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Posts Tagged ‘Night Terrors’

On my blog entry entitled “I Don’t Know If I Have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)”, a reader posted the following comment:

Faith, I was wondering if you could do a post about night terrors. Like when u wake up soaked in sweet and thinking its real. You stuck in the past. The cry. The heavy crying. And ‘body memories’ like if u wake up and you feel pain of someone hurting you? But its in your head. And not happening but u think it is. I hope I totally don’t sounds loopy. I’m being serious this happens to. And the feelings feel real and The feelings associated or direct me to a post if uve already done one? ~ Freckles

What Freckles is describing is dual consciousness. On the one hand, a part of you knows that you are lying safely in your bed while another part of yourself feels like you have been teleported back in time and are currently being abused.

I recently had a nightmare where I was being raped again. I could feel everything that I felt when I was raped as a child. It really did feel like I was being raped again in that moment even though I was safely asleep in my bed. As Freckles describes, I awoke feeling as if my body had just been raped even though I was reliving a memory that happened decades ago.

I have heard that some child abuse survivors can become so caught up in the reality of the past that they lose touch with the present during the flashback. When a loved one steps in to try to help, they lash out against the loved one, believing that the loved one is the abuser. I, personally, have not had this experience. I have been fortunate to stay grounded enough in the present to avoid “losing myself” to total immersion in the past while I am awake. Flashbacks in nightmares are a different story – When I experience those, I am only aware of the past, not the present.

Here’s the good news: You can use this dual consciousness to your advantage! As long as a part of yourself is aware of being in the present, you can use that part of yourself to comfort yourself through the flashback. I learned how to pause, rewind, and fast-forward a flashback.

I also learned how to talk my way through the flashbacks. Even though a part of myself was experiencing the abuse as if it was happening right now, another part of myself would walk me through it. I would tell myself that I already survived the abuse, so I could survive the memory. I would tell myself that I am OK, that I am safe now, and that it is OK to remember what happened. I would tell myself that I already know the ending – that I survived and am OK today. I would sometimes even play a song in my head to help ease the anxiety as I worked through the memory.

As for stopping the flashback … some of my flashbacks were too intense to deal with all in one sitting. As long as I promised myself that I would return the next night (and meant it), I developed the ability to “turn off” the flashback for the night once I had enough. I would process what I had relived that night and then be in a better place to move forward the following night.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I sometimes have what I believe to be night terrors, although I have read online that PTSD can be misdiagnosed as night terrors, so who knows? Whatever you want to call it, they are scary as #$%&, and that is saying something for a person who has nightmares on a regular basis.

When I have a nightmare, it is awful, but it plays out differently in my head than a night terror (or whatever it is). My understanding about night terrors is that they occur during non-REM sleep, which is what this feels like, but my night terror last night happened right before I woke up, which sounds inconsistent with a night terror diagnosis. Whatever it was, I am going to discuss this topic, and feel free to replace “night terror” with whatever term captures this more-than-a-nightmare nightmare.

I still remember my first one vividly. I was in college, and I had an intense dream that I was driving a car down a dark road and saw a man walking alongside of the road. As I passed him (in flashes, not linearly), he reached in, pulled me out, and raped me. I awakened very shaken, breathing hard, with my heart racing. The quality of the dream was different from any that I had ever experienced before.

I have nightmares so frequently that I have learned how to do “lucid dreaming” where I recognize that I am asleep and have a variety of ways for force myself awake, such as screaming at the top of my lungs, which results in silent screams in the dream but will sometimes cause me to make a noise in my sleep, which causes me to wake up. These tools do not work with night terrors. I once had one that cycled around multiple times. I would be sleeping in my bed and a man in a hooded black robe came in my window after me. I used my tools to wake up, only for the story to repeat itself over and over. I could not awaken – I could only restart the dream so I was stuck in a “loop.” It was terrifying because I truly could not tell if I was awake or asleep.

Last night was Night #6 of nightmares, and I am both physically and emotionally drained. I had this quality of dreams last night again where I could not pull out and could not tell whether I was awake or still sleeping. I would try to will myself awake but could not read the clock. Different people kept coming in my bedroom, but I could not see them. One time it was my kid. Another time, it was someone trying to hurt me, so I held on tight so he couldn’t leave (and I could “bust” him), even as he bit me and I bit back.

