When PTSD Makes Sleeping a Nightmare

Ever since I was little I’ve always had incredibly vivid dreams. Dreams that were more like a movie. Every detail in technicolor. Me as the star, aware of every moment, aware that I’m dreaming, yet unable to change the course of the dream. I used to say I was having an “out of body experience” and that’s why I couldn’t run, fight, escape or fly. 

The reality is that I was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and completely unaware of how I was being affected. 

Since last March when I began re-engaging with my therapist about my childhood sexual abuse, I feel like the nightmares have only gotten more intense, more disturbing, more real.

Rarely do I go to bed feeling relieved to know I will be able to rest and rejuvenate. Typically I fall asleep expecting the nightmares to follow. 

Detailed, violent, painful, scary dreams. Some relating directly to my abuse, some triggered by current events, some seemingly a dump of unconscious information all thrown together into a complex story. 

Often I awake in a complete panic. Heart beating out of my chest, unable to breathe, scared, curled up in the fetal position, shaking and unable to get relief from my flight or fight response. 

Often the dreams seem completely unrelated to my trauma and then I chastise myself for my perverted unconscious. Other times the details are so similar, I feel as though I’m physically reliving my abuse.

You see… PTSD and trauma doesn’t care about reality. It doesn’t care about your fear. It does what it wants and it f*cks with your mind and your body until it ravages you into a somewhat functional shell of a human wrought with sadness, fear and anger. 

I have taken innumerable pills to help me with my sleep. But what I’m realizing is I need to experience these feelings to heal. I can’t continue to repress my abuse and pretend it doesn’t exist.

The only thing I can hope for is that at some point my unconscious self will become empowered and self-capable of fighting off danger and protecting me. Who knows how long that will take.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Mother lying on sofa with daughter (7-9) asleep with head on cushion

From the Heart of a Mother With PTSD

“Mum…Mum… Mum!” My daughter looks at me impatiently. She has said something that requires a response of some kind. I should know what the right response is — but I don’t. I don’t even know what she has said or how many times she has said it. Long gone are the days when she babbled at [...]
students in classroom with hands raised

8 Tips for Teaching Students With Childhood Trauma

As a former teacher and instructional coach, I found many of my students had experienced significant trauma during their childhood. Many of my students lived in poverty and were exposed to an extraordinary amount of community violence, substance abuse and lack of resources. I found many new teachers were ill-equipped to manage the behaviors of [...]
profile of woman

My Secret Life With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

You’ve sat next to me on the subway, stood in line with me at the grocery store and even worked alongside me. But you would never guess my secret. I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I hide it behind my smile, my obsessive attention to detail and confidence. Society recognizes pain in physical injury, yet [...]
blurred city traffic. Text reads: 19 people describe what it's like to have PTSD

19 People Describe What It's Like to Have PTSD

Trauma can change your brain — and for those who go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this trauma can carry into your everyday life. It’s not something you can “just forget,” and someone’s triggers might not make sense to people who’ve never experienced it. But PTSD is very real, offering daily challenges and making a [...]