Simple, Old-Fashioned Help for PTSD Nightmares

My experience from both sides of the “couch” has taught me that there’s nothing simple about PTSD nightmares. The things I tried in my teens and twenties–using food and alcohol to try and bury and drown them, sometimes to the point of blacking out, created new real-life nightmare scenarios. In my late twenties through my forties I was afraid to go to sleep; I averaged about five broken hours a night. When I did sleep, and the nightmares struck, I woke up extremely exhausted.

I wish I could say that I am now completely free of nightmares and experience restful sleep. The good news is that I have made incredible progress over the past couple of years. I have fewer nightmares, am not terrified of going to sleep and am making my peace with them.

I maintain a journal of my nightmares and give them ratings. I add some levity by seeing myself as a movie reviewer in the scary/horror genre. As an example, were the costumes and set direction lame so that I could easily brush it off in the morning as a silly dream, or was it so brilliantly done it seemed real? When a nightmare gets a ten star review (top rating) it means I woke up screaming and that my entire day is shot because I wake up traumatized and exhausted. Unlike “oh it’s just a dream” many of the scenarios really happened in my past. I’m not one to brag, but Stephen King could take some direction from the production team of my dreams! (Like I said, levity.)

It was two years ago that I first publicly wrote about living with PTSD nightmares on my old blog, Outdated By Design and on Facebook. I had spent my life filled with shame, feeling like they were a sign of being deficient, damaged and weak so I never told anyone. (Of course I would never judge another by the same standards I applied to myself.)

The response was overwhelming. People I hadn’t heard from in years reached out to me to offer support and prayers. One friend loaned me his collection of books that were written by a late dream expert who had been his friend’s father! What was most surprising is that I learned how many people I’ve known were also quietly living with variations of bad dreams from past trauma.

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The most important thing that “coming out” did for me is that I was able to finally look “it” in the eye and accept it, and I was able to look at myself in the mirror and not see a person who has less value because of an invisible wound. The simple act of reaching out and being open about what I live with was one of the most healing things I have ever done.

While I find great value in cognitive-behavioral therapy there are other equally important “treatments” that heal. I delved into my antiquarian books written by spiritual leaders, medical professionals and great thinkers of the 19th and early to mid twentieth century and discovered new-to-me approaches that work. It’s very similar to when I was finally able to lose weight and break my cycles of unhealthy eating and dieting after I discovered the solution in old books. These books didn’t just offer simple approaches but also gave me permission that I didn’t even know I had been unconsciously seeking.

Living simply, following old-fashioned principles, adhering to spiritual truths (as I understand them) and connecting with nature does not make one a simpleton! Simple, intentional actions can help with very sophisticated challenges of modern life.

The photos in this post were taken last November and are of my late, beloved Wishy, who I will now openly attribute as to being a tiny warrior who has helped heal a big wound in my heart and psyche.

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He was a creature of God and a messenger of love over fear.

I plan to share more of what I learned and how I apply it, perhaps here or in a book. I’m just still working up the courage to do it.

 

8 thoughts on “Simple, Old-Fashioned Help for PTSD Nightmares

  1. Averyl I love this post. It is so deeply honest and has touched me in a profound way. I hope you will continue to explore this path and I would love to read anything more you might publish on this topic. With wishes for your continued healing!
    Louise

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved what you said about never judging others as harshly as you judge yourself. That is painfully true! I’ve never experienced traumatic nightmares, but I did have untreated sleep apnea for years. I think I understand how difficult it was trying to pull yourself through days without adequate sleep. It’s a tortuous thing without the added trauma of the nightmares. You are a strong lady! I would certainly welcome and appreciate your additional writing on this subject. Thank you for your bravery! I’m very glad you feel like you’ve turned a corner. Continued prayers for peace and healing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Heather! I’m glad you were able to get your sleep apnea diagnosed as that is a very serious condition. I learned about it while ruling out other possible causes for my nightmares, since it supposedly it can contribute to them!

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  3. I like this book idea!
    I was just reading a guy’s book about dreams who had suffered abuse and molestation. His name is Doug Addison. Maybe you can add him as a spiritual reference to your research. I liked the book because he teaches how to flip a nightmare into a positive. He said he kept having one where he’d wake up running around the house screaming, but he faced the fear in it, and never had it again.
    (I’m a total dream junky. “Tell me your dream, and I will tell you what it means! Muwahaha!)
    Like, I had this one dream where I was in a cemetery, and suddenly all the dirt on the graves fell in and people started climbing out of the holes. They were completely alive and totally normal looking except their clothes were from the eras they had been from. And they were young! I saw a man dressed in 19th century garb helping a woman in a wedding dress out of her grave.
    I watched as they all ran out of the place in one direction toward the sunrise. Then I saw urns holding cremated remains crack and burst open, and a person magically came together as he stepped out of it. It was such a happy dream. I remember waking up super happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have not heard of him, thanks for mentioning him and his book. It’s so interesting that you mention the approach of flipping it into a positive, because I just bought a vintage copy of Pollyanna on ebay and it arrived today! It sounds similar to her “glad game.” I know most people use Pollyanna as a pejorative, like “oh, she’s such a Pollyanna” followed by an eyeroll. I want to read the actual book and decide for myself. I think I’m going to like her. We’ll see!

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    1. When chronic PTSD begins in childhood, is left untreated and there are repeated exposures to trauma there are changes to the brain. There isn’t a simple “fix” and it’s not a matter of just seeing the good, if any. Facing fear, as you mentioned above, is important but for many only a step in a long process. For me and many others, similar to sobriety, it’s about making a lifestyle change that’s practiced daily and it includes rigorous self-honesty. Pollyannaism is dangerous if it leads to destructive denial which can keep people stuck. That’s why I really want to read the book–I want to give her a fair chance and see if Pollyannaism is denial or a true positive approach to honest living. I’ll have to report back. 😉

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