One night, I dreamt of being stranded in an ocean of blood.
As my lower body stayed immersed in thick crimson, my arms and chest clung onto a life preserver made of human bone. Skulls, femurs and other skeletal remains bobbled around me, swimming, floating, belonging to no one. My shallow breathing was calmed by a peace I never even recognized. Suddenly, a part of the blood ocean rose above my head, woven with the bones of a million strangers. My eyes ripped open before I drowned.
I do not remember being consumed with fear when I woke up, but I remained awake in my dark room until I saw a glow of daylight shine through my window. And get this: I was five years old when that dream occurred. This dream was the first of many that would have a significant impact on my life. And they seem to get worse over time. One nightmare involved my mother Andraia lunging out at me like a demon from a cave, her eyes filled with contempt as she began beating me. In another, my aunt Jean and I are having sex in her room. Her massive, musty body was on top of mine; her lips moved, but I did not understand the words escaping her lips. I just lied there, my body betraying me by responding to what she was doing to me. I had numerous dreams similar to that one involving other family members. I would wake up with feelings of shame, guilt and disgust–actually becoming fearful of showing affection to my brothers and sisters.
As I begin my journey of healing, I discovered that nightmares and sexual dreams are common among sexual abuse survivors. Bowater (2009) states that “The nightmares of survivors of sexual abuse usually begin as posttrauma memories, but soon they start to collate with other images of fear, humiliation, shame, seduction, or abuse, especially if the abuse began in childhood” (p. 149). Many nightmares and dreams of sexual abuse derive from survivors attempting to either ignore, deny or remain silent about the trauma. Most of us were abused as children, so we believe the lies our abusers when they tell us to stay quiet. As we grow older, we lie to ourselves by make-believing: all we have to do is find the right partner, the right job, the location and so forth and the thoughts will somehow disappear.
“It happened a long time ago and I can’t change the past,” we say, “so I just have to move on.”
Yet our minds have a way of storing trauma like a laptop would files. Thus the truth emerges through nightmares and vivid symbolic dreams that dictate our thoughts and behaviors. We become so crippled with this form of revictimization that it only a matter of time before we have difficultly connecting with intimate partners, friends, the outside world and–most importantly—ourselves.
With that being said, the good news is we don’t have to be deprived of the one activity granted to all humans: sleep! Therefore, it’s extremely paramount for us to face the monsters haunting our slumber. One way survivors can do this is by creating a dream journal. A dream journal is basically no different from a regular journal. The only difference is that dream journals are utilized to interpret dreams. First, buy a notebook (which is the most economical choice for broke folks) or a journal from local shops if you want to get all fancy. Secondly, create a quiet space for you and your work. Make that space YOURS–light candles, play soft music, hang posters if you’re so inclined. If you cannot create a space, go to your local library and find a place where you can work in peace (if it’s warm enough, go to a park. The possibilities are endless here, folks).
Then, describe all you can remember about your dream or nightmare in vivid detail: the setting of the dream or nightmare, what/who you saw, how you felt, what you did, what you smelled, tasted. As you write, ask yourself what the dream or nightmare meant to you (If you don’t prefer to write, then draw everything you remember. You do not have to be Vincent Van Gogh–this work’s for you and your personal growth). For instance, the blood ocean dream I had represented the chaos permeating throughout my childhood at the time: the sexual abuse, my mother’s abuse, my parents’ constant screaming matches, the endless bullying I endured in school. The skeletal remains signified the lack of hope I felt, yet the life preserver signified the of the better life I held onto. The wave of blood was the disorder attempting to overpower me. And the peace was–and still is–Creator watching over me, reassuring me that I was going to be ok, regardless of what happened.
Lastly, read your journal entry or show your drawing to someone you trust–a close friend, pastor, your therapist, an understanding partner–whoever else you feel comfortable with. This step is important because once you talk about the nightmares, dreams and your interpretation of it, the trauma is no longer ripping up the subconscious part of your mind. Also, the dreams and nightmares begin to actually lose their potency. As Bowater (2009) points out: “Telling a nightmare to a perspective listener can open up insight into the dreamer’s script. As the healing work proceeds, changes are reflected in subsequent dreams, which offer a valuable “commentary” to guide the therapist…so, balance of power had shifted…” (pp. 151-152).
Since doing dream work, my nightmares diminished and–when I sleep–I sleep peacefully. Why should I give my Aunt Jean and mom any more of my power–especially over my right to sleep? Doing the dream work helped me realize that neither one of them can hurt me anymore nor will I allow them to. I’m only putting this method out there because I know it worked for me. However, I hope you, Dear Reader, at least try dream journaling in order to begin the healing process. If this doesn’t work for you for any reason, then try something else. But please try something. Do not allow the monsters to live inside your head anymore.
Not if you want to live a full, rewarding and restful existence.