If these are not night terrors, I don’t know what to call them. They have a very different feel from a regular nightmare, such as the time I “flashed” down the stairs after seeing that the front door had been left unlocked and then was attacked by the door. These dreams are more vivid, and I cannot pull myself out. The sheer terror I feel is indescribable.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I had another night of nightmares with the central theme being sheer terror. Oh, joy! I had to sleep with the New Age music station tuned to my television in order to go back to sleep each time. The music helped me calm back down and relax after each time I jerked awake in terror.

I am not sure how figurative or literal the dreams are because they involve horses, which is not something I typically dream about. It could be figurative because any mode of transportation represents how in control you feel about your life. I used to dream about trains a lot (no control over where you are going). As I have healed, I have moved to cars. I do not recall ever dreaming of using horses as transportation. It could be literal because my mother/abuser had horses throughout my childhood.

There was a part of the dream that definitely represented my mother. In my dream, I scanned over a city that has significance in representing my mother.

As for the horses … One dream was particularly terrifying. I was riding a horse and ran into a “bad guy” who approached me on foot in a cavalier manner to harm me. He very clearly was going to take what he wanted, and even being on horseback was not going to rescue me. He pulled out a gun before I woke up with my heart racing and adrenaline pumping hard.

That is the part that has me confused. All of my flashbacks of childhood abuse involve someone I knew or being handed over to a stranger by someone I knew. I have not recovered memories of a complete stranger coming upon me by chance and harming me. However, this does play out in my dreams sometimes, as it did in this dream. That adds a whole new level of terror because, if the person did not know me or my family, what would stop him from doing whatever he wanted, even killing me?

As I write this, it occurs to me that some of you who suffered from ritual abuse have shared about cult “set ups,” so perhaps I was set up to be harmed by a member of the cult that I did not know to create this additional form of terror?

However, it could be a figurative representation of the first time my mother harmed me. She could have seemed like “a stranger” because hurting me was “strange” up until that point. I simply don’t know.

On another note, the eating has not been “effortless” as it was last week. Whatever memories I am dealing with have triggered the urge to compulsively overeat, but I find no satisfaction from the anxiety if I start to nudge that direction. I am hoping to disconnect the two in my head and recognize the urge to binge eat as a symptom of more pain to be healed. I keep hoping that, at some point, I will have worked through all of the big stuff and will no longer be slammed like this any longer. Here’s hoping, anyhow.

Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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I had nothing but intense nightmares last night, but even in my world, these were really, really, bad. I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and would have just watched TV to clear my head if my kid had not climbed in sometime during the night. I just woke up this morning, and I am shaking. I would love any theories on what my subconscious is trying to tell me so I don’t have to endure another night like that.

In the dream, my mother/abuser has been missing for months. The police have been searching for her, and I have been able to say honestly that I wouldn’t have a clue about her whereabouts since she and I are not in contact.

I receive an anonymous text telling me that “what remains of her body” has been found. I am suddenly in a meeting with a guy from the FBI as well as a group of other people, and he is filling me in. This whole time, her body has been decomposing in pieces on her own porch, but nobody noticed. After her last letter from me, she went out on her porch and killed herself piece by piece. She used some weird tool (like a cross between a pizza cutter and a box cutter) to cut up her body piece by piece and spread it all over her front porch and lawn.

I dreaded telling my sister the news. She walked in the room and was very young. The FBI agent began with condolences, so someone had already told her. Her (dream) boyfriend was there – a blonde high school jock who asked what happened. My sister looked at him, was young, and a very young alter’s voice came out saying, “My mom is dead.” He reached out to her, but I grabbed her and held her like a baby, and she was as light as a newborn baby in my arms. Her boyfriend said he can’t deal with this and left.

My sister was very upset, but my feelings were mixed. I was horrified by the state of her remains, but I was relieved that she was finally out of my life forever.

Then, someone gave me a newspaper with pictures, and that is what really shook me up. It had black and white photos of my mother’s remains. Her body was more liquid than solid, but there was enough definition in her face to be able to tell that it was her.

