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It was two years ago that I first publicly wrote about living with PTSD nightmares on my old blog, Outdated By Design and on Facebook.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.
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.
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.