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5 Tips for Coping With Nightmares After Sexual Violence

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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.

Whether it has been four days or 40 years, nightmares can still happen after experiencing sexual violence. It has been four years for me and every once in a while I get nightmares. For myself, I divide them into two categories: replay of memory, or a new related nightmare. Generally, it is the latter which can be jarring for me. Most of the time, it is my perpetrator finding me where I live and my safety being compromised. I know that feeling when you wake up and your senses are heightened after a nightmare. My day feels ruined because the scenario is replaying in my head throughout the day.

• What is PTSD?

I feel frustrated knowing even in my sleep, my perpetrator can cause havoc in my brain — it takes away my feeling of safety. I have learned a lot from dealing with these dreams and my ability to cope with them has gotten increasingly better as time has gone on, but there are times where it feels like a kick to the chest. Here are some things to remember if you also find yourself in this position:

1. The nightmares, just like the violence, are not your fault or your wrongdoing.

I know it can feel like your brain is failing you, but these dreams are common amongst survivors and you are not causing this. Meditation before I fall asleep can sometimes help alleviate stressors caused by the trauma. And if I still have a nightmare, I will do another round of meditation after I have woken up.

2. Find ways to ground yourself when you wake up.

I sleep with my dog in my room and a tablet nearby as ways of distraction to get the nightmare to stop replaying in my mind. I also use anxiety medications and keep those close by, in case I need to utilize them quickly.

3. Sometimes, you may want to get the nightmare out of your head in a physical way.

I personally write, draw or say what happened out loud to “find a new place” for the dream to reside. I also like to process through these dreams with my therapist to help reduce how much the nightmare affects me.

4. Try to make your bedroom a safe space.

This was difficult for me until I moved to a new residence where I completely changed the layout of my room to not resemble anything similar to my old bedroom. Warm colored lights, a fish tank, soft pillows and decorations can make an extraordinary difference.

5.  If you feel like your day has been ruined because of the nightmare, validate that feeling.

Maybe you are frustrated or sad, this is not something to bury. Even if you do not leave your home on those days, try to do something for yourself, even if it is just brushing your teeth and changing your clothes.

Life after experiencing sexual violence can be difficult, to say the least, but you do deserve to have a good life and still can. Your nightmares do not have to dictate your life. And truly, it does get better with some help. These days and nights can be more difficult to get through, but remember you can do it. You are a survivor among many others who are there to help get you through this.

Getty image by dragana991

Originally published: August 13, 2021
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