Mental Health

Nightmares

Nightmares - Christopher Campbell

I’ve been plagued with nightmares since the abuse began when I was eight years old. Drowning nightmares. Nightmares in which I’m being chased by my brother Kevin with a knife in his hand. Nightmares in which I’m suffocating. Nightmares where someone is trying to break into my home. Nightmares that relive the gang rape when I was twelve. Nightmares of my brother Kevin sneaking into my room in the middle of the night and raping me. My brother Kevin not only sexually abused me and beat me, he terrorized me. There was no way for me to feel safe. I’ve lived a life of constant hypervigilance, always on the lookout for danger.

My nightmares don’t occur as often as they used to, but every now and then one shakes me to my core. Usually, when I awaken from a nightmare, I am in a state of panic. My heart races, pounding in my chest. My breath quickens and becomes shallow. My senses are on high alert. I peer through the darkness and listen for the slightest sound. I try to ascertain if I am in danger. I get up and check my doors and windows to make sure they are locked. I peer out the peephole in my front door to see if anyone is there. I reassure myself that I am safe, but it brings no relief. My fight or flight response reverberates deep within me. I use my grounding and deep breathing tools, but they don’t work. I crawl back into bed and try to find sleep, but it takes a long time.

The constant disruption of sleep and heightened stress of hypervigilance takes its toll on my mind and body. I wake up exhausted. My brain takes hours to lift its fogginess. My muscles ache and I have debilitating migraines.

Last night’s response was different. I awoke to the sound of someone knocking on my door. I heard three short, soft knocks. I bolted up in bed with the usual fight or flight response. I listened intently for another knock. There was none. I realized that if someone had truly knocked on my door – which is white-painted metal, it would have been much louder than what I heard. I sat in my bed, tuning into my fast-paced heartbeat and breath. I realized that I must have been dreaming. I fought the impulse to get out of bed to check the windows, doors, and peephole. I focused on my breathing, trying to quiet my pulse. I reassured myself over and over, It was just a dream. It was just a dream.

It took a few minutes, but I was able to calm myself. I laid my head on my pillow, pulled the covers over me, and closed my eyes. I don’t know how long it took – I didn’t toss and turn for an hour – but I was able to fall asleep.

I still woke up tired, foggy, and achy. But I recalled how I had worked through my fear, how I was able to self-soothe. I felt good about myself. I feel hopeful that I will be able to do it again. I know I will still have nightmares, but perhaps, over time, I will be able to alleviate some of the stress they place on my mind and body. Perhaps one day I will awaken refreshed and alert. Whatever happens, last night was progress in my ability to heal myself from the nightmare that was my childhood.

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

13 thoughts on “Nightmares”

  1. Nightmares are the worst. Im always like, at least let me sleep. So glad you were able to soothe yourself and also recognize that shift. Yay…little celebrations along the way. I hope you have a restful night tonight. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, little celebrations. It’s so easy to focus on all the negative trauma stuff. I need to always remember to recognize and acknowledge all the little positive shifts in consciousness and action that happen along the way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This happens to me too. I have to check everything before I can go back to sleep. That progress of successful self soothing must have felt so good. I’m so glad you were able to do that and recognize it happened. So encouraging. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It did feel good! Sorry to hear that you experience the same thing, but at least you now know that you are not alone. 🙂 I’m glad we have a place where we can offer each other encouragement and support. Be well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nightmares are so terrifying. They put you right back there. I’ve been having them all my life. The same ones.
    It is so encouraging that you were able to fall back asleep and that you took such a huge step forward and the nightmares. I’m so glad you had success. Maybe it taught your brain that oh ok this is ok and I am ok here. I have wondered if I can reteach my brain so this has me thinking even more on it.
    I’m so terribly sorry for the things that happened to you and that the nightmares have affected you for so long.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So many of us experience nightmares related to trauma. I’m sorry that you have to go through so much terror. I’m glad I can offer a little encouragement for you, that there is hope. I just hope I can do the same thing for the next nightmares I face. It’ll be interesting to see. Thanks for your comments. I truly appreciate them. Take care.

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  4. Self-soothing, self-regulating, self-discipline; all special qualities worth working for. For those who survived trauma they are extraordinarily challenging. I am so sorry you go through this, and so often. That you work so hard at confronting the terror, and with success, cause admiration to well up inside me towards you.
    Minor disturbances in the daytime can interfere with my sleep which sometimes makes me go to the couch while a sleep aid does it work. It is eerie being up in the night alone and I know it would not affect Samuel one bit. It does not feel safe for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. I’m sorry that being up in the night alone causes you to feel unsafe, especially in your own home. I’ve never tried a sleep aid. I see my med nurse in two weeks. Maybe I’ll ask her about letting me try it. It isn’t pleasant walking through life exhausted and foggy all the time. Hope you are well.

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