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Thought Stirring Question: Public 
29th-Sep-2009 05:49 pm
Nightmares, and nightmare reduction:

Many survivors experience frequent or disturbing nightmares as a result of their abuse. Nightmares serve two purposes: our subconscious mind can process the horrors we’ve experienced in a “safe” setting, and it can also continue to feed hypervigilance during waking hours. Dreams give us the ability to revisit the abuse, in a setting which is physically safe. This can help us unlock feelings about our abuse which we have repressed or not yet identified. For survivors who experience hypervigilance (a heightened sense of awareness or fear about your surroundings), nightmares can also feed the cycle of fear leading to hypervigilance.

For whatever reasons we have nightmares, frequent or horrific nightmares can leave us drained, dissociated, and hypervigilant. There is a method (which has no official name) which can help reduce both the frequency and intensity of nightmares. Along with your other methods of processing/healing (talk therapy, counseling, medication, exercise, meditation, etc.), it can help to reduce your stress during waking hours, and help you have more energy to face the cycles of processing after abuse or rape.

Below the cut will be a brief description of the method, for those who haven’t heard of it:
1. Have a soothing routine before bedtime: 1 hour before bedtime, don’t do anything you know will trigger you (including music, movies, places, books, websites, etc.). 15 minutes before bedtime, do something actively soothing to you. Some people find reading a non-triggering book, putting lotion on hands/legs, quiet meditation, etc. to be soothing before bedtime. This helps keep your mind off upsetting things before you start dreaming.

2. As soon as you wake up from a nightmare, smell a comforting smell. Scent is the sense most strongly linked to emotion, so it will very quickly help you calm down and feel centered. Good options for comforting smells: an unlit scented candle (which come in every scent from fresh baked bread, to lavender, to sea spray, to clean linen), a previously worn shirt of a loved one (so you can smell them and know you’re not alone), or even a favorite perfume/cologne. The key is to remember to have it within arm’s reach, so you can immediately smell it. If you can’t think of a comforting smell, but have an object which is that level of comforting, use that instead.

3. After you feel calmer, close your eyes and imagine a different ending to the dream. If your abuser found you, have the abuser get arrested, put to trial, and convicted. If you were attacked, give yourself the power to heal, and give yourself super-fighting powers. Re-write the ending of the nightmare in a way which makes you feel better, even if the ending is cliché or silly. Even if you re-write the dream to all be some big, horrible practical joke, it will help keep that lingering feeling from the nightmare from setting in.

If used consistently, over a few weeks to a couple months, your brain stops associating nightmares with being beneficial. Your mind can stop using nightmares as a means to an end (which can reduce their frequency and intensity), and you learn some good coping skills to use when you do have nightmares.

This week’s Questions:
- Do you have nightmares relating to your abuse? Did you have an increase in nightmare frequency or intensity after your abuse?

- What type of nightmare do you tend to have the most? Being attacked, overall anxiety, gory, feeling stalked, etc.?

In relation to the method for reducing nightmares:
- What types of activities could you avoid in the hour before bed? What activities do you consider non-triggering, that you enjoy, that you could start doing before bed?

- What focused soothing could you do in the 15 minutes before you go to sleep?

- What smell is the most comforting? What is your favorite happy memory – and is there a smell which reminds you of that memory? What object is instantly soothing for you to have nearby?

- Based on what type of nightmare you tend to have, what are some ways in which you could re-write those nightmares?
29th-Sep-2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
I have one recurring nightmare that is sort-of related to my abuse, but actually has a lot more to do with my abandonment issues. It's something that happens a couple of times a month... more if I'm incredibly stressed. It's a specific event that happened and it plays in my mind in slow motion, as if it will never ever end.

I don't tend to have nightmares about being attacked or feeling stalked. They're always about being abandoned... being left behind or taken away.

Before I go to bed, I listen to podcasts. There are a few particular ones I listen to: This American Life, The Bugle, All Songs Considered. I keep my favorites and listen to them over and over again to help me get to sleep. The voices are soothing, the stories are familiar, and they keep me from thinking about triggering things.

I don't find smells comforting because I have an incredibly sensitive nose and most things make me feel ill, but I do have a necklace that belonged to my grandmother that I wear all the time and keep hanging on the wall within reach of my bed. It serves as a great worry stone... something I can rub until the anxiety goes away.

I don't know how to re-write my nightmare. This is something I'd need to work on.
29th-Sep-2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
- I have nightmares frequently, usually at least one a week, sometimes as many as two or three. They started around the time when I reported the attack to the police, about 15 months afterwards - I think until then a part of me had been denying that it happened and I was blocking it all out. Telling the police made it real... if that makes any sense.

- Mostly I dream about actually being attacked, but I also find that I'll be having a normal dream and then suddenly M (my primary abuser) is suddenly in it. He doesn't always play a big part, but even a brief appearance is distressing to me.

- I don't watch films that contain violence before bed, and I take special care to avoid certain websites which have triggered me in the past. Activities that I do before bed include listening to music, reading, watching something completely non-triggering that makes me laugh.

- Cuddling with my dog, and brushing my hair.

- The smell of my partner comforts me. Lavender too. My comfort objects are a blanket and a cuddly toy, I keep both in bed with me.

- I think seeing my abuser punished in some way. I'm sure that my nightmares come from the fear that he will come back and hurt me again, even though I know it's not likely to happen. So rewriting them to have him put in jail, or exposed in public as a rapist will be comforting.
1st-Oct-2009 02:17 am (UTC)
Doggies are the best!!!
3rd-Oct-2009 11:56 am (UTC) - Response
I used to have nightmares a lot more because I kept the code of silence my family and more importantly, the silence my mom wanted. Presently I have a nightmare or two mostly involving closed or crowded spaces, and one of my two attackers. But I also have dreams that involved those I loved and lost along the way to recovery which was really prevelent when I lived overseas and the distance detached me from everything and everyone I knew.

I take special consideration to only watch shows that offer resolution before bed. I often take the dogs on a walk before settling in with them and spend a couple minutes arranging blankets, pillows and the air.

I think I often rewrite my nightmares, but really doing that would take a bit more time because of job insecurity and income. One day though I'll write the whole story including all the horses, the dogs, and cats.
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