Last night, I had a very disturbing dream that was really a flashback. People frequently have trouble identifying a nightmare as a flashback, so I thought I would share my nightmare and then explain the flashback elements.
Here was the dream. It might be triggering, so proceed with caution.
+++ sexual and ritual abuse triggers +++
Hub and I were about to make love. He wanted it, but I was just going along because I was supposed to. He wanted to move it outside to the back deck. (Our bedroom and house was nothing like our real one.) We continued on the deck with the lights on at night, and there was a building across the street where several apartments backed up to our deck. I feared that people were watching, so I asked hub to turn off the light. He turned off one light, but we were still illuminated, and I knew that someone was watching, videotaping us, and uploading it to YouTube. I was horrified but could not stop it.
Afterward, hub told me to clean the sheets. They were extremely messy and sticky, and his bodily fluids got all over me – my hands, my legs, and my whole body. I could feel it oozing down parts of my body, but I could not make it stop.
+++ end triggers +++
I awoke with a start. My heart was racing, and I was triggered.
This was a flashback, even though this particular sequence of events never happened. The flashback was in the feelings and my reaction to different things that did happen to me, such as not having a choice about sexual contact, being watched and on display for multiple people, being filmed, and being covered with bodily fluids after being raped.
I cannot eat cereal because I get triggered if a drop of milk oozes down my face. I suspected that this tied into the sexual abuse. This dream confirms that this is exactly why I react in the way that I do.
The reason that I awoke feeling triggered is because this was a flashback, not just a dream. For this reason, telling myself, “It was just a dream,” is not helpful afterward. Instead, I have to comfort myself. I have to soothe the hurting little girl inside who is still haunted by the horrors that I suffered as a little girl.
I will probably always experience flashbacks through nightmares from time to time. They are not fun, but they are a normal aftereffect of trauma. Recognizing these dreams for what they are – flashbacks – empowers me to comfort myself through them.
Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt