I don’t often dream, at least not that I remember anyway. I hardly ever have nightmares. The last several nights, I’ve been awakened by one set of nightmares or another. Nothing really tied together, or to anything really—just horrible things robbing me from sleep.
A few nights ago, I’d fallen into a sound sleep around 12:30, after wrestling down another nightmare. However, by 1:30, I was wide awake, jumping out of bed and onto my floor, crawling to the other side of my room, and lying next to the bed with my phone.
Five loud pops rang out, and with my bed right next to a first-floor window, I was desperate to find shelter in the dark. All fell silent. No sirens. No police lights. Maybe I imagined it? Another nightmare?
From what I learned the next morning, the “pops” were not imagined – it was someone setting off mortars, illegally, in the amphitheater behind my apartments. Usually, easy enough to distinguish the difference between fireworks and gunshots, but maybe not from a deep sleep state. 😉
Trauma does weird things to us. It changes us. It forces us to remain in a state of readiness, alertness. It’s hard to relax and breathe when we’re always waiting for the next thing to happen. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel safe in my home – especially not as a single woman living alone. I’m sure that’s why I’ve struggled to set boundaries around who lives here and for how long; the alternative is that I’m all alone, and that just feels really scary still. Interestingly, I don’t find the same fear anywhere else – just my own home.
And that’s how trauma jacks us all up. It takes the spaces that are supposed to be safe and turns them on their heads. So, we run. We find other things that give us a sense of control and safety. Some of us look for that in a bottle of pills or a bottle of drink. Maybe we eat too much, shop too much, gamble too much. Perhaps we work too much or try to control the people on our teams. Maybe we work hard to avoid people, thus avoiding conversation, thus avoiding dealing with “it”.
It’s normal for us to want to look for ways and things that will soothe that which is hurt, broken, and plain scary as hell inside us. However, the day will eventually come, if we’re working toward health, that we learn that none of the coping mechanisms we’ve been trying really work.
Friends, actively seeking healthy coping strategies is essential. Trauma happens, and it’s terrible, and it sucks. Acknowledging that is important, and it’s part of the process – and then it’s up to us to make a choice to move toward health. I imagine that will look different for each of us.
For me, it has really been an inward journey, even writing this piece has offered some revelations I didn’t fully understand until it was written out. My most significant unhealthy coping mechanism is isolation. Oddly, it’s also one that I can turn to in health, but understanding the motivation for my isolation and knowing the right balance is critical. Prayer, mediation, being in nature, sitting near the water, appreciating creation, listening to music, driving down lonely roads, writing, and cooking are all ways I manage and cope with trauma.
Having safe people with whom we can freely talk and feel secure in our conversation is another healthy strategy. It might be someone we pay, a small group, a support meeting, or a partner, sibling, trusted friend. This has probably been my hardest to hurdle. And it might be yours, too. I understand. Asking someone to hold it all seems impossible. We don’t even want to hold it and handing it to someone else to hold it seems – mean. It’s crucial, though. It has to be part of the process.
When memories kick up, and they will, we have to actively use our senses to look, smell, touch, feel, and listen — we’re not there at that time, we’re here at this time. The memories are going to come, and triggers are going to happen – and eventually, they will lessen. In the meantime, we pray, find our safe person, pull ourselves out with healthy strategies we’ve put in place. It will get easier. It will.
If you’ve gotten this far, then I’m going to assume you either really like me and want to know more about me, or you’re ready to face your trauma head-on and start working toward your own health. I mean, I guess it could also be because this is a super light read for a Sunday morning.😉
No matter the reason, my friend, I’m glad we could walk this bit of the journey together. I feel as if I’ve learned some things about myself, and I hope that you’ve found some freedom to make moves toward dealing with the trauma in your life. If I can help, I will. There are a variety of resources available for us, and I hope we’re all actively looking for ways to be our better selves.