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Posts Tagged ‘nightmares’

This has been a rough week for me. While it was freeing to make the choice not to question whatever memories surfaced, this also apparently opened the floodgates to dealing with some really heavy stuff. At this point, I don’t even know what it is yet … only that it is really bad.

On Sunday night, I had a cluster of nightmares:

1. I vomited into toilets three times – severe, Norovirus-like retching.

2. I was a teenager living on the East Coast in the U.S. My mother had moved to Seattle (place farthest away in the Continental U.S.) and was forcing me to visit her there. I didn’t want to go there, but I had no choice.

3. I was late in getting my son to school. I was not ready, and I kept running around like crazy trying to get dressed. Weird impediments kept happening, like my socks being attached to each other. I looked up and realize that I had three HUGE fish tanks in my room. I “forgot” they were there and had not fed the fish in many months. I felt like crap because they must have starved to death, and I tried to find some fish food as I saw that some were still alive and must have eaten the dead ones to survive. The dead ones were in clusters on the bottom like people who banded together as they died one by one. There were two fish that looked like people who truly hated me for what I had done to them.

Then, the next night, I had flashes of a trimmed Christmas tree being thrown on the bonfire and body memories of being forced to perform oral sex on a woman. I again had a pattern of three dreams:

1. I was very upset about how people were treating fish. (Think about when people refer to fish in reference to a woman – smell.)

2. I had a dream involving my friend’s kid who is 8 rather than my own kid, who is 10.

3. I was running around a courthouse. (Seeking justice)

This dream cluster had another pattern of threes:

1. An older man (represented by former boss in dream) experiments with fish and makes their color pale.

2. A child stirs chili powder into the water with the fish, which kills them, but he feels badly when I get very upset about it.

3. I try to buy back a DVD of the fish that a restaurant has. (restaurant = eating = my body memory) The restaurant refuses to give me the DVD but will sell it to me. I think this ties into child porn – recordings of my “fish” being sold.

I am physically exhausted from the dreams and feel “off.” I feel like I have two or three bubbles in my head taking up the space where one bubble should be. That’s the best way that I can describe it. This is how I feel when I have truths breaking into my subconscious.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Yesterday, I talked about dialing it back and shifting my focus from the dissociative identity disorder (DID) issues to the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues. (Isn’t my life fun??)

I have recently been recognizing just how f@#$ed up my sleep patterns are. My DID mostly shielded me from just how bad it was. I had (and still have) a wolf alter part that comes out at night to protect me while I sleep. Back when I still had DID, the wolf would take over while the host personality “lost time.” I saw this as sleeping very soundly when, in reality, I was dealing with all sorts of sleep issues.

Since my host personality integrated, I have stayed co-present when the wolf comes out. I always know that I am about to fall asleep when I feel the wolf come out.

I have had messed up sleep patterns forever, but for some reason, I am finally recognizing them for what they are. Here is my pattern:

  1. During the day — My version of “normal”
  2. Sun goes down – Headache
  3. Dark outside – Feel depressed
  4. Feel anxious/triggered
  5. Look for ways to make it stop – binge eat or drink alcohol
  6. Both tired and anxious as bedtime approaches
  7. Delay going to bed even though I am tired
  8. Go to bed late
  9. Wrap up tightly in blankets
  10. Wait for the wolf
  11. Experience nightmares
  12. Awaken at 3:00 a.m.

I cannot sleep unless all of the following happen:

  • Covered in heavy blankets, even during the summer
  • No breeze can touch my skin
  • Must breathe “new” air – cannot be warm (suffocation triggers)
  • White noise drowning out nighttime noises

This is clearly not normal. I could not do all of these things when I shared a room with hub, so I pretty much did not sleep very much or very well for over a decade.

Now, if I take a nap, I have no problem dropping off to sleep or sleeping very soundly. I also rarely have nightmares.

Obviously, this is not normal. These are all aftereffects from the child abuse. I would hear the door open and jerk awake. My mother would pull the covers off me, and I would feel a cool breeze hit my body. Those were always the first two signs that abuse was going to happen.

The fact that I went without the abuse for a few years and then it started again messed with my head, too. I cannot rest and feel assured that it won’t happen again. A part of myself is always on guard at night, waiting for the abuse to start again.

What blows my mind is that this has always been the case, but I am only recently recognizing just how serious this is. I also have no idea how to make it better. I frequently take sleep aids (herbal or over-the-counter sleeping pills) to help, but I don’t want to do that every night.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In the comments on my blog entry Aftereffects of Child Abuse: Dreams of Abuse, Palucci shared a dream that she feared might be a flashback. From all that she describes, I agree that it sounds like her dream was actually a flashback.

Flashbacks can happen in a number of ways. While most people think of flashbacks as being visual, they can tie into any of the senses. For example, I will often get a body memory/flashback of the taste of cigarette smoke in my mouth and lungs. This ties into a memory in which my abuser first smothered me and then resuscitated me after smoking a cigarette.

