Sleep

I have never enjoyed sleeping. As a young child (before 6) my sleep was plagued with nightmares. I remember being running though the basement of our house trying to escape a man who always stood in the shadows. Whenever I thought I was going to get away I would suddenly be back where are started in the back corner farthest from the stairs. Over and over I would have the dream and wake up as the man walked closer to me and into the light. I can only remember one time when the light hit the man’s face and it was my father. I remember shaking and crying in my bed after I woke up. I used to dream that there were snakes writhing under the blankets. When I woke up I could only leave the room if the closet door was closed (and I always closed it before I went to bed). Sometimes (it feels like usually) I would wake up and discover the door was half-open and I would strain my eyes to see if there was anyone or anything in there. If I wanted to get to my parents I would have to run by the open closets. I never called out for them. I don’t know if that is because I thought they wouldn’t respond or if I was afraid that it would make whatever was in the closet come out. Often if I did make a run to my parents they would tell me I was having a dream and I should go back to bed. I would sit in the corner of their bedroom afraid to try another run by the closet. Sometimes I didn’t even run I just watched the closet.

As I grew older I learned how to direct my dreams at times. I remember having dreams where I was being chased and I pretended to be dead or hid to save my life. It worked although I felt guilty that I was a coward even though nobody but me knew it. As an adult I didn’t seem to dream very often but when I did the dreams were always about being sexually assaulted. I have had dreams about being attacked in my home, at work, on the street outside of M’s office, at my son’s Karate dojo, in our neighbourhood park. The list is endless. The dreams have a common theme in that even though I can see people they don’t help me. Sometimes I am yelling for help and they walk by me like I am invisible. Other times I know they can’t help so I don’t even yell but they are always within sight and they can’t or won’t do anything to help me. After I had kids I started having nightmares about them being in danger and I can’t save them. It is awful and luckily it doesn’t happen very often. I used to call myself a night owl. I said I needed very little sleep. I could stay up into the early hours of the morning reading or studying and then get up after 4 or 5 hours and feel completely rested. I never had any trouble falling asleep but I never got into bed until I was exhausted. Then I had children and got older and things changed.

Now I’m in my mid-40’s and I am always tired. I still can’t fall asleep before the early hours of the morning however. If I get into bed at 11pm or midnight, I can’t seem to fall asleep. My thoughts are racing, I toss and turn, I can’t get comfortable, I watch the clock or read something for hours. I have discovered something over the last couple of years. If I get into bed anytime between noon and early evening I can fall asleep easily. I usually don’t let myself because I don’t want a nap to interfere with my ability to sleep at night. Everything feels different then. My bed feels warm and soft and comforting. I like to curl up in the blankets and just feel comforted by being in bed. My bed feels safe. Lately I’ve been wondering why my bed never feels that way at night. I’m not actually feeling scared at night while I wait to go to sleep but I always feel tense and wound up. I fall asleep at night like I’ve been hit over the head. One moment I’m thinking I’m never going to be able to sleep and the next I’m waking up. During the day I lean into rest and relaxation even if I don’t fall asleep. I hate that my bed feels so different at night.

Dreaming about my therapist

M is on vacation this week so I haven’t seen him for a week. During our last session I talked about my children and how I am enjoying my relationships with them more. We didn’t try to talk about anything difficult or emotionally draining. I understand why but I still end up feeling like he is helping me avoid things that I need to talk about. M did give me a stuffed animal from his office to keep while he was away. This is the second time I’ve taken the stuffed animal.

This week has gone very well. I’ve been busy at work and at home but my mood has been good. I feel like I am doing better with my day-to-day life. The bigger issues are what still cause me so much pain. I hate how fat I am but I keep eating every night after my kids go to bed. I can feel quite good about things until something happens to remind me how screwed up I am. This morning I had a dream that triggered me badly into the “I am so screwed up nothing will ever help” state.

****Triggers*** for sexual content

This morning I woke up after having a very disturbing dream about M. He was coming back from his vacation and he came to visit me at home but it was my childhood home. I was an adult with two kids but I was living with my parents. M came in and hugged my daughter and then hugged me and kissed my head paternally. I was surprised in the dream because we don’t touch other than shaking hands at the end of sessions. Then we were walking my children to school and we stopped at a cafe to get coffee. At first it was a typical coffee shop and in the next moment we were the only people in the room and T was kissing my naked back erotically. I was very excited. After dropping my kids off at school we were in a bedroom and we started to have sex. I woke up feeling confused. I rarely have dreams about consensual sex. I use to have repetitive rape dreams but those have stopped in the last year.

I feel guilty even though I wasn’t in control of my dreams. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to have sex with M. I have felt a lot more connected to him in the last six months. I am afraid I am not going to be able to go to my session next week without telling M about the dream. I am also afraid of telling him the dream. I am wrong either way.

