Often times individuals who have experienced trauma will relive that trauma in their dreams, or rather nightmare, which replay or imitate closely details of their abuse. For women in recovery from substance abuse the dreams often appear in the form of sudden and unexpected using or drinking. These dreams are commonly known in the recovery community as "using dreams". These dreams occur commonly in the early stages of recovery and healing but they may also make surprise appearances years later, often seemingly "out of the blue"
Most likely these dreams and sometimes accompanying flashbacks are triggered by some cue that we may not have consciously recognized. "Triggers" can come in many forms, a person who somehow
reminds you of your abuser, hearing of or witnessing violence on television or in the news, or being at an event where alcohol is being consumed are all examples of some obvious triggers. Although these triggers seem obvious enough we often brush them aside, especially after many years of distance between us and the original incident(s). We don't realize, or don't want to admit, that those events can still affect us negatively. It is not always our own unwillingness to acknowledge the power our memories still have. Sometimes memories stored deeply can be aroused without our conscious awareness of a triggering event.
Sometimes we are triggered by subtle stimuli, a song, a scent, a sense of déjà vu that awakens an image or feeling from our past. In our busy day we may pay no mind to that feeling and continue on with our business. But at night when we sleep and the subconscious mind takes over, the trigger is still there and unrestrained by the well meaning orderly ego. This is when those pesky dreams may appear.
Although these dreams can be disturbing, leaving us feeling jumpy and unsettled all the next day, there is value in their occurrence. We may learn and heal with the help of these dreams if we know how to use them to our benefit. And if they are causing undue stress and lack of sleep, there are ways we can learn to cope. At this point I want to remind my readers that a general rule of thumb is that when thoughts, events, emotions or physical symptoms advance to the point that they are interfering with one's daily functioning, it's usually time to seek professional help. Assuming however you are not to this point there are a few tips to help you use your "bad dreams" as tools for enlightenment and healing.
Keep a dream journal- this practice can be helpful for a few different reasons. First, writing the dream can help you process the feelings behind it just as talking to someone about it would When we are able to put our feelings in the light it often takes away some of the fear and confusion embedded in them. It is when we repress these feelings and fears that they come back to harass us again and again. Secondly a dream journal helps you keep track of when these dreams occur which may possibly help you to link them to events and situations that may be triggering for you, Finally, dreams are often confusing and seem to make little sense at first review, I have found that by looking back at my dream journals weeks or even months later, meanings and impressions are much more clear than at first glance.
Another practice that can be helpful (and some people find it easier to do this than others, but I guarantee with practice it becomes easier) is to prepare yourself before going to sleep. Tell yourself that if you have a nightmare you will be safe. Have a plan for how to confront it. It may not work the first time, but like anything new it takes practice. At one time I was having repeated nightmares of my ex-husband ridiculing me and verbally abusing me. I kept practicing preparing myself before going to sleep and finally I was able to walk away from him in one dream. In the next I turned to him and screamed "leave me alone you can't hurt me anymore!" It worked. I rarely dream of him anymore and if I do I am no longer in a victim role in the dreams.
There are many additional techniques to use when confronting triggers and flashbacks and I am currently working on compiling a recommended reading list to share with my readers. I would also love to hear from my readers as to your experiences with taming the dragons of unwanted memories, flashbacks and nightmares. We all have a lot to offer each other by sharing our paths to healing!
Peace and Blessings and Sweet Dreams!