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The Nightmares

“We need to send a message to all victims and survivors: You matter and we believe you. You deserve to feel safe and loved.”

For me, nightmares are one of the worst components of PTSD. When I am awake, while I still struggle, I have more control over myself. When dreaming, however, I have no control. It doesn’t matter how far I have come in my waking life – the nightmares persist. I wake up with a racing heart, heavy breathing, and experiencing intense fear. Everything I felt during the abuse washes over me and it is as if it is happening again. I am able to take deep breaths, orient myself in the room, and use self-talk to remind myself that I am safe and free of him, but those intense emotions of feeling so trapped I could hardly breathe continue throughout the day.

I never have nightmares of him physically assaulting me. No, the nightmares I have are all centered on him exerting control over me. I run into him in public and he corners me and talks to me with that smirk on his face as though nothing traumatic ever happened between us. He tries to weasel his way back into my life and as hard as I try to get away from him, I can’t. The nightmares I have always involve him trying to exert influence over aspects of my life I don’t have control over like my family and friends. The overarching theme is always the same: I am powerless and panicked. As much as I try to shake those feelings throughout the day, I am unable to. They follow me. They permeate me. They hijack my day. They are his hold on my waking life.

I also have nightmares about his family – specifically his dad and stepmom. I am on my way somewhere public when I somehow find out they are there. I immediately change all of my plans and do everything I can to get out of that area and away from them. I know this is rooted in my feelings of powerlessness as well. They took my cell phone after their son physically assaulted me. They stole my ability to stand up for and protect myself. They blamed me for the assault and left me alone in the dark as bruises developed all over my body. This is why domestic violence is a societal problem – not just a “those people” problem. When the abusers are protected and defended, our voices are ripped out and the abuser becomes the victim. They walk free while we are held prisoner by the consequences of their actions. The result is a feeling of powerlessness on a massive scale. Not only do we feel helpless, we feel as though society has turned its back on us as well. Our hope diminishes. Without hope, what do we have?

Luckily, I had friends, family, and colleagues that assumed the role of planting little seeds of hope for me until I gathered the strength to leave. But think for a moment about those who are physically isolated from all of their support people. The ones without transportation to leave. The ones who fear what will happen to their children should their abuser be awarded shared custody. The ones who are brutally murdered for trying to grasp their freedom. We as a society owe it to them to stand with them and for them. Each one of their lives matters. That’s what abusers take away from us – the belief that we matter and are worthy of a love that doesn’t take the form of bruises and broken bones on our bodies. They break us down and tear us apart. While society is slowly progressing in this area, we still have a long way to go. We need to send a message to all victims and survivors: You matter and we believe you. You deserve to feel safe and loved. We also need to send a message to all abusers: Your behaviors and actions are unacceptable and not only will you be held accountable, but you will also stand alone.

Photo: Flickr – Christopher Adams

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