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Dream State

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

One of the worst things I’ve encountered in my recovery from childhood sexual trauma is dreaming about it. I've relived pieces of the abuse thousands of times now. I never know when it’s going to happen. There are no predictors of which night I'll be overwhelmed by one of my abusers and re-experience something about what happened decades ago. The dreams are often scary, and I always wake up feeling slimed by it. What to do?

Not sleeping isn’t an option, though I’ve tried it. Sleeping pills dull me out so much the next day that I’ve given up on them. Alcohol makes everything worse. One unfortunate side effect of the medication I’m on for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety are extremely vivid dreams. I’ve always had flashback memories of the abuse, but this medicine makes my nighttime visions extraordinarily real. I often wake thinking that what just happened in a dream really just happened. It's frightening and frustrating.

The only thing I’ve found that helps with this is to acknowledge that my dreams are probably a combination of the physical brain firing off stored memories, my unconscious mind trying to make sense of things that won’t ever make sense, and perhaps some kind of spiritual warfare—good versus evil, the Devil versus me and all that.

But wherever nightmares come from, I have to deal with them. So when I wake I try to take some settling, re-centering breaths, and shake them off. If that doesn’t work, I talk with my spouse about them or journal and pray. If they’re really bad, I talk about them with my therapist and see if she can help me process them and help me find some meaning or relief.

I may have these awful dreams the rest of my life. I hope not. I’m thankful that I get to wake up and remember that the dream state is no longer reality.

I have survived.

Maybe I can learn to be thankful for the dreams and use them as vivid reminders of my progressive healing from childhood sexual abuse.

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