It’s 3 am and you are jolted awake by a bizarre dream. Your heart is pounding, your breath is shallow, and it all feels somehow connected to the past. The dark seems to envelop you and you feel a presence that cannot be seen, but that you most definitely sense. Every nerve tingles and you are awake for the rest of the night.
These middle-of-the night encounters are pretty common among abuse survivors. Bizarre dreams are not necessarily terrifying, but they awaken you into a confused state and you wonder what significance they have. You scramble to remember the details OR you are afraid to close your eyes and see the dream’s images again.
Dreams are an odd mixture of past events, current events, and your subconscious trying to sift through them to categorize, file, keep, and discard. The fact is, everyone dreams throughout the night. Sleep experts believe that most of those dreams are not all that pleasant, but that our minds are taking anxiety, fear, and unresolved experiences and repackaging them in a way that detoxifies them. That’s why most of us do not wake up during our abundant dream cycles each night. The dreams that do wake you up have not successfully conquered these feelings and experiences.
The next time you awake from a bizarre dream that leaves you feeling assaulted, terrified, or stalked, try doing the following:
-Keep a dream journal that details as much of the dream as possible.
-If your dream is about something that makes you fearful (or other negative emotions), re-write the dream in such a way that you conquer whatever is trying to conquer you.
-Keep a light near your bed that you can turn on quickly to help dispel the terror.
-Keep something near the bed that you can touch in the darkness to anchor you or comfort you, such as a cross, a figurine, a stuffed animal, a stress ball – something that is tangible and easily identifiable to you as you awaken.
-Tell your dream to another person, just to hear it outside of your own head.
-Seek professional help if you are deeply disturbed by your dreams.
Just like other traumas that you might face, you need to take care of yourself the day after one of “those” dreams. Pay attention to your fatigue levels, your self-sabotaging tendencies, and your negative coping behaviors. Do what you need to do to comfort yourself, but make sure that your self-care doesn’t take you backwards and cause harm to you or others.
Finally, before you go to bed, do what you can to minimize negative emotions. Stay away from entertainment that might trigger nightmares later on. Be careful how many anchovies you put on that late night piece of pizza. In fact, skip the pizza and have a nice cup of chamomile tea, do some deep breathing, and fluff your pillow!
2009 April Lorier