Trigger Warning: this story about sleep brings up instances of witnessed violence, suicide, sexual assault, and drug usage.
About once a month I dream. I went to a few sleep study doctors in my early 20s; I was getting so little
sleep nightly that I was developing body muscle spasms and nausea.
They found out a remarkable thing: my brain only goes into REM sleep and deep sleep cycles for about a minute and pops out again. I rarely achieve theta-state sleep. Basically, it’s a fancy way of saying I don’t sleep well. One study observer tells me, “You must really be tired!”
I am. I was also the fool who parted with his money and offered a prescription for sleep meds that made me feel worse. According to them, I would have a shortened lifespan, risk of tachycardia, and metabolic shutdown if things didn’t change. I didn’t want to be on narcotics. I was told to do therapy, eat better,
stop working in kitchens, quit getting rowdy at shows all night, and get exercise. I really didn’t care. I was in pain, in a psychologically damaging relationship, and began developing ulcers due to a severe dairy allergy. By 2010, I weighed 268 lbs and was throwing up blood. Two hospital scares. I was falling apart.
It’s really hard to say if a lack of sleep was the root of it all, but it certainly didn’t help. I began training in Aikido a few years prior, I stopped hanging around fake and shitty scene people and got the food allergy dialed in. I dropped 45 lbs in three months of ulcer treatment and removed all dairy from my diet.
I could have saved myself $1,000 by not doing sleep research only to get a fancy graph to agree with me. I don’t dream much, but I do, however, get occasional nightmares. Lucid and wicked, it’s usually me, in
my room, barely aware of my surroundings but in full view of it all. Things like shadows growl and
surround me. I can do nothing. This goes on for hours. The next day feels as if I’m a rag doll. I cramp and I am thirsty from pumping so much adrenaline. In other cases, my brain pieces together a vivid
patchwork of memories, from my bio-mother beating the shit out of me or hunting me with a yardstick, getting attacked and stabbed in a tent camp when I was on the streets, a former lover who drove drunk & recklessly just to scare me (it worked), my friend dying in my arms of an opioid overdose, and
countless other scenes of former people and places that affected me.
That’s what I dream about. When I say I don’t dream often or sleep well, if I’m not dreaming, it’s a
GOOD thing. PTSD and CPTSD are both no joke, they reside deep within the mind and are expressed by the body as stress. It causes sickness. It’s an irrational and painful stress that affects every waking hour as well as non-waking. Some days it feels as if you are finally past it all. All it takes is a reminder, a sound, a smell, a conversation, seeing an abuser’s car (or one like it), or…a dream.
Last night, my mind concocted several dead members of my biological family. My mother, half-brother, and uncle. My mother’s drug/alcohol-addled brain finally melted in late 2018, after being a ward of the state for several mental health diagnoses. My brother took his own life about two months after she passed: no doubt the cause, he’d been in an out of psych hospitals and suicidal since his teens. The result of repeated sexual assaults by a babysitter. My uncle was no better, the same man who threatened to kill me if I came out as gay. He said they were all born with AIDS. I used this to my advantage when he came to “correct me” when I was 13, for disagreeing with my mother. Rather than have him knuckle-punch me repeatedly, I told him the truth: I was having a tough time because I was gay. He never touched me. He left, and I saw him only one more time when he violently broke into the house, high on drugs, looking for money we didn’t have. In 2005 he fell victim to a self-inflicted shotgun blast.
Why they all picked last night to visit me, or rather, why my brain, clearly in desperate need of therapy,
concocted all of this at one time, I’m not sure. The difference now is I get slightly better sleep. Especially in the last few years. I’ve been making far better decisions with whom and how I spend my time, how and why I love, and where I go. It isn’t always ideal, but I’m better. I’ve created a relationship with myself and accepted everything from an autism diagnosis to acknowledging a degrading self-image. I
disallow being swayed by terrible people, learned more about my ignorance and naïveté, and most
importantly I spend time doing good things only for me. I take walks. I cook. I eat. I hydrate. I pursue
interests, challenge myself, and practice socializing. I set career sights and help others who are like me.
To be satisfied with who I am regardless of all that happened to me isn’t easy. Some days it’s awful and I want to give up. Those aren’t the days I get nightmares or am chased by shadow demons as I rest. It’s the days I have a breakthrough or a profound realization. It’s after an evening of a good date, a swell night out with friends, or an accomplishment at work: it’s when good things happen. Even my subconscious is terrified of doing well. It waits for the next tragedy along with the rest of me. My brain doesn’t like healing or feeling better. It’s a battle of internal doubt.
Prior to now, I have never been able to sit with myself, see my face in the mirror or read my name
associated with something and feel proud. I didn’t know that was even a feeling a person was allowed to have because I was always a piece of shit according to just about everyone who was supposed to guide or love me. I’m not even sure to this day if I’ve been properly loved. That makes it rather hard to love
myself. The concept alone at first seemed laughable, some weakling’s answer to reality: that life is hard. What I did was gather dignity as a human being I never received, the approval and connection I was
denied, the safety and security that was stolen, the trust and love I was starved of having: and
stopped giving it away hoping it would be returned. I stopped being wantonly generous with myself to
others. I stopped trying to gain credit on ideas like respect and save up some for myself. I quit fighting
injustice for myself and addressed it in myself. I stopped seeking and expecting pain and recognized it as mere familiarity. This is also a work in progress.
I have been slowly and by myself discovering the right path. It requires patience and creativity.
Sometimes I take a wrong turn, decide on a detour or take a rest, and that’s ok. I know I’m headed in the right direction.
In some streak of irony, because of the work I’m doing, I really do sleep better at night. It might not be
great, but it’s better.
I can now shake off a bad dream of being visited by ugly memories of bad people and places I, unfortunately, knew for a long time. It was especially helpful knowing within the nightmare I felt shaky yet confident. I spoke loud words and declarations and intent from my core rather than a whimper.
This morning, I woke up from it, shook off the disturbing mood, and wrote this while it was still dark out. As I’ve learned, times with no light prove to be great for reflection.
I’m fucking exhausted, which is nothing new. Feeling okay about it, accomplished even, that part certainly is.