Sex **Triggers**

I’m struggling in a new way right now. I’ve been spending time online looking for casual sex partners who would be willing to “force” me to have sex. I know it is a bad idea and I won’t actually do it. I don’t want to cheat on my husband but I keep looking. I tried to tell M about it in my session today but I couldn’t. I told him I wanted to hurt myself but I wouldn’t describe what kind of hurt I meant. I had hoped talking about sex last week in therapy with M (and with my husband and H) would decrease the desire to have someone force me. I have always been excited by the BD activities of BDSM role-playing. I’m not into actual physical pain or injury but I like being tied up and forced to have sex. I am excited by being used for someone else’s sexual pleasure. I used to think BDSM games were no different from liking a particular sexual position or type of sexual activity and I am sure they are that way for many people. When I first started dating my husband I told him about my desires but he wasn’t interested and after trying a couple of times I realized that he wasn’t capable of acting that differently than himself and I resolved myself to only fantasizing about those activities.

Now I feel a lot more conflicted about that type of sex. It is probably obvious how conflicted by how many different words and initials I have used in this post to describe it. z I hate that I’m excited by fantasies of rape or forcible, painful sex. It bothers me that my sexual fantasies are very similar to my PTSD-like nightmares that sometimes wake me up feeling like I am physically in pain, terrified with my heart pounding, sweating, breathing heavy, and feeling sexually aroused. I did manage to tell M that last week. That the fantasies that I have while having sex with my husband are like my nightmares which terrorize me. It doesn’t sound like a good thing. Also those nightmares (or fantasies) are much worse than anything that happened to me when I was abused as a child which makes me wonder think there is something perverse about me. After I left my session last week I was very sad and I was flooded with a lot of memories of my sexual history and how much shame and confusion I felt. Today M asked me what memories I thought of and I couldn’t tell him even the easiest one. The one where I didn’t do anything wrong and it is only looking back I can see that my feelings probably related to my abuse. Thirty years ago I had my first boyfriend and once we managed to find a place to be alone and started making out. Mainly kissing and necking and slowly we moved onto second base. When I felt his warm mouth on my nipple it was incredibly exciting. I still can remember how shocked I was and how I felt it throughout my entire body. I was completely overwhelmed and caught up in the moment until he moved his hand down to my ass and it was like I was thrown completely out of my body. I felt like I was watching from six feet away and I couldn’t feel anything anymore. I stopped his hand and he agreed that was as far as we would go but I couldn’t get back into my body at all. We kept making out and I tried to feel something and then I pretended that it felt great and faked my way through heavy breathing and moaning so he didn’t know I just wanted him to stop.

Another memory I had been the first time I was sexually excited by a book I was reading. I was a teenager and I don’t remember the name of the book but I haven’t forgotten the scene. The story was set in some fantasy world which resembled viking times. A woman is walking down the street when three soldiers pull her into an alley and start to rape her. They hold her down and cut off her clothes. One of the soldiers rubs the knife along the insides of her thighs and then gets ready to rape her. The hero walks by interrupts the rape, beats off three soldiers, and rescues the girl. It takes the rest of the book before she finally admits she loves him and gives himself to her. The culmination of their love in a consensual and mutually satisfying scene wasn’t nearly as exciting to me as the aborted rape scene.

I told M today that if I couldn’t even tell him the easy story about my first boyfriend and what happened when we made out I didn’t think I’d ever be able to talk about what sex is like for me today. I can’t tell him about the first man I had sex with and the games we played or my entertaining the idea of acting out a fantasy now. I think what I’m most ashamed of is my sexual desire. I am so ashamed of my sexuality I can’t talk about it. I can’t reason with myself that all humans are sexual because what if the intensity of my desire is out of proportion or out of control. I could if I had describe what happened without describing the emotions or at least I did earlier in therapy when I first discussed the abuse. It is my emotions that seem so wrong or to but it another way I am ashamed of my sexual desire.

A terrible dream

This morning I had a terrible dream. It was disjointed and confusing but it ended with me hurting my daughters. Hurting is too bland a word but I don’t want to describe it. I knew right away it was “just” a dream but it was vivid. I kept remembering what I was thinking in the dream and I got more and more upset. I called M to leave a message on his voicemail and instead heard my sister-in-law answer the phone after one ring wondering why I called so early and was crying. I was panicked. I know that there are probably a lot of interpretations of my dream but M and I don’t talk much about dreams. I got to my session in less than an hour. I’ve spent today feeling fine, going to work, talking normally for most of the time except for the occasional thought or memory of my dream and feeling so awful suddenly followed by distraction. I feel like I’m chopped up into separate pieces and different pieces are coming to the surface and I’ve got no control over what comes up.

