I have always been a morning person.
Like many morning people, I did not fall into this lifestyle by choice. My body wakes me whenever it wants. Sometimes that’s at 8:30, sometimes it’s at 4:30. I don’t get to decide.
I have had insomnia my whole life. Not for my entire adult life; for forever. I have night terrors, and I may wake up in a cold sweat or mid-panic attack. If I open my eyes and my service dog lying across my chest, I know the night was particularly rough.
On good days, the easy mornings, I poke my eyes open around six and I get up without any memory of being asleep. That is the best I can hope for.
Maybe it’s autism, maybe it’s all the trauma. Probably both.
Ever since I was a small child, I was up before the sun. I always woke up before my parents or my sister and would creep down my creaky stairs to get a snack. I would sit in front of the TV in the dark, usually with a box of Goldfish crackers, and wait for “Nick at Night” to turn back into “Nickelodeon” for early-morning cartoons.
I started getting into trouble for a bunch of different reasons. For starters, why wasn’t I still in bed? Secondly, I was not allowed to eat in the living room. And third, “Goldfish aren’t breakfast.”
I devised a plan. I didn’t want to be alone in the kitchen without the comfort of the TV, but I wanted my snack. So: I got a jump rope, shoved one end into the Goldfish carton, and left it outside of the living room. I held onto the other side of the rope for easy access. I would drag it to me for a handful of crackers and toss it back into the foyer. The perfect plan, really.
One day, apparently I got fancy and decided to put the remote in the box as well, so I could use my jump rope contraption to hold all my things. Or something.
That morning, when my mom started down the stairs, I got rid of my jump rope and the Goldfish box before she noticed, but I forgot the remote. My brain completely forgot about this memory for days, and our TV remote was lost without a trace. We had to keep getting up to change the channel or the volume.
When I was younger, memories would fall out of my head for my own safety. Now I know it to be purposeful dissociation, but back then, it was an unexplainable inconvenience.
Finally, when I wanted Goldfish badly enough, I found the remote. I stared at it, speechless, wondering if my mom would find this funny enough to not yell at me.
“What’s that?” I heard behind my back.
Luckily, this turned into a hilarious story we would revisit as a family. That one time I lost the remote for a few days. The scenario was so odd and illogical to my mother that it made her forget to punish me. I was spared this time as the forgetful idiot rather than the schemer.
Now, when I wake up early, I struggle to make myself a meal. I might have a handful of some dry cereal or a protein drink, but breakfast is a difficult concept for me. Eating too soon after I wake up makes me sick.
As an ex-childcare provider, this story has blaring red flags. Nowadays, I don’t find this story very funny.
If I, as a toddler, was regularly waking up hours before my mom, why didn’t she learn to wake up with me? Why was I afraid to wake up my own mother and ask her for food?
I was alone for hours nearly every morning. I was hungry. I learned to subsist on snacks. My mom wouldn’t change her schedule to accommodate me; she got up when she got up. Half the time she would be angry I wasn’t still in bed. A conversation about a healthy breakfast was out of the question.
Growing up, I blamed myself for waking up early and inconveniencing those around me. Feeling guilty for being conscious. Looking back, I have compassion for that kid.
In all of my years of being a preschool teacher, I heard countless parents talk about early mornings. Over time, I noticed that waking up absurdly early was actually pretty standard in parenting. Kids wake up, bright and early, cranky and starving. You don’t just get to press snooze.
There are dozens of coping strategies I would give out to these parents. How to get their child to sleep in for that extra half hour, how to get them excited about breakfast time, and how to get them ready for their day with some stretching or mindfulness.
Not once did a parent tell me that they let their kid wake up whenever and roam around the house alone for a couple hours. I was four or five. I wasn’t just hungry and lonely; I could have been hurt.
The depth of my trauma and neglect is unknowable. But the more I process, the more I learn about myself. My eating disorder was a natural response to neglect and food insecurity.
I can work backwards from that root cause, give myself a little understanding, and hopefully get something to eat.