Head’s up – this post is about nightmares and mentions graphic images from nightmares.
I’ve have them a lot. Nightmares, that is. This past fall, I was having nightmares and/or sleep disturbances on a nightly basis. Sometimes there were humorous elements to them. For instance, in my sleep this past summer, I began to grab my husband’s arm repeatedly and he woke up, saying, “Hey hey hey!” To which I replied, “Sorry I thought you were a bat.” What I meant to say is, “I was dreaming that a bat was in our room and I grabbed it… except I was asleep and dreaming, and so I grabbed you.” Then there were instances that were just not funny. Like when I dreamed a giant spider was plummeting towards me. I literally threw myself out of bed in my sleep and began crawling across the floor, letting out bloodcurdling screms. My poor husband awoke to this sight and stopped me before I went out the door (oh yeah, we were in a hotel). I laughed when I woke up and realized how bizarre this all was. But my husband was not amused. To the contrary, he was terrified. And so, it was no longer funny for me either.
Then the sleep disturbances stopped and the nightmares began to occur less frequently. I maybe even had one good dream about winning the lottery. But now my nightmares are back.
Truth be told, I don’t actually consider the first two dreams I mentioned to be nightmares. Stress dreams, perhaps. But recently I’ve heard people recall their “nightmares” and I realize that for me these would be stress dreams. My friend told me she had a nightmare that out of the blue her boyfriend left her. To me, that’s a sad and stressful dream… but a nightmare? My nightmares are about working a man trying to break into my house with a chainsaw. Or I dream about walking down a street during a snow squall as a barefoot woman approaches me, carrying a dead and bloody baby in her arms. Just last night, I dreamed a long and convoluted nightmare about some sort of mutant zombie ghost that had taken over my home. Those are nightmares. Those are the kinds of dreams I started having after college when some bad sh*t happened in a city I didn’t know well. Those are the kinds of dreams that happened more and more frequently as I did DV work. I think of it as just an unfortunate side effect of exposing myself to unthinkable abuse and violence 40-plus hours per week.
But it’s a normal reaction. I mean, it would be impractical to expect I could work in the domestic violence field and not be affected. The focus of my work is traumatizing stuff and by doing the work, I experience complex secondary trauma, which has many of the same effects of firsthand trauma, such as nightmares.
Still it would be nice if my nightmares were less… well, nightmarish. If my nightmares were more of the ohmygod I’m late for work and totally unprepared type. And possibly someday, maybe I will have good dreams. But for now, I don’t dream, I have nightmares. And all I can do is work on developing coping skills and hold out hope for healing.