Sleep, dreams, and nightmares

I don’t get enough sleep. I’m always tired and I am usually sleepy in the afternoon and early evening but as it gets later I get a burst of energy that makes it difficult to fall asleep at a reasonable time. When I finally fall asleep I usually have between 5.5 and 6.5 hours until my alarm goes off and the cycle starts again. I always been a night owl. When I was a child between 6 and 10, my parents made me go to bed at 8pm but I was allowed to read until they went to bed between 11pm and midnight. In the second grade I would read an entire Nancy Drew book every single night.

I don’t remember being tired when I a kid but I do remember the nightmares. In my nightmares I was being chased by a man who I couldn’t see because he was always in the shadows. Sometimes I would stuck in the back seat of a car with no driver while the car drove towards a cliff and sometimes my younger sister would be with me. I had versions of those nightmares over and over as a child. Sometimes after I woke up from a nightmare I would sit on my bed too scared to try and run to my parents because I would have to pass the open closet and I was sure that if I tried to run past someone would catch me. It felt like I spent hours staring at the closet trying to tell if there was someone in there hiding in the hanging clothes.

I also used to have the fun dreams. I had a series of dreams where I crawled through a drainpipe in the basement and entered a completely different world very much like in the Narnia series of books. I also dreamed I was a detective solving crimes with Nancy Drew only whenever things got scary and I had to confront the bad guy in my dream I would play dead so they wouldn’t hurt. I didn’t like to talk about those dreams because I used to think they showed how much of a coward I was that even in my own dreams I was powerless and had to pretend I was dead to survive.

As I got older I dreamed less often both the fun dreams and the nightmares. As an adult I thought I had grown out of dreaming. Without someone else to turn off the light I sometimes spent half the night awake, reading, or watching TV. I just seemed to need less sleep than most other people. Later when I had my kids it was useful not needing as much sleep. Eventually I started to feel chronically tired. As my children got older and stopped getting up at night I started to sleep longer and longer but I never felt rested. At this point I was sleeping more hours than most people but still feeling tired. I almost never dreamed or remember my dreams.

Four years ago I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a condition where I would stop breathing and start to wake up over and over again, and I woke an average of 37 times an hour. The sleep doctor told me I was chronically tired and didn’t dream because my partial awakenings meant that I rarely reached the REM cycle of sleep which is when you dream and you are refreshed. I started using a CPAP machine which blows pressurized air into my mouth and prevents me from waking up. I started feeling rested for the first time in over a decade. It was amazing and I felt so much better. And I started dreaming again.

I have mundane dreams of everyday things or people. Sometimes it is like I’m watching a movie where I don’t know any of the characters and I’m fascinated by what is happening. The nightmares are different from when I was a child but they are repetitive. I dream I’m being assaulted. The assaults happen in all the common locations of my life; my home, my workplace, the parking garage I walk by on my way to M’s office, the park near the house where my kids used to play, the karate studio, etc. The person attacking me isn’t important and I rarely look at them or notice their appearance. What I focus on is the other people in the dream who are walking around and don’t notice what happens. I can always see people or hear them talking and laughing but they don’t come help me if I scream. The worst dreams are the ones I can’t remember at all but I wake up with my heart pounding, sweating, shaking, sometimes I wake because I’ve rolled off my bed, I’m always scared out of my mind and I’m often in pain, my mouth or jaw or throat. It feels like the pain is what wakes me up but there is no sign of my being hurt sometimes I roll my tongue around my mouth wondering if I’ve bit the inside of cheek or tongue but I can’t find any damage. The nightmares seem to come in cycles so in some months I have lots of them and in others none.

This month I’ve been trying to get more sleep. My doctor suggested I take something to help me get a “good” 7.5-8.5 hours of sleep a night. He tells me it will help my moods and my other medications will work better. I agree to try melatonin and practice good sleep hygiene by relaxing without the TV or computer in the hour before my new bedtime. What I’ve noticed is that I still don’t get a much longer night even when I fall asleep one to two hours earlier than I’m used to because what happens is that I wake up in the early morning hours after having a nightmare. I’m scared and confused and I think I won’t be able to get back to sleep but I usually do and fall into another dream or nightmare. It feels like I’m getting about the same amount of uninterrupted sleep followed by an hour or two of poor sleep which involves dreams and dozing and feeling confused or upset. When I’m really tired and I fall asleep late I wake the next morning when I have to but I feel better because I’m not scared and upset.

For now I’ve given up trying to get more sleep because I’m a different kind of exhausted by the nightmares. I’m also wondering how much of my life I’ve been telling myself I didn’t need more sleep because I’ve been afraid of sleeping. I feel like I”ve discovered another area of my life and another part of the story I tell about myself is a reaction to the abuse in my childhood that I keep telling myself wasn’t “that bad”.