“I wanted him to feel powerless, scared, and as though he may die at any moment and there was nothing he could do about it. I wanted to take away his power so he knew exactly how it felt.”
I started to see a licensed clinical social worker to address my nightmares specifically. Finding a therapist is a lot like buying a car. You want to make sure they come with the options you need (specialize in your particular disorder/mental health challenge). It may take some time to find the right one for you. Just like when you test drive a vehicle, the first couple of sessions will help you determine whether you and your therapist will be a good fit. You may come to realize that you have a hard time connecting with them or that their therapeutic style doesn’t coincide with how you like to be supported. That’s okay. Just like you can test drive another vehicle, you can try another therapist until you find one you feel comfortable with. Just stay patient, but also give the therapist a chance.
After the very first session with my therapist, I decided I didn’t like her and would not be going back. She made a comment I didn’t agree with and that’s all it took. However, after thinking about it for some time, I came to realize my decision had nothing to do with her and everything to do with me. She did exactly what a therapist is supposed to do; she challenged me to question my thinking patterns. It was uncomfortable and I didn’t like it, but I knew if I wanted to overcome my past, I needed to endure the discomfort. After a couple of months, I made the decision to go back.
Prior to one of our sessions, I made a list of my recurring nightmares and triggers. My nightmares were a huge trigger for me. Since they were so vivid and felt so real, I had a hard time managing my emotions for the rest of the day. This persisted despite my self-talk attempts to tell myself that it was over and I was safe now. We discussed possible approaches we could take to treat my nightmares. One of these approaches was EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). We decided, however, with the successes I achieved with health kinesiology (you can find that post here), revisiting the trauma I experienced would set me back, not push me forward.
Another approach we discussed was Imagery Rehearsal Therapy during which you recreate the ending of your dream out loud with your therapist in detail and rehearse it each night before going to bed. We decided to move forward. She then asked me the hard question, “How do you need your dream to end in order to feel okay?” I was stumped. So much anger and hurt surfaced in those dreams. I wasn’t sure any ending could take that away. She told me I could give myself superpowers or have any detail I wanted because it was my dream. I initially thought about becoming a superhero and killing him, but after going through the scene in my head, I didn’t feel any better.
After taking a few minutes to think, I realized what I wanted more than anything, was for him to know exactly how he made me feel. I thought about me hurting him the way he hurt me, but I didn’t want to be the one in my dream to inflict harm because I refuse to allow myself to sink down to his level. What I wanted was to feel supported in a larger sense. After talking it through, I came up with my ending. During my dreams, he was always trying to convince me to go back to him or trying to convince important people in my life that I was the perpetrator. To address this, in my dream a group of strong men found out what he did to me and followed him out into the parking lot once I got him to leave me alone. They told him they knew what he did to me and started pushing him around, asking him if he felt like a big, strong man hurting a woman like that. They didn’t bother waiting for his response before surrounding him so he couldn’t escape and proceeded to punch and kick him until he was laying on the ground, knowing he had no control. I saw this occurring as I was walking to my car. By the time I got to them, the altercation had ceased. I walked up to him laying on the ground helplessly looking at me and said, “Now you know how you made me feel,” and walked away.
That’s all it took. I didn’t want an apology. Although for the first several months after I left that was exactly what I thought I wanted. Then I realized any apology from him was not going to be genuine. I didn’t want him to get killed. For a while, I thought that might be the only way I could find peace, but I realized it wouldn’t take away the memories of what had happened. No, I wanted him to feel powerless, scared, and as though he may die at any moment and there was nothing he could do about it. I wanted to take away his power so he knew exactly how it felt. It felt so good to come to this realization and say it out loud with my therapist.
From that moment on, I have not had another nightmare about him. I would rehearse my new ending before bed and wake up feeling safe and at peace. From there, I was able to ask myself why I even needed that to happen. Why even give him the time of day? Why waste another breath or any more of my energy on someone who never thought twice about hurting me? And just like that, all of his power and control was gone to the point where even if I saw him in public, I would feel absolutely nothing. Nothing. He would be just another face.
Even though the nightmares are gone, I still have dreams about him from time to time. They have no impact on me anymore though. I know my brain will continue to process what happened, but I don’t need to pay it any attention. It is just another dream. Like all of the rest of my dreams. I wake up and go about my day as usual. I finally feel free.
***Please note that this post is solely to share how I was able to heal during therapy. I do NOT condone any type of retaliation against him, his family, or his friends. ***
Photo: Flickr – Rafael Vianna Croffi