After suffering harrowing nightmares nightly for many years, the p-doc I saw briefly prescribed a wonderful drug called prazosin. It’s a heart medication, an alpha-blocker, but it’s been proven to stop nightmares in some patients. Fortunately for me, I am one of those patients. It doesn’t stop the flashbacks; nothing will stop those. But for the first time in years, I’m sleeping without the nightly terrors that come with closing my eyes.
Now comes the fun part. Teaching my brain and body that it’s safe to go to sleep at night. For years I’ve been a night owl. My therapist isn’t so sure that it’s my natural state; she believes it’s a learned response to fear. So how to unlearn it? I’ve started working on my sleep hygiene. Trying to go to bed at the same time every night. Being more active during the day. Meditating. But my body still feels that same anxiety when my head hits that pillow. Shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, that sense of impending doom. I’ve practicing Babette Rothchild’s Keys to Trauma Recovery for months now. It has definitely lessened the impact of the flashbacks. But I can’t convince my body that it’s safe to sleep.
I recently had to move back home due to circumstances not within my control. My anxiety and other mental illnesses have made it impossible for me to work and difficult to care for my children adequately. So I’m back in the room where I spent most of my childhood, being beaten and hiding. It’s hard to heal in the environment that made you sick, but I’m doing it. My room is now inviolate. My dad doesn’t enter it, he doesn’t open the door when it’s shut. He leaves me alone when the kids are visiting their father. There’s no more violence, or even threats of violence. He is a gentler man now than he ever was. And yet, and yet. The specter of years past hangs over me like a miasma. When he raises his voice, I become six years old again, afraid. I’m 45 now, and I still cringe from his touch. He can’t sense it anymore, but I still feel it. The awkward hugs, few and far between. The sexual assault three years ago broke me in so many ways; exacerbated the damage done from years of abuse. Since then, I can barely stand to be hugged by anyone other than my kids and partner. And even that isn’t easy some days. But you bear it, because the one thing kids need is lots of affection. Abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, leaves scars that never really go away.
But back to sleeping, to dreaming. Now that the nightmares no longer fill my time spent in Morpheus’ arms, I dream. I dream of my therapist. Of dragons. Of transmuting myself into something other than what I am. As if my me isn’t enough. It never has been, why should that change now? I’m working on the negative self talk, but my subconscious certainly has lots to say about it. I’ve never had much luck with lucid dreaming. When I’m asleep, I’m asleep, and no amount of wishing my way out of a dream has ever worked. Now I no longer wake up in a cold sweat, heart racing, unsure of where I am. I wake up perturbed, questioning what the hell is going on with my psyche. My therapist tells me that when we dream of others, they represent aspects of ourselves. So when I dream of dragons and squirrels, I’m living my hyper/hypo aroused parts of myself. Squirrels are saucy little things, very vocal when unhappy, but quick to run away from confrontation. Unless you are a red squirrel. Then you will fight for that acorn and not back down. But even they run from larger predators. And dragons, well, they are the apex predator. Everything runs from a dragon. Even humans. The only way to take a dragon down is from a distance. And, unfortunately, a thrown acorn is not going to do too much to a dragon.
So am I a dragon or am I a squirrel?