I hear the secrets that you keep

He said I talked in my sleep.

I didn’t realize till years later that sleep talking was unusual. It never registered as something that I should mention to a doctor. My boyfriend thought it was funny. He even recorded my sleepy ramblings on occasion. On one recording I could be heard clearly saying, “I’m going to fucking remember this.” I didn’t.

A couple times in our relationship, I asked him for sex when I was sleep talking, which he happily obliged. I vividly remember waking up and groggily asking, “Why are you fucking me?” He laughed and joyfully responded, “Because you asked me to!” I accepted this answer because it was in all likelihood true, despite my lacking memory. I allowed him to continue to use my numb, wilted body.

That comment – “Why are you fucking me?” – became a running joke for him, but it chafed. I didn’t understand why he had thought it was okay to have sex with me when I was asleep. He knew – I thought – he must’ve known that I was unconscious and couldn’t have understood what I was saying.

I talked to my therapist about it, and her response was that that couples sometimes start sex when they’re half asleep, that it’s normal. I didn’t bother to explain to her then that I didn’t remember saying that I wanted to have sex, or that I woke up long after the sex had been initiated. I assumed these things were implied. I left therapy invalidated and confused.

Now, on the cusp of my narcolepsy diagnosis, I reflect back on this time in my life and wonder if he really did understand that I was truly unable to consent. I doubt sincerely that he did. He and I both believed at the time that I was “half asleep” and therefore awake enough to make decisions such as those. In a sense, we were right about the half-sleep, but I was not awake, not competent to make decisions.

So where does this land on the line of consent? I left those experiences feeling betrayed and ashamed, and then doubly so when later invalidated by an unknowing therapist. Were these situations caused by the lack of a narcolepsy diagnosis, or were they caused by a lack of understanding of enthusiastic consent? Or perhaps both? Did I fail to explain the situation well enough to my therapist or was she truly unsupportive in my time of need?

These are questions that I do not have the answer to. I wish I did. It would make forgiveness easier, because I would know how and whether I was wronged. I understand that, I was traumatized, and so I have a right to that pain, but I also understand, in a sense, that there were other key factors at work that may have made the people who caused the trauma to be unknowing offenders.

Mara Passio
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