A close friend of mine was attacked during our third year of university. A stranger entered her room at night while she slept. Since then, I have trouble sleeping alone though it happened many years ago. When my partner is away on business and I have our apartment to myself, instead of sleeping, I bake. Or I clean. Or I binge watch on Netflix until the early hours of the morning when I pass out from exhaustion. If there are others in the house and I have a room on my own, I sleep with the lights on and my phone next to me. One time, I even hid a hammer under my bed. All the fears and nightmares which most people outgrow from childhood are more alive to me in my 20’s than ever before.
People say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Every negative experience is a learning opportunity, an obstacle to overcome, a chance to become better. I believe that, I really do. But people rarely talk about the various ways that every negative experience can hurt us and scar us, even the slightest things. They leave us damaged in little and lasting ways. I forget who said it, but someone once described all of life as the continuous attempt to build yourself back up when the world tries to break you down. That may sound melodramatic, but I can’t help but feel there’s some truth in that.
The other day, my sister and I were casually chatting about sleeping alone. When I told her I couldn’t sleep in a room by myself, better yet an entire house, I immediately and unconsciously added, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” My partner overheard and later said to me, “You know why you can’t. It’s not your fault.”
Fault. Guilt. Failure. There’s always that mix floating around which we can’t seem to be rid of, no matter how hard we try to find peace. To heal means to become healthy again, to recover. But it doesn’t mean or imply to be the same, or to be unchanged. It may seem obvious, but it never occurred to me that this strange fear I’ve developed was related to what happened almost six years ago. My friend is beautiful and strong and so happy now, but I can’t even imagine how that horrific night must creep up on her in the most insidious ways.
Physically speaking, healing involves building new skin overtop of a wound. Sometimes, it leaves a scar visible to the naked eye, other times it doesn’t. One of the most important things I’ve learned as an adult is that we’re all a little scarred, and we each wear our damages in different ways. Two years after “that night”, one friend told me how that entire experience left her angry and hurt. “I feel like I’m tarnished”, she said with dry eyes. She spoke with sadness but conviction, as though it was just a fact of life. I couldn’t agree more with that word – the way it hung heavy in the air.
Tarnished. Scarred. Damaged. All words of encouragement and false hope that had been so programmed into me couldn’t come. All I could do was hold her hand and say, “me too.”