What It's Like to See Your Rapists in Your Nightmares

Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Following a harrowing gang rape at the age of 13, I began having nightmares. These were not typical nightmares. To me, these nightmares seemed real. Each night I would fall asleep to be awakened by them: four demons surrounding my bed. There were four rapists, and four demons. The demons laughed at me just as the rapists had. In both cases, I could not move and was trapped. In both cases, I was terrified.

Always, I was awake but unable to move my body. I would hear screeching sounds accompanied by laughter and taunting from these apparitions. I was trapped in my own body and terrified. Nothing I did would make them go away. All I could hope to do was wake myself up by moving or making a sound. It was my only way out.

“Are you OK?” my boyfriend asked one night.

We were in college, and he had been sleeping next to me.

“You were making very scared sounds, like whimpers I’ve never heard before. I shook you awake,” he said.

I tried to explain my nightmares to him, but it was hard to convey how real they seemed, and how scared I was, alone and terrified in the in-between space.

Even though I did years of healing work, the nightmares persisted. No medication, no therapy, no amount of yoga and no amount of Reiki and healing sessions could made them go away. I took them as a given in my life. They were a part of me as much as anything else: I had two eyes, two legs and four demons.

Eventually, I started working with a shaman in my mid-20s. To him, and to other people I met along the way, these demons were real, and they were significant. These were symptoms of a spiritual illness, one that was just as important as any other symptom I had. Treating them as real was what helped me get rid of them. I had to overcome my fear, to face them and to stop being afraid. I had to rely on the faith I had developed in my healing journey. Faith that was bigger than me, and bigger that these demons.

I was 26 and in graduate school the last time I had these nightmares. I was awakened in the middle of the night again, terrified as usual. This time, there was one demon circling around me, poking at my heart and trying to hurt me, attempting to infiltrate my space and my peace. Instead of being afraid, as I had been for years, I looked at it straight on. “You can’t hurt me. God lives in me and works through me.” As soon as I spoke those words, it disappeared and I was free.

The nightmares never came back.

The next morning, I awoke feeling victorious. Even though no one knew what I had been through that night and the many nights before, I knew it was one of the most significant moments of my life. I had faced my fears, personified in these dreams of demons, and won. My heart was alive again. I went about my day, going to classes and seeing my friends, and knowing I had been healed inside, because I had stopped being afraid.

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.

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Unsplash photo via Kinga Cichewicz

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