It took me a long time to get back to sleep, and then I had more intense dreams but none as terrible as that one. The last one centered around dirty laundry, and I get that metaphor.

Still shaking…

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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No wonder I am so exhausted even after getting nine hours of sleep! If last night’s dreams are any indication of what I typically dream in a night, it is a wonder that I ever get any rest.

First, let me set the stage – We had a bad storm come through that knocked out our power right at my son’s bedtime. He was scared, so I took some Melatonin, climbed into bed, and tried to go to bed early so I could get up early to work. Of course, my son is back on his ADHD medication that gives him insomnia, so he was driving me nuts. He woke me up at least 10 times before I kicked him out of my room. Also, with no power, I could not generate any white noise, so I was on high alert for every sound in the room. I believe this is what caused this particular brand of nightmare – my extreme terror of being awakened in the middle of the night and hurt.

In the dream, we were living in the townhouse I used to live in when I was in graduate school. It was a repeat of what really happened – my son wouldn’t sleep, and he kept waking me up. I got angry and left to take a brief walk around the block to clear my head. The road I was walking kept getting narrower, and angry people kept telling me to turn back. A train arrived, and it was going to be photographed for some historic purpose. I wound up getting stuck in the photograph because, on this narrow road, there was nowhere else to go.

I then walked home later than I planned, passing my neighbor who was sitting on his townhouse steps drinking beer. The power was still out. He handed me two coupons for free beer and said, “My favorite kind of beer.” His voice was flat with no emotion.

I went to my bedroom and tried to sleep again. Hub came to the door and opened it, which set off my adrenaline again. (Every time I hear a noise, particularly a door, when I am sleeping, it feels like someone gave me a shot of adrenaline.) He kept debating whether to come in or not, which just kept sending more surges of adrenaline as I pretended to be asleep (just like I did when I was a little girl). He finally decided to come into my room and confront me about leaving our son in the townhouse while I went for a walk.

Something about him entering the room heightened my terror, and I started vomiting all over the floor. Hub ignored this and started berating me. I looked back at him and said something about him not even noticing that I am not doing well. He yelled louder, which set off another round of my vomiting. I then turned to him and screamed at him at the top of my lungs. I yelled, “You need to hear me! Why don’t you ever listen to me!” I stormed out of the room, stormed back, and yelled, “Maybe it’s time I use the ‘D’ word [divorce].” Hub got angry and yelled at me, saying it was never okay to say that. I yelled back, “I can say it if I want to. Maybe you will hear me now!”

I ran to my bathroom (the one that I have now) and kept vomiting. Hub came in after me holding a cord stretched out between his hands with his wedding band dangling on the middle of the cord. He tried to wrap it around my neck to choke me, saying that there would be no divorce. (Hub is not violent and would never do anything like this.) I fought back. That’s all I remember.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Yesterday, I shared that I wrote a draft letter to my mother/abuser that I might or might not send. I want feedback from my sister and best friend as well as all of you before I send it.

I had the worst nightmares after writing the letter. I could feel the revolving door of my multiple system in full spin while I tried to sleep (I wrote the letter late at night), and I had to do deep breathing to stop my heart from pounding. Then, it was a full night of one nightmare followed by the next.

The one that freaked me out the most was the one that involved me looking into a mirror. What I saw in the mirror looked nothing like me. I was a complete freak – bald and pale with no eye lashes, and the pupils of my eyes were bright red. I kept trying to push the image away, but it wouldn’t leave. I was hideous. :0(

I had multiple other nightmares, but they didn’t stick. I woke up in a cold sweat, and I am still shaky this morning. My kid (who crawled into bed with me last night) must have picked up on some of my energy, because he said out of nowhere, “Mom, I want you to drink some wine.” I told him that only alcoholics drink wine at 7:00 in the morning, but he said he didn’t care. (And, no, I have never had wine for breakfast!)

I have a better plan for the morning. My son and I are going to go to the gym. They have free childcare on Saturday mornings and a great “kids’ workout room” where he gets to work out using the Wii with other children while I work out. I think I will spend an hour on the elliptical machine. I will probably need that long to shake off the anxiety I am feeling this morning.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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

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