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What It's Like to Relive Trauma in Your Sleep

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, you can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Everything that’s gone on in the last four to six weeks has left me feeling a bit on edge and really destroyed my sleep for the last three or four nights. I’ve fallen asleep in my living room chair only to find myself feeling restless and hypervigilant when I get in bed. I toss and turn for two to three hours, then fall into a light sleep, riddled with strange, mostly incoherent dreams, unrelated to any trauma I’ve experienced. So I wake, unrested and edgy.

• What is PTSD?

Last night or this morning, the same pattern played out, but after the first bout of odd, disjointed nonsense dreams, I had a very vivid, clear and altogether too realistic dream that triggered the heck outta me. Everything was crystal clear. I could smell the person at the center of my fear. The laundry detergent he’d washed his shirt in, cologne, remnants of cigarette smoke. And he was right in my face, menacing and delivering a tidal wave of threats and verbal abuse. I was alone. I saw friends and family, tried to ask for help, but was dismissed. No one took me seriously, listened or tried to help. I woke up in a cold sweat, hyperventilating, with my pulse racing and throbbing loudly in my ears.

My whole body was shaking. Even after I opened my eyes, it took several minutes to orient myself and realize where I was, when it was. I reached for the dog (yes, she sleeps in my bed — and this is why). She is warm and soft and breathing steadily, and she calms me, helps me to ground myself in the present. “He’s gone and you are safe,” I say to myself over and over, willing my body and mind to believe it. I step into the shower, even though I took one right before bed last night. I make the water as hot as I can stand and tell myself, “You’re here now. He is gone and you are safe.”

I feel numb, and somehow very far away.

Two or three hours later, and I still feel as though I’m shaking like a leaf. But I’m not. Not on the outside, anyway. My insides feel like jello in an earthquake, but outside I’m steady as an ox. My hands are steady, makeup’s done, I’m dressed for the day, and I hear myself talking to people as though everything is perfectly “normal.” But, given just a few seconds too many to myself, my breathing quickens and I have to fight back the tears that well up for reasons I don’t even fully understand.

It’s 9 a.m. and I’m exhausted.

The moral of the story: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Originally published: May 19, 2020
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