Posts Tagged Nightmares
In therapy the past few weeks I’ve been doing some reflecting on the leaps and bounds of progress I have made. Even in my nightmares, I am making this same progress, which says to me I have come a long way in applying what I’ve learned to get better from trauma — in dealing with hypersensitivity, in dealing with conflict, in being assertive and self-compassionate.
At work, I’ve been dealing with a difficult abusive person. No matter what I do, this person will not be happy and they will be angry with me. It reminds me all too much of what I dealt with when I was a child with my caretaker. I have learned to not take what this person says personally, but a few weeks ago, I stood up for myself in a big way. I was sick of dealing with it, and identified what it was I needed from this person, which were my ground rules or guidelines for dealing with this person. Then I met with them and stated my guidelines. It hasn’t been perfect, but it has helped. That’s a huge step for me. 3-4 years ago I would have never had the guts to tell someone what I needed from them, let alone even be able to identify I needed anything. I used to not have needs. My whole life centered around how I could do anything and everything to make others happy and not angry at me. What a difference.
A couple weeks ago, I was struggling with my personal life. I wasn’t sure if it was just winter causing all my friends to get more and more distant. But, I knew this was not how I wanted my life to be. I want strong friendships with people I can count on, who can count on me, and who I can spend time with doing the things we both enjoy, and learn from each other. I feel like that is lacking. But, I had this dream I was taking this class with my friends. They had walked into the room and reserved a bunch of seats at a table for our friends, but they hadn’t saved me a seat so I had to sit with people I didn’t know. Ordinarily, this would make me upset – like they didn’t think about me and now I have to deal with being around people I didn’t know and wouldn’t know what to say or do. But, in the dream, it didn’t bother me and I thought, “Well, I get to meet new people. Your loss.” And happily sat with another table with complete strangers. This made me realize, sure, some of my friendships have grown distant for whatever reason. But, I have the opportunity to make new friendships and even ones that are stronger, where are values align more and we have more things in common, like being active or doing volunteer work and community service. Shortly after that dream I got to meet up with some of my friends. They all made fair-weather plans with me and no one followed up. I could be upset about that, but I figure they are busy, or inept at making plans. It’s their loss. And instead I made plans of my own. Granted not all of them were the best ones. I ended up volunteering for something that made me uncomfortable – it actually does fall under the avoidance category since it was at a place where I had been a zillion times with my ex-husband. And granted I’m probably viewed as an asshole because I got there and just said I can’t do this and I don’t want to be here and left. But, I feel a lot better that I was able to just say what I wanted and move on. Lesson learned – don’t put yourself in situations you are uncomfortable with and you don’t care about. I would have much rather been attending another event that night that benefits people rather than an idea I just don’t believe in anymore.
At work I have been working on a lot of goals for my company. This certainly put me in a big reflective stage on my own life. Here I am making all these plans for them. But, what about me? I have goals and I’m not meeting them. That’s not fair. So I have been applying what I do at work, to my own life. And hopefully that will mean I am a lot happier about where I am going and what I am doing here on this planet. One of my friends had posted this article on the 10 Painfully Obvious Truths Everyone Forgets Too Soon. So many of these are what I am talking about in this post actually. #2 is “You Live the Life Your Create for Yourself.” For a while, from August till November, I was feeling like I was waiting for my life to start. When in reality, I was living it. But, all the things I used to look forward to, like traveling, spending time with family, game nights, spending time with friends, running races, volunteering, I just wasn’t doing them. And it felt like I had kind of disappeared. I think I was adjusting to my new life and living with someone again. Now I feel like I’ve done that and I get really excited when I pull up my list of goals, and start to really want to put plans and dates together on those. Of course more and more things pop up in my head of what I want to do. And I start feeling like life is too short. Then I think of #3 Being Busy Does Not Mean Being Productive. One of the good things I gained out of that period of time between August to November, was learning how to relax – how to not have to do anything and not worry about it. If you need extra sleep, then that’s fine. If you need a night to just tune out at home, that’s fine. I learned how to not be busy, and that I didn’t need to be “busy” to feel alive. What I want is to be able to live my life so that if I were to die tomorrow, I’d be pretty proud of my life, of my relationships with my family, my friendships, what I’ve done as extra-curricular and at work, what I’ve seen of the world, how I’ve dealt with the world, and so forth. When I stop and think of that now, I actually thing, gosh I am already there. I’m pretty proud of who I am. Sure, there’s a few things here and there I want to change. But, I have the power to change that, to set goals and make those happen.
