Afraid of the dark

As a child, night seemed to be when the fears and emotion came out for me. Nightmares, fear of being attacked and killed were a nightly occurrence for as long as I can remember. There were many nights that I was convinced someone was in the house or my room. I would kick my bedroom door open to be sure that no one was standing behind it, then systematically look under my furniture and open the closet door ready to run just in case. If my curtains were open I had to close my eyes while I closed them in fear that I would see someone looking back at me in the darkness. I always slept with my back against the wall to be sure that I couldn’t be snuck up on. Now I sleep with my back to Pasith – he is now my wall of protection. The bizarre thing is that aside from what happened before I was born I had no experience with anything frightening. I can’t tell you where the fear came from it was just always there. There was no obvious reason for me to have these thoughts and fears and I was the baby who was supposed to grow up without wounds because I wasn’t born when my Dad was killed. So no one knew, or wanted to admit, how deeply I was affected.

Several times a week I would wake in the night from a nightmare or convinced someone was standing over me and I would either need to go to the bathroom or I would have wet the bed and I would get changed, go to the bathroom and then go to my Mom’s room and sleep the rest of the night with her. All while shaking from fear that someone was just out of my sight. The farmhouse on the hill was the only place that I don’t remember ever having nightmares or feeling fear. It was the only place I ever felt completely safe.

One very clear memory I have is when I was 3 or 4 we were visiting family and I had been put to bed for the night. I could hear the adults talking around the table down the hall. I was scared and needed my Mom. I walked down the hall and stood there for a while hoping that my Mom would just come to me, willing her to just know that I needed her. I didn’t want to have to call for her because then everyone would hear me. I knew that they wouldn’t understand, I didn’t want to see their looks of disapproval. I just wanted my Mom. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore and I called for my Mom just out of everyone’s sight. There was silence. I called for her again. Then I heard her ask, “Should I go to her?” And someone (I won’t name who) said, “No. You can’t keep going to her. She will go back to bed when she realizes that you’re not going to run to her.”

My Mom didn’t come. I was heartbroken. The adults won and I did go back to bed eventually. That experience is as clear to me as if it had happened yesterday. It taught and shaped me. I learned that I was alone in my fear and that I was not worth getting up for. Rejection was reinforced. No one cared that I was scared and there was no point in telling anyone. I learned from this experience and others to shut down and not show emotion. I learned not to cry or show vulnerability. It didn’t do any good anyway. No one was coming to help me. After that I still went to my Mom’s room when I was scared and thankfully she didn’t turn me away, but I closed down. I learned that my emotions weren’t wanted. So instead my fear came out as anger, because we should all know by now, no matter how hard you try the emotions come out one way or another.

This one experience wasn’t the only thing that caused me to shut down, there were multiple contributors, but it is the one that stands out the strongest in my mind. I am not saying that if you don’t run to your child every time they want you that you are dooming them to a feeling of rejection and fear. What I am saying is that if a child doesn’t feel safe and confident that they are loved, the smallest feelings of rejection can be compounded to the point of affecting present and future relationships and the ability to show emotion without fear of rejection and repercussion. This is a long journey that I have just begun.

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