By Diana Meyer 02/26/18

My perpetrator left me with a parting gift from my assault. My body healed, but my mind will never be the same.

A woman lying in bed awake
Why am I gripped with fear in the middle of the night when nothing is there?

Something startles me awake. I’m holding my breath and I can feel every muscle in my body rigid with fear. I listen, and there is nothing. I listen, desperate for there to be something, but there is nothing, which makes it worse. I am aware of the rigidity of my body, and how my skin is lightly damp with sweat. My pulse is still pounding in my ears. It was the nightmare again. That damn nightmare where he’s there. The activity of the dream is always different, but he is lurking in the shadows. His details are never visible, but his presence is unmistakable. There is no place I can go that is out of his reach. He’s watching.

I roll over and try to breathe. Deep breathing exercises bring my racing pulse to some level of normal activity, and I attempt to do the same for my mind. Focus on the grateful. Breathe. I see my daughter’s face in my head and I smile. I fight off the rising mother bear inside that begins to stir. “No, Diana,” I tell myself, “she’s fine, she is safe.” I recall a great piece of advice that I have heard repeatedly: “Lean into the discomfort.” I try. I try to lean into the anxiety and dig down deep to the root issue – but that is a no brainer. I know what it is, and for this issue there is no cure. Damn it!

Breathe. Inhale for a slow count of seven, filling my lungs, hold it for ten seconds, and slowly exhale for seven more. Repeat. On breath three I redirect my focus to my five senses. Oh, yes, I like this exercise! My eyes are closed so I survey the insides of my eyelids with absolute satisfaction that no light is seeping in. I listen to the soft snoring of the loving man asleep beside me, and that makes me hopeful. Any other time, the feeling I would have is safe, but for now hopeful will do. He is lost to his dreams, completely oblivious to the chaos that is me, and I want it no other way. I smell the apple cinnamon wall plug-in that lightly permeates our home with its comforting aroma. I lightly move the tips of my fingers around to allow the sensation of the bedsheets beneath them to register. The sheets are soft, and I remember that no one can reach me here. This bed, next to this man, in this building, is my home base. Home base is my safe place. Finally I get to taste, and realize that I long for my morning cup of joe. But my body is now relaxed, my mind is operating in the present, and there might be hope for more sleep after all. Now this I can lean into.

Twelve years ago I was drugged and raped by a man I knew. It took almost three years and a brutal battle, but when I finally got my day in court he was convicted for what he did to me. The jury gave the newly convicted felon a fine of a few thousand dollars and a few weeks in jail. Less than a month after he got out, he was arrested in another state for a sex crime. That prosecutor offered him a plea and he got off with probation. Even now as I am typing this, he is free to find his next victim.

I have clawed, kicked, and full throttle knocked down every obstacle that stood between the victim I was then and the survivor I am now. Imagine MMA-style, martial arts, bulldozer approach and that would get you in the vicinity at least. That one event, those moments, that act forced me to look the devil square in the eyes. Once I did that and lived, I should have nothing more to fear, right? I mean, I have gone on to receive two graduate degrees, raise two beautiful daughters, challenge legislators and lawmakers on prosecution practices, advocate to community leaders, and start my own successful consulting business.

So why am I gripped with fear in the middle of the night when nothing is there? Why is my body suddenly in full fight or flight mode? Why is it that sometimes a sudden sound can send me straight through the roof and into tears while other times I don’t really notice? How is it that I can speak at conferences to thousands of people on the impact of rape or about my experience without any nervousness, but strangers in the grocery store can make me so uncomfortable I have to leave, only to try again another day?

My perpetrator left me with a parting gift from my assault. My body healed, but my mind will never be the same. I have PTSD, and according to all of my research and the experts I have spoken with, it will never go away. My recurring nightmare doesn’t happen as often as it did, and I have taken many steps to identify triggers and balance my life, health, and stress. I take anxiety medicine and meditate. Although all of those things help, it is still exhausting to be uncontrollably and suddenly frightened without “reason.”

I have fallen back asleep, only to be awakened by the only man I fully trust. (God love him, I am not easy to love all of the time, but his support is unwavering.) I am still so tired, like sleep never actually happened. I roll over to see him going about his morning routine and I wonder what it is like to not carry this load and go about life without knowing what this is like.

But time waits for no man (or me), so I shelve that curiosity and drag my tired body out of bed. Now where is that coffee?

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Diana Meyer is a speaker, author, consultant, and educator on human rights advocacy and sexual assault survival. She dedicates her time to speaking out on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. She speaks and trains Politicians, Military, Community Leaders, Victim's Rights Advocates, Forensic Toxicologists, Police, Nurses, and First Responders. She has written for various news outlets, educational resources, and entertainment sources. Diana has been interviewed both locally and nationally on radio and television and was featured in the Washington Post. She was also a consultant for Dateline and A&E. Find Diana at her website, Facebook, and LinkedIn.