Content note: Abuse
One of the most difficult things about being an adult survivor of childhood abuse is the nightmares. They’re awful. Throughout the day, I can be alert, aware and can allay my deep-seated feelings of danger. During the night my mind becomes lax. Honestly, I can count on one hand the number of “good nights sleep”s I’ve had over the last 10 years. They are so few and far between, and it’s so difficult to train the brain to defend itself when it’s time to rest.
In the last week I’ve had a few memorable nightmares. The first one was the most terrifying. I had this dream on Sunday night, which meant I was restless and exhausted already for the week ahead. Not a good start, but life can always be worse, right?
In my dream, I’m in my small, country hometown. When I was 10 my mother and stepfather built a house on a small property in the country. There is some stunning scenery around the place. It’s absolutely gorgeous to visit… but it’s the scene of my terror. Although there are beautiful, rolling hills, dense bushland and quaint cottages everywhere, I have never felt safe. It is not a sanctuary for me, although I could never begrudge someone who perceived the country sunrises as somewhat of a comfort blanket.
In my nightmare, there was an old castle that had been renovated into a night club. It was just off the road from where my childhood home stands. It looked so off next to that small country road. The old train line was rusting in the background, with beautiful earthy hills and streams all around. In reality, the morning sunshine on this patch of land makes the hills glow, and the night stars illuminate the landscape. But not in my dream. The sky was pitch black, no stars. The castle club looked brand new, jet black with flaming red wolf eyes on each of the castle towers. The steeple was lost in the sky. A sense of dread enveloped the town. No one was safe.
This castle club was owned by a pack of wolves disguised as human. It was the worst kept secret in the town, everyone had heard the rumours. If you crossed the Wolves or tried to hide, you were the dead. The Wolves claimed to be benevolent dictators in the village, but the vanishing villagers spoke to the contrary. For some reason, myself and my family had angered the Wolves. I think we had borrowed money and not been able to repay on time, but I’m not sure. All I know is that the Wolves had promised there would be no revenge, but I knew in my heart we were dead. All of us. We couldn’t run. Anyone found fleeing would die. The Wolves went so far as to not allowing villagers to lock their doors.
I took my family home in an attempt to protect them. We tried to be quiet, but we saw the Wolves sneaking up over the hill. I tried to lock the doors stealthily, but the Wolves had planted a spy in a kitchen attached to our home. They could see through the doors, the walls, the windows, the blinds. We had no privacy and no safety. And the Wolves were coming.
At this point I woke up. I didn’t finish the dream. I never do.
I spoke to my therapist about this dream and we discussed nightmare re-scripting. She helped me find the tools to practice a different scenario in my every day life so that my mind is strong, even when I am dreaming.
If I had a fairy godmother, she would have destroyed the castle. It would be a ruin. Broken. Dilapidated. Beyond repair. The bricks would be falling and crumbled, in that disgusting grey of eroded brick. It would fit; it would be beautiful in the landscape.
The more I think about this, the more I see how I am the castle. I am not new, and shiny, and painted perfectly. I’m the ruin. I’m broken. My soul is old. I crumble. I hurt. I fear. But I’m still standing. I’m strong. And I fit in my life.