I wet the bed until I was about 15. It was a lot less frequent once I reached my teens, but the fear was Always There that it could happen at any moment, at any time, and my life would be over.
I have blacked out many of the memories from my bedwetting oeuvre, but I'll reconstruct a few of the scenes that I can remember.
I have a sleepover at my friend Yolanda's. I really want to go so I swear to my mom that I will be OK. I won't drink any soda or water or drinks at all after 8 p.m. I will be really careful. The sleepover is a big deal for me, and I don't want to miss out. The night before I do impressions of Domino's pizza "Avoid the Noid" commercial for all of the girls there, and they laugh, and it feels really good, and then we play X-rated Barbies. I feel like I am in heaven, joking with girls who I can tell now see me in a different way. Maybe some day I could be popular. Maybe some day I could have more courage more of the time, not just late at night at a sleepover.
It's 5 a.m.
I wake up in a panic. Terrified. I'm cold and wet and I know that my life is over. I try to hide all of the evidence and get rid of the sleeping bag and my clothes and I call my mom, crying, and the rest is a blur. It's blacked out, blacked over. I probably had to tell Yolanda's mom what I had done. She was probably kind. The ride home in my mom's car was probably silent. My life was definitely over.
I'm staying at my best friend Karen's house. At this point I've gotten used to wearing the bulky adult diaper things so that I can still experience the joy and bonding experience of a sleepover but I will not have to experience the feeling of quicksand that occurs if I slip down, down, and I make a mistake and my body betrays me. I make up a lame excuse to go to the bathroom when Karen is already well ensconced in bed, high above me in the second bunk. I put on the awfulness of the diaper. I am humiliated. I hate myself. I hate my body. I hate my life. I hate everything that surrounds me, including the tile on the bathroom floor. Life is gross and disgusting.
I use all of my concentration to focus on not making a noise that will reveal the unmistakeable sound of plastic brushing against plastic that is now concealed beneath my pajamas like a monster.
I fall asleep, and when I awake, if in fact, my body has betrayed me, I am at least able to discard the body this time.
I can rip off what surrounds me, and douse myself with wads of moistened toilet paper and expunge the soiled nature of my being until I think I am OK. If I can get away with taking a shower with things not being obvious then I do that. I wish the shower could rid me of my own faulty body, my own faulty wiring, the wrongness that exists through and through.
All thrill and cockiness of the night before, the sleepover secrets are dissipated and gone. Nothing matters.
I have a chart in my closet. There is a picture of a cartoon elephant who is celebrating with balloons that I have colored in, different shades of red and yellow and green and blue. Little star stickers mark the days where I have been dry underneath. If I get 14 stars in a row then I get a boom box from Radio Shack. The chart is my secret. The boombox feels like blood money.
I'm asleep on top of a cold metal sheet underneath the softness of my topsheet. I am trying to fall asleep counting the dots on my wallpaper wondering how many there might be and what I could achieve if I ever counted them all. I jump onto my brown furry pilled rug and I pretend to be a runaway. I have a new life. I am one of the "boxcar kids" and everything is an exciting adventure and I am afraid of nothing.
It's getting late so I know that I need to sleep. I crawl up onto my old stiff sheet with the device that is called "the Buzzer" underneath, a metallic sheet that will ring if it is exposed to wetness. I will not do it. I will not make it buzz. I am a smart girl. I have to stop this. I have to stop being bad and shameful. Look at everything my parents are doing. What will come next? Will I resort to literally sleeping in a nursemaid's arms as she carries me to the bathroom every few hours?
My child psychiatrist tells me that my bedwetting, my constantly sick stomach leading to diarrhea during the day, are from being so stressed, so anxious. It is probably the result of stress that I feel with growing up in my household -- a rageaholic head-injured blind combat vet and an obsessive-compulsive mother. I appreciate the empathy but I know that at the end of the day, I'm the problem. I'm the bad one. Nothing seems to fix me. I am hopeless. Disgusting. Unlovable.
A rich friend of mine Jenny has invited me away for the weekend at her cabin. Her family is wealthy and wealthy people make me feel really nervous and like an imposter. I pack 15 pairs of shoes for the weekend away because I don't want to wear or say or do the wrong thing. But I forget something. I forget the prescribed drops that I have been putting up my nose that have been helping with my bedwetting. I call my mom. What have I done. I screwed up. Please help me.
I explain to everyone in Jenny's family that I am allergic to...grass.
My mom has to bring these drops otherwise I might be sick. She drives hours and hours out from San Diego to the cabin to give them to me. Everyone makes jokes about all the shoes I brought and forgetting my grass allergy drops. I nervously make some joke about Jenny's "other best friend" and then I realize that maybe I'm not even her best friend at all. There is uncomfortable silence. It is awful. I keep messing up. I get through the weekend without wetting my bed. It is a victory. I am so grateful to my mom.
My great aunt takes me out to her beach house where she only takes very special people. I know that it is a big honor to be taken here, and that not many other people have gotten this honor. She likes me, and she likes my writing, and she wants to spend some time with me.
And then the awful thing happens.
I awake in a panic. I pray, I absolutely pray to God that it is sweat, perhaps I have covered my sheets in sweat, but no, I have done it. I have ruined everything, and I can't ever recover and everything good has been ruined forever.
I cannot admit to her, I cannot tell her what I have done so I just pretend that nothing happened. I grab a hair dryer and perfume and hairspray and anything to cover up the dead body I have created through my own faulty self-control, my own failure as a now young adult. I am 13 or 14 or 15. I am far too old for this to happen. She never speaks of it, and I never get invited to the cabin again, and I carry this around like a badge of shame. A gut death that never goes away.
I'm a freshman in college. I have stopped wetting the bed, but it is my first time drinking alcohol to the point of excess as a freshman. I wake up in a boy's bed and I see him scooping up the sheets and taking them down to the laundry. Oh my God. I've ruined everything again. It is all ruined forever. I hate myself to my core.
I'm 38 years old. I have not wet the bed in years, but I've been exhausted lately to a degree I have not felt in ages with a level of intensity in my professional and personal life that has spiritually vanquished me. I'm fine, but I need a vacation. I need some soul nourishing, I need to feel like I am not constantly running on empty. I have 99 cents in my bank account until payday on Friday because I have spent $600 to attend a psychodrama workshop that my therapist has recommended.
During the weekend, I cry throughout the psychodrama as my father's screaming and my mother's obsessive compulsive disorder are recreated. I come home at 1:30 in the morning, barely able to think straight. I embrace my dog. I hold him very very tight. I fall asleep without washing my face or doing any kind of healthy go-to-bed preparations. I can't remember having felt so tired.
At 5 a.m. I wake up in a panic. Oh my God. No.
I throw my sheets off the bed. I throw my pajamas off. I am sickened at myself, but it is a different feeling. It is a feeling that has changed, that has evolved.
I am also empathic to myself. I'm no longer afraid of the unspeakable. I'm no longer ashamed of the skeletons in my closet.
I feel and hear now that little child inside me who is screaming and scared and angry. I'm ready to take care of her now.
I promise her: She won't ever be alone again.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.