Nightmares are just reminders so we don’t get too comfortable and unalert of the bad things around us and that could happen to us. I tried to remind myself of that after waking up crying from a nightmare this morning. Nightmares are just my brain’s way of understanding and dealing with trauma and healing.
I had two nightmares two nights in a row this week. The first night I dreamt I had a 2 year old daughter. She looked just like me when I was 2. I was with my family and went somewhere with my brother, leaving her with my sister to watch her. When I got back she was gone. She had gotten out of the van and disappeared. I was so angry with myself for not being there to watch her myself, taking the responsibility for losing her on myself. A state search was started and I was searching everywhere near where she had disappeared. How far could she get? Would anyone have taken her? The fear set in and I felt what I would imagine any parent would feel that lost their child. Someone suggested to me that I should be upset with my sister for not watching her. She had a two year old. She knows they just run off and could be gone at the drop of a hat. But how could I be angry with her? Its my fault I just trusted that she’d watch her and that I didn’t take care of my daughter myself. As I’m out searching for her, I get a phone call from my ex-husband. He alludes to the fact that he had taken her. I break out with so much pain and rage that if he does anything to her, hurts her in any way, I will kill him. I felt what parents must feel when any harm comes to the way of their children. Then I woke up.
The next night I had a nightmare similar to what I often have. I’m out with a group of people and we’re watching a parade or something in a neighborhood and these thugs come up to rob us. First they want to know if any of us have guns though. Surprisingly, two of us did. They go to shoot someone with one of the confiscated guns but luckily the gun is not loaded. Then they shoot the 2nd gun but luckily into a tree and somehow that starts a fire. Then they shoot two or three of the people I’m with. I see a guy sneak back into one of the buildings behind us. And then another guy in a security guard uniform follows. I figure their going to call 911. The thugs seem to be going away and then I go in after them. The place they’re in is some kind of gambling place. I see them in the back by these machines and approach them to ask if they’ve called the police. They say no, “Why should we? Its over. We could get in more trouble.” I think they’re crazy. I try to use my cell phone to call them but its not working. I go up to this ticket type counter and ask the lady through the glass if I can use their phone and call 911, there were killings outside. She says no, its none of their business, they want nothing to do with it. What the fuck? I go outside and everyone I was with is already gone including my boyfriend except the shot victims. I panic. I get around the corner. For some reason in my head I’m so far from home and have no way to get there. No bus. No car. No taxi. I check my phone and go to call my boyfriend but his number is gone. I can’t remember it. None of my friends numbers are there either. And no text message histories. All gone. I have no way to contact him. I find my phone isn’t working at all. He’ll worry about me and not be able to get ahold of me either. Complete panic sets in but I hear this song clear as day with the lyrics that you’re scared, alone and afraid or something like that. Then I woke up crying and thrashing about in the bed.
I walked through these nightmares with my therapist and it was interesting. The first dream was me still dealing with being in an abusive marriage. I take responsibility for it. My 2 year old daughter was me who I didn’t protect and take care of by being in that abusive relationship. My sister in the dream was again an extension of myself. I trusted me to take care of me but didn’t. Telling my ex-husband I’d hurt him if he hurt me was what I felt I should have done that I never did for myself.
The 2nd dream I was all alone in the end. I was the only one trying to do anything about the situation. But I found myself completely isolated from being able to do anything. The music was comforting in way, reminding me that even when I’m all alone I can still deal with everything on my own.
I keep thinking these nightmares might stop one day and then I have one again. I think its just part of my healing process and though I’d like to think I’m SuperBetter, I’m still working on things. And that’s ok. This stuff is hard and I’ve come a long long way in just 3 years. And I have the opportunity possibly to help others who are in my situation, and that too is part of my healing process.
Last week I had two dreams back to back that were completely opposing. The first one was a nightmare my ex-husband had broken into my home and was waiting for me there. I got home and he was strangely not mean, difficult or argumentative. I asked him to leave and he left. But, I knew something was up. I looked through the peep hole and saw he was still waiting outside the door thinking about doing something irrational. There was a little old man in the apartment with me. My ex-husband coaxed the little old man into letting him back in. Then he started berating me and belittling me, telling me I was worthless, undeserving of any love or anything. I woke up crying and shaken up.
Then I feel back asleep. This time I dreamt I was in a shop next door to a restaurant. While in the shop, three different men hit on me. It was completely the opposite. I was loveable and deserving of love and attention.
In talking about these two dreams in therapy, my therapist explained although in the dream it was my ex-husband tearing me down, in reality my own psyche is doing that day in and day out when I judge myself and am hypervigilant, always worried that the decisions I make or what I say will not be what someone else wants. That I think how can anyone love me? But, then another part of me realizes how amazing I really am and that I am deserving of being loved.
