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When PTSD Makes Sleeping a Nightmare

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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. 

• What is PTSD?

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.

Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: February 1, 2017
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