My Therapist Told Me To Sleep With A Teddy Bear. I Had No Idea How Much It'd Change My Life.

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The author's teddy bear, Teddy.
The author's teddy bear, Teddy.
Note: This essay contains details about the author's experience of sexual abuse.
I am a 46 year old woman sleeping with a teddy bear. The irony is that I didn't sleep with stuffed animals as a kid, and even if I did, I'm not sentimental enough to have saved a childhood sweetheart.
I could be accused of not being sentimental at all. I tried to throw away one of my son's baby blankets after he outgrew them and my husband caught me.
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It intercepts many of my trash attempts. He was the one who pulled out an envelope that I had taken for junk mail but actually contained a notice informing me that I was part of a $215 million class action lawsuit with the University of Southern California, my alma Mater, who was with Dr. George was related to Tyndall - a former gynecologist at the school who has faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. [USC agreed to pay an additional $852 million to ex-patients of Tyndall in 2021, bringing the total to over $1.1 billion. He is currently on trial and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.]
I had no immediate memories of my experience with Tyndall, but as they surfaced, they triggered a separate memory of sexual assault. When I was 5, a 16-year-old boy next door fingered me in the woods across from my house. I never said a word about it.
Tyndall gave me an unnecessary pelvic and full body exam, touched me inappropriately, and made sexually suggestive comments. [Although hundreds of women, including the author, made allegations against Tyndall, the majority of them fell outside the 10-year statute of limitations, did not allow criminal charges, or had insufficient evidence to prosecute. The author's claims are not among the specific allegations against which Tyndall is currently defending in court.]
At first, I really didn't think either event would have affected me in any significant way. USC had partnered with a company called Praesidium to help victims in the case find and fund mental health support. Did I need free therapy? I maintained my belief that my experience of being attacked was not traumatic, but I went anyway.
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During my first session, I told my therapist about my child abuse. "It really wasn't a big deal," I said.
She looked at me with seeing, compassionate eyes. "It's actually a very traumatic experience that you went through as a kid."
I was grateful when the hour was up. Despite my willingness to attend my weekly session and discuss my complicated relationship with my mother and my history of assault, my participation was only superficial. I wasn't ready to dig deep.
Three teddy bears that the author ordered for herself and her sons.
Three teddy bears that the author ordered for herself and her sons.
After we worked together for almost a year, my therapist suggested I sleep with a teddy bear. Hugging a stuffed animal, she said, would help me be more present in my body. Then maybe I can face my past trauma instead of repressing and minimizing it.
I looked at her like she was crazy. To me, a rom-com screenwriter, her suggestion seemed like pure fodder. Imagine the following scene: A first date is going remarkably well. The two end up with her and make their way to the bedroom. All signs point to go until he faces Paddington.
A grown woman sleeping with a stuffed animal is a well-worn punchline. I politely responded to my therapist's suggestion, “No thanks. I don't."
When she brought up the idea again a few weeks later, I knew she really meant it. This time I heard her say words like "self love" and "healing" but I couldn't understand her; these concepts were foreign to me. But I had a plan. As a favor to her, I slept with a stuffed animal for a night or two, and after that, when I was sure I was loving myself or present, we could move on.
My two sons have countless stuffed animals. But having inherited sentimental genes from their father, they weren't ready to part with any of their furry friends. I guess my youngest saw the desperation on my face and after much deliberation decided to give me the ugliest thing in his collection: a little pug with one missing eye and only half a red tongue. He handed the dog over and said, "You can only have him for one night."
I took Pug to bed with me. It was too small and I spent most of the night uncomfortably with it in my armpit. I was surprised at how disappointed I felt. Instead of proving my therapist wrong, I tried harder. I sent Pug back as promised and ordered a teddy bear online - actually three teddy bears. Teddy, "handmade with love", was soft gray and looked super-duper fluffy. I don't let my boys' cute, innocent smiles fool me; I knew that if I didn't do each his own, Teddy would be ruthlessly kidnapped from my bedroom in broad daylight. Two days later, three teddies arrived in a box. I unpacked mine quickly and carefully.