I went on to talk about how I am still really struggling in my current relationship to say what I want. My boyfriend is vey encouraging and stops to remind me that I can do what I want and have wants and feelings, and there’s no reason to be afraid to express them. Sometimes it is that I know what I want but am worried its the “wrong answer” and other times I just really don’t have an opinion or feeling around something. Therapy has explained this is because I have spent a large part of my life blocking out my feelings because it is a lot easier that way, the other person can make the decision and not be upset or disappointed in me. Except now the other person wants to know what I want and feel. I think I am working on this and it will get easier.
I’ve been going along fine for the past couple months, which is why you haven’t heard from me for awhile. Things come up, particularly being my own self-advocate. I still need to do a much better job at that. And then last night I had a terrible nightmare, one of the ones where I wake up bawling my eyes out and screaming. I was dying in my nightmare. I was hit by a truck or something and I made it to a bathroom where my head and various body parts were just leaking blood all over the place. I was in a whole hell of a lot of pain and no one was around to help me. But, for some reason, in the nightmare it was if I was back 4 years ago with my ex-husband and so I called him like when I once was injured and had to go to the hospital, to ask if he could come home and take care of me. But, I didn’t want him to be angry with me so I didn’t say how bad it was so he was just like well, I don’t need to come home, you’re fine. And then I realized I was dying with the amount of blood that was leaking out of my body and everything was growing fainter. I felt so much remorse for being alone dying with no one to help me.
I have been feeling really isolated from my friends lately. I have been feeling upset about certain situations and have not been speaking up about them. And I think that’s what this is about.
In interpreting dreams, this could be a really good thing or a bad thing. It could mean I am really getting a closure on that chapter of my life, the Mia who was abused. Or it could mean I am really struggling feeling like I could lose my self-confidence. I would like to think it is the first, but I still feel very cautious about being used and abused.
I have written about nightmares a few times on here. I put something out on the SuperBetter forum in Bad Guys: Get help identifying and squashing them looking for any advice to overcome or diminish nightmares, but have heard nothing so far. But, plenty of people have looked at it! Why is that? Is it something you just have to live with or work on on your own?
I have had terrible nightmares all my life and had a pretty bad one last week. Most of my nightmares consist of someone chasing and trying to kill me. Usually its a man and sometimes its a group of people. Usually I am being brutally attacked. Sometimes I see other people, usually women that have been attacked or murdered by the person chasing me. Sometimes what saves me in the nightmare is trying to save these other people from being attacked.
I really need some help trying to limit the number of nightmares I have and squash them all together. Here’s what I’ve already read and tried:
Wikipedia’s article on Nightmares explains this phenomenon I’m experiencing:
Recurring post-traumatic stress disorder nightmares in which real traumas are re-experienced respond well to a technique called imagery rehearsal. First described in the 1996 book Trauma and Dreams by Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett, this contemporary dream interpretation involves the dreamer coming up with an alternate, mastery outcome to the nightmare, mentally rehearsing that outcome awake, and then reminding themselves at bedtime that they wish this alternate outcome should the nightmare recur. Research has found that this technique not only reduces the occurrence of nightmares and insomnia, but also improves other daytime PTSD symptoms.
I picked up a new workbook, the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook, since I completed the Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence workbook. It has a very small section on nightmares which includes this same advice to come up with an alternate outcome to the nightmare and rehearse it. I might think of picking up a workbook just on dealing with nightmares. But, I want to try spending some time rehearsing alternate outcomes and going into sleep thinking about these. For example, the perpetuators could fall into a hole. Or someone saves me. Or I’m able to disarm them without getting hurt. I can take control of my dreams as I have my life.
I watched two documentaries recently, What Are Dreams?: Nova and Happy. What Are Dreams?: Nova explains sleep is an active state that affects your physical and mental well-being. Through an example of a study on a person’s sleep patterns, the documentary explains the difference between dreams in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep vs. non-REM sleep. Our first stage of sleep is non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep dreams usually are working out every day problems, re-experiencing or practicing experiences, and can be repetitive. REM sleep dreams are usually fantastical or ridiculous, things that would not occur in everyday life.
One of the experiments they share in the film is how if we are woken up during non-REM sleep, we are in a much more happy and confident state of mind than if we are woken up in REM sleep. For example, they woke up a sleep study during non-REM sleep and had them finish a list of sentences. All of the words he had finished were positive and full of hope. When they woke him up during REM sleep, all the words he chose were negative and hopeless or aggravated.
