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Sleep Without Sleeping


by J. Frederika

I never did tell anyone about the times he touched me when I was six. Probably because I didn't say stop. I didn't know I should. I didn’t know I could; after all he was family. The painful urination eventually stopped and I came to expect him; finger, penis, tongue.

I learned how to sleep without sleeping, always aware of every movement around me. That sound is my baby brother leaving his room to go to the bathroom. And that sound is my mom. She's going downstairs now; no doubt for a Pepsi and some pretzels. She always wanted a Pepsi and some pretzels. And that sound, that's him using the connecting door to enter my room when he thinks everyone is asleep. But me, I learned to sleep without sleeping, to always be aware of every movement around me and I know he's coming.

Even before he enters the room I can hear him. Even before he is close to me I can smell him. Even before he touches me, I can taste his breath. He stopped when I was 10 and I didn't see him after that for almost 10 years. I no longer had to pretend to sleep. But I had learned to sleep without sleeping, to always be aware of every movement around me. Yet I was completely oblivious to what was happening in me. You see, because of what he did to me grew shame, anger and disgust. And those deadly seeds once planted would take years to pluck up. Always trying to fill that void, I went looking for love in all the wrong places because I just didn't give a f**k.

Pregnant at 13, yet no one ever checked to see if anything had ever happened to me. They just assumed it was me. "Fast" was what my mom called it; what she called me. Why would she assume it was me? I hated her for that.

I thought for a while that she hated me too. So I learned how to be with her I mean live with her while being apart, connected by DNA but disconnect at heart. It took years for me to like her, to not hold what he did to me against her. Then at 15, I had an epiphany, in order to be free, I had to forgive my Mom. So I did.



When I saw him again, it was at my grandmother’s funeral. I was 19 by then. Someone there told me he lived in a shelter when he was a kid and was probably abused. It's no excuse for what he did but holding on to it the way I did was choking the life out of me. And again I had an epiphany, in order to get un-stuck and for me to be free, I had to forgive my cousin. And I did.

But the hardest work was learning to like me; not hold what he did to me against me; not let what he did to me define me. I didn't realize it until now, but I hadn't dealt with me. I had pardoned everyone else but me. Damn! I never even allowed myself to cry, to really feel the hurt, the anger or the pain. I left that me in Philly with all her bitterness and rage. Until one day the me I buried was resurrected from her grave. And forced me back to me to deal with all the anger and all the shame.

Then one night in August, I sat with my tears and my anger and my hurt. I gathered my strength and took a deep breath. And I told that 6-year-old that it wasn't her fault. And I told that 13-year-old that she shouldn't have had to go to the clinic alone. And I told that 20-year-old that she was special just the way she was. And I told that 27-year-old that she doesn't have to hide who she is; just be the best you. And I told that 30-year-old that she's come a long way, but there is still work to do. And I told that 35-year-old it is OK to smile and cry, it doesn't say you're weak. And I told that 36-year-old to get herself some sleep.

Because I had learned to sleep without sleeping, to always be aware of every movement around me. And at 36 that shit was becoming tiring. So for the first time in a long time I slept. And not the sleep without sleeping I had become accustomed to doing for 30 years, I mean I really slept. Without waiting for the connecting door to open, I slept. I slept, without hearing him or smelling him or tasting his breath. I slept, without pretending not to notice the unwanted finger or penis or tongue. For the first time in a long time, I could finally sleep. Because at 36 I had another epiphany, in order to be free, I finally had to forgive me. And I did.

Photo: Shutterstock

J. Frederika is a preacher and poet who currently resides in Washington DC. She is the founder of I Just Believe, an 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to creating awareness around and advocating for survivors of sexual abuse/assault, human trafficking and domestic violence. You can follow her on twitter @ijustbelieve1

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