matter what time of year it was. I remember so clearly the weight of all those blankets, and how safe and secure I felt.
One of my early memories is my aunt and mother arguing over my bed wetting. My aunt insisted it was the blankets that were doing the trick, and was haranguing my mother to pile blankets on top of me. She was sure it would cure the bed wetting, because she was convinced I was wetting the bed because I was cold.
It wasn’t the cold that was causing the problem, but my aunt was right – the blankets were part of the reason why it didn’t happen when I was with her. They represented a feeling of safety that I lacked when I was with my parents. This sort of symbol is powerful, and even though my young mind was too underdeveloped to consciously grasp it, it became implanted.
I unconsciously tried to recreate this this feeling of safety by always insisting on having a lot of blankets when I was at home. In fact, I rejected my bed entirely. Though my parents tried everything from bribery to threats to stop me, I slept on my bedroom floor from the age of around nine until I graduated high school and went on to college. The more my parents tried to get me to sleep on my bed, the more I resisted it. If they took away my sleeping bag and made my bed, insisting that I get into it, they’d wake up the next morning to find me right back on the floor. They eventually gave up, and left me to my eccentricities.
Being on the floor at night on my sleeping bag, with blankets piled up on top of me, was the only time and place I ever felt safe when I was at home.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was mimicking those times when I was little, and was pawned off on my aunt and uncle when my parents didn’t feel like parenting. My aunt and uncle lived in a two bedroom house – one bedroom was theirs, the other belonged to my much-older cousin. I was a toddler, around two to three, when I started getting dumped off on them for days to months at a time. So my aunt used to make me up a bed on the floor of the tv room. She refused to put me on the couch because she was afraid I’d roll off and hurt myself.
Lying in bed on Friday night, before my numerous meds kicked in and knocked me into oblivion, all of this suddenly congealed in my mind. Snow was falling, as was the temperature. By the time I went to bed, it was -1 and dropping. I was lying there with my beautiful and much beloved little five month old puppy, both of us burrowed underneath a sheet, two regular comforters, a down comforter, and a fourth fuzzy throw blanket that I got as a Christmas present from work. The weight of the blankets suddenly triggered the memory of lying on the floor of my aunt and uncle’s tv room, as my aunt carefully folded blankets in half and piled them on top of me.
It amazes me how many unconscious impulses and coping mechanisms we develop in childhood, and how many of them then follow us into adulthood. I don’t need blankets to feel safe at home anymore – my husband was also abused as a child, and he and I have worked really hard to make sure home is a place where we can relax and feel safe. Not only has the effort paid off, it’s worked a little too well – sometimes we’re both loathe to leave our comfortable space, and tend to isolate ourselves from others and from the world.
At various times in my adult life, I’ve tried sleeping without so many blankets. I’ve never been able to shake off my need for them.