The author is working on her memoirs,
The author is working on her memoir, The Claimant, with Teddy next to her.
My husband was incredibly supportive of my work in therapy and kept quiet about his wife sleeping with a stuffed bear. If he had commented on it, he couldn't have teased me any more than I was already teasing myself. That first night, as I wrapped my arms tightly around Teddy and closed my eyes, I said out loud, "I hit an all-time low."
But in those first few weeks of sleeping with a stuffed animal, something amazing started to happen: I felt comforted. I felt less alone. I felt love for the little girl I used to be. I held the bear for her - for me.
I started to delve deeper into therapy. I spoke about growing up with a famous therapist mother who excelled at helping her clients process trauma but had overlooked the signs that her own daughter had been sexually abused. Using an approach known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, my therapist helped me process the shame and grief I carried with me from a young age. Yet I still struggled to believe that my experience of being assaulted had had an impact.
In one session I repeated the words from our first meeting. They had become my mantra: It really wasn't a big deal. My therapist asked me to imagine if any of my children had been attacked. Would I think it wouldn't have been a big deal then? Your question split me. I would have run into the forest in a flash to save my child. I would have done anything in my power to stop Tyndall. But no one was there to save me. In that moment, I realized the terror and impact of my attacks.
I wasn't kidding that night. I didn't hesitate. I hugged Teddy to my chest as tightly as I could.
My therapist and I continued to work. I kept sleeping with Teddy. Then a settlement check came in the mail from USC. The money was surreal, but it didn't make me sane.
"Why don't you write a memoir?" my therapist asked.
I looked at her in as much disbelief as I had when she suggested I sleep with a stuffed bear.
"Because I'm a screenwriter. I don't write books,” I replied.
But it didn't take me long to realize that her suggestion was valid. I had often used stories and fictional characters as a means of escape. Writing my own story was an opportunity for me to be more authentic and present. I started sending her chapter between sessions. It was easier to get what I had a hard time saying out loud on the page. I often wrote in bed at night with Teddy next to me. I finished a draft in just under three months.
A space above the author's desk where she displays her children's artwork.
A space above the author's desk where she displays her children's artwork.
It's been over two years since I started sleeping with Teddy and now my bear is worn and tattered with a small tear in the backbone. Sometimes when I'm making the bed I have to scoop out little bits of filling from between the sheets.
In the past I might have thrown the bear in the trash. But I've started saving more things: meaningful birthday and Christmas cards, a ticket to a special concert. There is a large area just above my desk to display my children's artwork and I keep other beloved items in a special container. While I used to think I was being unsentimental, I've learned there's more to it: Because of the sexual assault, my childhood self didn't believe she was worth saving anything that might have been important to her, and I kept thinking about it way as an adult.
My therapist and I talked more about why she was so insistent that I sleep with a stuffed animal. She said, "A loved object can become a psychological representation of yourself, and over time it can help you develop self-love and self-esteem." Appreciating Teddy has helped me nurture myself. I now have greater self-esteem. I know that I matter, my memories matter, and my writing matters.
It's not just sleeping with Teddy that has helped me get to where I am today. It took a lot of hard work, self-examination, and real change to start loving myself the way I deserve to be loved.
Do I think every middle-aged woman should sleep with a stuffed animal? Well, frankly, yes. Believe me, every morning as I make the bed and gently lay Teddy between the pillows, or in the middle of the night when my hands are searching under the sheets to try to find where the bear has escaped to, I question my sanity. But I'm trying to be more compassionate to myself and proud of myself for making the effort.
I think with an operation Teddy will be fine. And you know what? I also.
Rachel Weinhaus is a screenwriter and memoirist. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California and a Bachelors in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Weinhaus is the author of The Claimant: A Memoir of an Historic Sexual Abuse Lawsuit and a Woman's Life Made Whole. Visit her at rachelweinhaus.com.
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Do you need help? Visit RAINN's National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center website.
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