I woke up feeling the heavy weight of panic in my chest as my head jerked quickly to the right. I saw the back of my husband’s head and our dog, Angel, sleeping between us, her butt against my husband’s back and her face almost touching mine, front paws outstretched. It was just a dream, I told myself. Just a dream. I laid on my back trying to will myself to close my eyes. You can’t sleep with your eyes wide open. But I couldn’t. I turned back on my side and pulled the heavy comforter over my head. But even after doing so I couldn’t close my eyes for more than a few seconds at a time.
Eventually I gave up and pulled out my phone, looking at texts, emails, playing a trivia app, anything that could delay me getting up, but keep my mind on something else. And then I just got up.
I’m exhausted, less than six hours of sleep is not enough. And I can’t shake the dream, even though most of the details are starting to fade, I remember enough because I remember how I felt in the dream. The fear. The sense of wrongness. Being watched, knowing “he” was coming.
It’s been awhile since I’ve had a bad dream like that. Months. And I’m sure it will be another couple of months before it happens again. There was no trigger, not even something silly like I watched a crime show or read a thriller the previous day. No the previous day I was busy being productive and the few shows I watched were family-oriented sitcoms. The only book I read was YA fiction that was more adventure than anything (and it’s my second time reading it, so no surprises in store).
When my husband came downstairs to leave for work, nearly two hours later, he said, “What hurts?” Typically if I wake up early, it’s because of my body. I get severe hand pain thanks to a bone marrow disorder and stomach pain from a stomach disorder, so those are the usual suspects – and culprits.
“Nothing,” I said. “I just had a bad dream.” I’m not sure why I added the last part. Mainly because I feel like keeping secrets is the same as lying. It’s not like I have to tell my husband everything or he has to tell me everything, but if you’re intentionally omitting something… that feels like something else.
“I’m sorry.” My husband replied. “What was it about?”
But I didn’t want to talk about it, so I said the one thing I knew would end it. “Just about me being assaulted.”
I wasn’t expecting the follow-up question but all too quickly I replied, “Just about the past.”
He apologized again and I shrugged it off. “It happens. Not too often, but it still happens.” And it does. That was probably the one honest thing I had said about the dream that I didn’t want to talk about because talking about it meant thinking about it and I was busy trying to distract myself in hopes it would fade.
The truth is the dream was like starring in a horror movie. You know when some girl is being stalked by a killer. She’s alone in a house or room and keeps looking over her shoulder. A figure will pass behind her and she instantly whips her head around but no one is there. That was me. I remember something horrible happening and then I was alone in a room and had that feeling of being watched. That something was wrong. That I wasn’t alone. But the door was locked and the only other hiding space was the closet, which I had checked in the dream. I had closed the door after I checked it. At the end of the dream I heard a noise behind me and whipped my head around, no longer facing the closet door, but when I turned back the closet door was wide open – and then I woke up.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to most people, but it was to me. I remember feeling the exact feeling I did in the dream, in real life. I know what that’s like. Feeling hunted – waiting. That feeling of impending doom, real or imagined. Feeling helpless…
But it was just a dream. And I go about my day, keeping busy, doing what I’m supposed to do, work, keeping up obligations and ignoring my tiredness as well as that cold lump of dread that remains for awhile anytime I have such a dream.
Really I should be grateful. Less than twelve years ago I would have several of these dreams each night. I’d be lucky to get two hours sleep and only if I took the anti-anxiety meds I had been prescribed but refused to take because they could make me vulnerable. Maybe that makes me sound crazy or paranoid, but you can’t be paranoid if it really happened. As a survivor of violent crime – and then a victim advocate I saw more than my fair share of things. Witnessed – experienced. When you see the worst of humanity on a daily basis, it tends to leave a stain.
That’s why I walked away. I couldn’t do it anymore and be happy and healthy. I had to make that choice. And I don’t talk about that time in my life – being victim, survivor and victim advocate all at the same time.
In the present, I am happy and as well-adjusted as I’m sure I’ll ever be. I’m kind of a shut-in, and that’s okay. I can sleep through the night usually, with the light off (but still some sort of nightlight, can’t do pitch blackness). I only check the locks three times before bed instead of twenty. I don’t have a weapon at arm’s length. I can fall asleep without having my shoes on. Progress.
It was just a bad dream. It isn’t meaningless, but I know it also doesn’t mean anything regarding my future. It’s just a residual effect from that stain stamped on my soul. You can never forget the past that shaped you, because it was that same past that made you what you are now.