Flashbacks can come in dream form. While the facts of the dream might not be accurate, the feelings are. And sometimes the facts in the dream are accurate as well.

For example, for most of my life, I have struggled with a recurring dream. I am following someone who I trust. He or she opens a door, and I follow through the door. We walk into a small room. There is a door on the other side of the room. The other person walks through it and shuts the door. I try to turn the knob, but the door is locked.

The first door then slams behind me. I try to open it, but that door is locked as well. I realized that I am trapped inside of this small room, and I know that something terrible is going to happen. Sometimes, I awaken at this point. At other times, the dream goes on to my being raped.

I no longer have that dream because I finally recovered the memory. The dream was actually a flashback of a trauma I endured. My female babysitter told me that she had a special doll for me in her room. She led me through a large walk-in closet that had access to both the hallway and her bedroom. The doors locked just as they did in the dream. She then came back in and hurt me.

It was such a relief to recover the reason for the nightmare. It was also a relief to stop having the dream. Once I understood the trauma that my mind was trying to work through, I no longer needed the dream to process the trauma.

The dreams do not always have to be accurate for them to be flashbacks. For example, I struggled with recurring dreams of my son jumping or falling off high places, such as the balcony at my church. Of course, this has never happened to him. However, I later recovered the memory of watching a toddler fall from a high place while I was forced to watch but could not help. So, even though the facts of the dream were not accurate, the dream was still a flashback.

Pay special attention to recurring nightmares. They are often actually flashbacks.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Fire (c) Rosanne MooneyMany people who suffered child abuse struggle with night terrors. Unfortunately, that is my story, too. I still remember my first night terror back in college. I awoke as an anxious mess in the safety of my dorm, but I could not even cry about it without waking up my roommate. The night terror haunted me for years. To this day, I can get worked up if I think about that one.

Night terrors are different from nightmares, and you can definitely tell the difference when you have one. They occur in a different stage of sleep, making it much more difficult to pull yourself out of the dream. I have had night terrors in which I have tried to wake myself up at least seven times in the dream, only to find myself still stuck in that scary place. For me, this drives home the reality of how unsafe I was as a child.

I have had many night terrors over the years. All of my night terrors tie into the child abuse. I had another one last night, which is why I am writing about it this morning. I am still very shaken and will likely stay anxious and “off” for the rest of the day. Happy Easter, Faith. I believe that Easter is what caused the night terror. I suffered from ritual abuse as a child, and Easter is one of the days that ritual abusers desecrate through their sick ceremonies.

My night terror was all about the ritual abuse. In the dream, I was sleeping in my bed when I heard/sensed someone entering my room. I opened my eyes and saw a hooded man, and all I could see of his face was eyes glowing out of the darkness of the hood. This was the way my ritual abusers dressed (without the glowing eyes), and it scared the h@#$ out of me.

I tried to wake myself up, and I “woke up” in my dream to see sunlight shining through the blinds. I looked at the clock and saw that it said 6:00 a.m. I knew I had no chance of falling back to sleep unless I did things to comfort myself, so I got up and went to the closet. I took out a comforter and focused on feeling the material to make sure I was really awake. Then, I took out a blanket and did the same thing. I piled both on my bed and snuggled up under them. (Piling on lots of covers makes me feel safe because I always knew more abuse was coming when I felt the absence of covers on my body as a child.)

I closed my eyes to sleep and sensed the presence of more people again. I opened my eyes and panicked when I saw two hooded figures with glowing eyes coming for me. I jumped up and tried to force myself awake. I even clawed my face to make sure I would wake up. Again, sunlight was shining through the window. I looked at the clock, and it had been turned off. I banged it on my night stand several times, but it would not work. I clawed myself again and then went to the closet and removed the blankets, focusing on their feel to make sure I was awake. I laid back down to sleep.

Once again, I sensed the presence of the hooded figures, and they were there when I opened my eyes. I heard a young child and reached out to grab and protect the child from them. I said, “It’s okay, ____ (younger sister),” and the child said, “No, mom. It’s me, ___ (my son).” Before I could completely panic about protecting my son from the hooded figures, my body jolted into my son, who had climbed into my bed during the night, and I woke up for real. Fortunately, my son had his elbow aimed right at me, and my body jerking into it woke me up. Thank goodness.

The weird thing is that I did exactly what I did in my dream. I looked at the clock, which said 1:00 a.m. There was no sunlight shining through the blinds. I got out the comforter and the blanket and piled it onto my bed. I was shaken as I tried to sleep. I am still shaky this morning.

If you struggle with night terrors and have lucid dreaming (where you know that you are in a dream), try screaming. That is how I usually wind up getting myself out of the night terrors. When I scream in the night terror, I have no voice, which freaks me out. However, if I keep trying, eventually my body will make a noise, and that will be enough to pull me out.

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Photo credit: Rosanne Mooney

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