I’ve had horrible nightmares for as long as I can remember. As a small child I would wake up frozen in fear, barely breathing, not able to convince myself to get out of bed to find my mom so she could make me feel better. Back then, I would dream of masked men breaking in to our house in the night and robbing us. Even though my bedroom was on the second story, I dreamed they would come in to the house directly through my window. I still remember how vivid that dream was.
I never watched many cartoons, and thinking about it now that might have its roots in my nightmares as well. For years as a young child I had a recurring dream about a cartoon witch and a cauldron. She never hurt me in the dream, but she was going to. She would taunt me and tell me about all the terrible things she was going to do to me (like the evil character often does in childrens storybooks), and the worst part was that I was trapped. The room I was in with the witch was closet sized, with no light other than from the fire below the cauldron, and I was always huddled in the corner as far away from the witch as possible. But there was no door. No window. No way out. I could fight, scream, cry, beg; no matter what I did or said, I couldn’t hide and I couldn’t escape the witch. Who wanted to hurt me.
Both of these youthful nightmares faded over time, only to be replaced with far more realistic horrors. Not too long ago I dreamed that H and I were in a war zone. Full automatic weapons, think WWI trench type warfare. There were dead soldiers everywhere, and our troops were losing. Badly. Worse than the dead though were the wounded. Obviously I paid more attention to those war movies Mom’s husband liked when I was growing up than I wished. The injuries suffered by the soldiers were gruesome. I find I’m unable, despite my intentions, to describe it. Soon, H, myself, and a small group of soldiers are boxed in. I look up into the face of the closest enemy solider as he rises his rifle. I know I’m about to die. But first, before I can even blink, the enemy solider aims and H and fires. I look at him and watch him die, knowing any second I will follow him. That’s when I woke up.
This dream was new. I’ve never had war nightmares in the past. If it was just the war, I’d say I prefer this type of horror to what I usually dream. But the trauma of watching H die next to me still hasn’t completely left my mind. It’s difficult to think about, even fully awake and cognizant that it was just a dream. What I’ve more commonly dreamt about, for many years, is being raped. Not in a rape -fantasy hold me down while I say no but actually I want it kind of way. That would hardly meet my definition of a nightmare. I dream about being abducted, brutalized, tortured, maimed, in endless agony. That’s the other thing about my nightmares, I almost never wake from them. The war dream was a noteworthy aberration from my norm in that way as well. More often, once it starts it will continue, sometimes morphing into different scenes with similar content, and not stop until I’m woken by external stimuli.
I’ve been thinking about my nightmares for a while. They come and go. When I’m lucky, I can go up to a few months without any. When I’m not so lucky, I have them every night. I know that stress is a factor, but I also know they aren’t caused by that alone. Last year, I’d gone months without any nightmares. When did they return? The night H and I fought about my inviting J to hang out. Coincidence? I think not. But other times they have sought me out when I wasn’t on emotional overload, nor under a great deal of other strain. I’ve been trying to remember when I first dreamed of being raped, was it before or after E? I’m not certain, but I seem to recall it started several years before him. Which begs the question I typically attempt to avoid considering: Why?
I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record, but my childhood is something that I usually don’t talk about. I try not to even think about it when at all possible. But, it’s difficult to argue that my childhood is irrelevant in this instance. I never believed I was loved when I was young. I never felt like I had a family. I never felt safe. I never felt protected. My Mom and her husband L could have been worse. Mostly due to the efforts of my Mom I had many advantages my peers did not. We never had a lot of money, but we always had enough. Neither Mom nor L every beat me or molested me. I never went hungry, or was homeless. Neither Mom nor L did illegal drugs or even smoke pot. I knew Mom would never kick me out; no matter what happened, she would always put a roof over my head if I needed it. Most of my peers in the small town I grew up in dealt with at least one of these or more during their childhood. In my town, I was one of the lucky ones. Middle class was out of reach for most everyone I knew. Yet, I still was never at home. Never happy.
Mom and L didn’t have a good marriage within my memory. L had terminal health issues that began when I was 2 years old, and their marriage declined with L’s health. There’s a lot more to L, but that will have to wait for another time. Due to his health, L didn’t work. So, Mom always had to work to provide for our family. L stayed home with us. He and I were very close when I was young. L was a pathological liar and dedicated manipulator. I was too young to know not to trust him. I believed all of the lies he told me, about my Mom and practically every other person I ever met. Family, friends, all of them were out to get him. Being the devoted daughter I was, that meant it was him and me against the world. L was so derogatory, I actually believed my Mom didn’t love me. For close to ten years of my childhood. Biologically, L is my father. But I will never refer to him as anything other than my Mom’s ex-husband again. He did not act like a father or a dad, he didn’t protect me, he didn’t put me first, he didn’t meet even my most basic needs for someone to trust and depend on. L never even bothered to try to be a good parent.
As I said, obviously my childhood has to be considered when thinking about the root of my life long and increasingly severe nightmares. My feelings of inadequacy due to my relationship (or lack thereof) with my Mom and L, not ever feeling protected, never feeling like I had a safe, stable environment to retreat to, not feeling like I had a family, had other consequences as well. But again, that’s another story. The simple theory: I had and continue to have nightmares because of a difficult childhood. Even if this were indeed the case, how the hell do I fix it now? Believe me, if I could trade in my childhood for another I’d be sorely tempted. But none of us have that option. So simple theory, no idea how to fix the results. The complex theory: my childhood was at most a contributing factor to my nightmares, and other considerations impact or even cause them. Solution for the complex theory? I’m equally as clueless.
Here I sit, with two basic theories about where my nightmares come from, and no hypothesis to resolve them. Apparently keeping the topic in the back of my mind for over a year now, subtly tracking what elements of such as stress, anger, lack of sex, and others correlate with my nightmares seems to have gotten me nowhere. Yes, I’m clear that high levels of stress or emotionality causes an increase. However, even when I’m not stressed or highly emotional, the nightmares still come. Aside from the difficulty inherent in nightmares, I also find myself disturbed by the lengths to which my mind is capable of going to torment me. This can’t be normal. There must be something very wrong with me for my mind to do this. I hope it ends.
I have a lot more thoughts on fear, but it’s late and apparently discussing my nightmares was not nearly as independent a subject as I’d hoped. I hadn’t planned to write nearly so much. Thus, I will hold off on my further discussions of fear, knowing that this post will lay the foundation for more to come.