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Sexual assault, nightmares, insomnia, PTSD - A bit of my journey, Part 1
Nightmares can be a horrible thing,but for me I think the accompanied night sweats were worse. Waking up drenched in sweat, so much that my pj's would be soaked, was highly disturbing for me. My nightmares consisted of dark, delapidated, rat and mouse infested homes. Attics and basements played a huge part in these dreams, and more often than not I was in charge of cleaning these homes. Some of the homes were more like mansions, others very small. I have analyzed these dreams to an extent, but that would be an entirely different blog for another day. These dreams were somehow terrifying to me, but the worst nightmares of mine consisted of me being held down by my shoulders by an unknown tormentor. It was terrifying and I'd wake up exhausted because I was trying so hard to fight off this dark unknown figure, but I never succeeded. Instead I would thrash around, startle awake, get up, wipe off the sweat, change my pj's, go pee, and try to shake off the dream so I could go back to sleep. Usually I laid awake.
This time in my life was rough, I was going through some really hard stuff in my marriage, some intense personal awareness was happening in my life. I had begun working full-time, for the first time in many years after being a stay-at-home mom. I was also lucky enough to be working with my best friends. I was going to counseling, but so often my friends also acted as much like my counselors as my real counselor did. One day after school I was half out the door on my way to counseling and I was telling my friends about my most recent nightmare and how I was going to discuss it with my counselor. I was telling them that, like usual, I was laying on my bed and someone or something had me pinned down by my shoulders and I was madly kicking but could not for the life of me get free and I was worn out. I was telling them that it was just like when...I...was...assaulted. I stopped. My jaw dropped. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Immediately tears came to my eyes and I said, "I gotta go."
I have always been well aware of my sexual assault, it was not buried so deep that I forgot. No, it was more like I had minimized what had happened to me and the impact that it had on my life. I was an expert at denying and minimizing. I often said that my body betrayed me, meaning I had buried so many things so deep down inside of me, but inevitably in time it would all surface. The signs of it felt like betrayal, like my body had turned on me in the form of nightmares, night sweats, insomnia, eye twitching, anxiety, darkness, depression, anger, weight loss, migraines, fear, horrible menstrual cycles and claustrophobia. I could not deny it anymore.
I don't remember that specific counseling session in any great detail, but I do know that the sexual assault that I experienced and the subsequent and delayed nightmares were discussed at length. The good, well great, news is that I have not had one of those nightmares of being held down since putting that puzzle together, thank God. The mind is a fascinating thing. My nightmares and night sweats did not stop, maybe because I was sleeping next to my abuser every night (again, another blog all together), but the nightmares connected to the assault did stop. Other things had only just begun.
I didn't understand PTSD then, and I was hesitant to accept the diagnosis that eventually came. I related PTSD solely to war veterans, and although I have been through some hard times, I have never been through anything like war. So, therefore, I did not want to minimize what kind of hell a soldier has gone through. But I learned that PTSD has many faces and varying degrees. I was still in mid-process of my recovery with much more to go, but this was an excellent start. I realized that God will only reveal to us what we are prepared to see when we are prepared to see it.
On a summer night in 1988 I was sexually assaulted. I was 18, almost 19, lost, scared, alone, and in the middle of an abusive relationship, and quite frankly making some really poor and self-destructive decisions. He sniffed me out, targeted me, and my life will never be the same.
There is so much more to be said on this topic. To be continued...