Another interesting test by a doctor in the film was a sleep study who played a skiing video game before bed. Before non-REM sleep, he had knocked into quite a few walls and fell skiing. After non-REM sleep his play improved quite a bit, where he was able to remember where he had difficulty and improve his skiing in the game. In the non-REM sleep he had practiced skiing. And in his REM sleep he had practiced walking through his own trek marks in the snow.
Another interesting observation they made in the film which was of a man with depression. He had documented all his dreams for some time. They all had to do with discontent with women in his life. It was not a surprise to the scientist studying this man’s dreams to find 5 years after the study the man was divorced.
I have talked about it on this blog, but I continue to have nightmares of being attacked, and I know it is me dealing with the trauma of domestic violence, abuse, and sexual assault.
So not that I didn’t already know this, but dreams are a way for us to solve problems and keep our mental health. Some of the world’s greatest problems and creative works have come out of dreams. One woman in the film explained if we were to go to bed thinking I want to dream about this problem, 50% of the time we would.
I’m actually really glad I watched the documentary Happy and would recommend it. Although its already things I knew, it was a great reminder that happiness can come in all forms and cannot be obtained by wishing you were happy. There are many things that make people happy, but one of the top things that they drove home was our relationships with people and sense of belonging. Cultures that they interviewed that stuck in my head from the documentary were Japan and Denmark. Japan is known for having the least happy people, really Tokyo. While Denmark is known for having the happiest. Unlike Tokyo, the documentary portrayed that the countryside is much different in Japan. They interviewed one businessman who was out on a business dinner on his birthday and asked him if his friends and girlfriend would have much rather been celebrating his birthday with him than being on business. He said, well my girlfriend knows that business always comes first. You could tell how sad he truly was to say that although what he was morally taught in his culture, that yes business comes first over his own happiness. In Denmark, a mother of 3 children demonstrates how the family lives in a commune that shares cooking duties 2 times a month. The cooking takes 5 hours for approx 50 people. She says that they don’t have to worry about cooking and shopping for dinner every night when they get home from work allows them all so much more free time outside of work. Doing dinner together also allows them all to socialize and have stronger bonds than only being able to see friends, family and neighbors periodically.
SuperBetter has done an amazing job with their PowerPacks to remind you that happiness can’t just be wished. You have to remind yourself that the bad moments will pass, and you will feel better again soon. It is an amazing tool to help remind you to reach out to people, to know you are not isolated, and to work on your relationships with people. I know I have good days and bad days. The reminder that the bad times will pass makes it easier. And having people like my SuperBetter allies and friends and family to reach out to is a world of help.
One of the most awe-inspiring moments from the film was an interview with a mother who had lost half of her face being dragged from a car accidentally by her sister. Her husband had divorced her and became an alcoholic dealing with the trauma, she had remembered being sexually abused as a child as a result of the trauma, it took a number of surgeries and severe pain before her face and body were restored to a normal state. She felt so much despair that she wanted to die. With the support of her son, having her horses on a ranch and meeting a supportive man who was ironically named Happy, she recovered from the traumas and is very happy today. This is a true example of post traumatic growth and is awe-inspiring to me. I am very glad they shared this story.
In the Happy documentary like I have written a lot about they remind you that being self-compassionate goes a long way in your own happiness. I often have to remind myself, how would I treat my friend who is feeling this way? And am much more compassionate toward myself as I would be toward them.
Last night I had a nightmare. I haven’t had one in awhile and thought things have been going pretty good. Then out of nowhere I am being attacked by a grimacing shaggy blonde haired man with crazy eyes, probably about 8-10 years older than me. He had some kind of large sharp knife with jagged edges, more like a saw. I was lifting my left arm to protect myself when it dug into my flesh and I let out a howl while tears were streaming down my face. I woke up and felt surprisingly calm and shrugged it off.
But, later today, I’m wondering, what was that all about? Maybe there’s things I haven’t been saying I should say. Maybe I feel like I’m not really taking care of myself as much as I can. Maybe I’m not asking for help where I need it. Maybe it was really just a reminder that I still just need to be aware that there are still some bad people out there. Yesterday I had caught the news on TV for a few minutes of this shoot out in my city. These things seem to be happening more frequently here. Once in awhile I experience some things that remind me of my relationship with my ex-husband and they still really startle me. Like watching a movie where there’s a lot of violence between a couple. Or when someone gets upset at me and I don’t really understand why. Just when I think I’m getting stronger and better, something reminds me of what it was like and then I don’t feel so invincible anymore. I want to get to the point where I can be strong enough to say “that happened to me, but that’s not going to happen to me anymore” and not feel so upset.