photo cred: CAROLYN ARCABACIO
Does anyone remember that show – Are Your Afraid of the Dark? I used to looooove watching it – that and pretty much any scary movie or show I could get my hands on. I love love loved watching scary things.
That was until I had my very first night terror. If you’ve never had one yourself, let me elaborate a bit.
Nightmares and night terrors are two very different things. You have a scary dream, you wake up and shake it off. A night terror, it’s far more involved. “Nightmares are unpleasant dreams that you usually remember upon waking, while sleep terrors involve feelings of intense fear, screaming, and thrashing around while you’re still asleep.” – Self.com
Typically thought, I remember my night terrors – not every detail but when I wake up, my heart is racing, I’m usually crying and heaven save the poor person sleeping next to me because I just scared the living daylights out of them for certain.
I started having night terrors around 2007 – 2008. At the time, I was in an abusive relationship. I saw this scary movie called Paranormal Activity sometime that year and it scared the living daylights out of me. So much so, that I vowed to stay away from scary movies forever. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.
I was afraid of the dark. I’d turn on every single light I could just to walk through my house at night. It was a terrifying experience. I thought that was the end of it, until the night terrors started happening.
My first night terror involved a man standing at the foot of my bed. He just stood there staring at me. My body was paralyzed (which I learned is a form of sleep paralysis) and no matter how hard I try to scream, nothing will come out. It’s like I can’t catch my breath. I take a big deep breathe in and nothing but air or a tiny whine will come out. I will try and try to scream and nothing will come out. My heart races and usually tears start streaming down my face.
No matter what I do, I can’t wake up and I can’t move or scream. I’m stuck just staring at this figure at the foot of my bed. Just helpless. Until I finally wake up and I’m virtually inconsolable. My heart is racing, I can’t catch my breathe and it feels a lot like when someone scares the living daylights out of you. The adrenaline is unbelievable in the worst way.
I hate it. It is truly a terrifying experience. Oh yea, they also happen in the same place I’m sleeping. So it’s very much like I’m awake and it’s happening right there in my bedroom. That makes it THAT MUCH MORE terrifying because you wake up in the same space that night terror happened in. It’s hard to relax after that. I usually have to turn all the lights on and watch a comedy on tv before I’m able to conformably lay back down and go to sleep.
So I’ve had variations of this type of night terror for years. Sometimes it’s a man, sometimes it’s a woman, sometimes its a demon figure that sits on my chest. It never touches or harms me – but it’s always there, lurking and I am there trying to scream and run away but can’t.
In recent years I’ve come to learn why I have the dreams and can almost certainly identify when they might happen. What it usually means is that I’ve been triggered by something in relation to my trauma.
I had last weekend after recounting some of my trauma to someone new on Friday afternoon and then a small incident that happened on Saturday where I felt that someone was dismissing my alcoholism (this was not their fault as they themselves had been drinking and were trying to be nice, I think). Frankly, not very many people know the depths of my alcoholism and only experience the “Fun Nicole” while drinking together. Hard to see it as a problem when I was so much fun to be around. I totally get the misconception and don’t blame them for it. But trust, if I could choose not to have a problem with drinking, I would lol. Not doing it for the attention.
So in the wee hours of the night I woke up in a full blown panic. Usually I’m covered in sweat, crying and my heart is racing. I wasn’t crying this time but my throat was raw, as if I had been screaming, which as I mentioned earlier, I’m unable to do.
I was alone which makes having these that much harder, as there is no one there to comfort me after they get over their own terror of being woken up by the crazy person screaming next to them lol.
The night terror took place in my apartment. It started with me in the bed. Then object in my room started to be moved by a force that I could not see. First my dresser moves across the wall. Then my books get knocked off the shelf onto the floor. Then my pictures knocked off the wall.
I can’t move. I just have to watch it all happen. I try to scream for help, but I cannot. Im just paralyzed as new things start to happen around me. Then, my bed starts to shake. The force I cannot see starts pulling my bed across the room.
Then…..silence. I wait and listen as closely as I can. That’s when I feel a warm sensation across my neck. It’s behind me, breathing on me and I can hear it’s breath leave it’s mouth and touch my skin….
Then I wake up!
These dreams make me feel like a crazy person. But they have become a part of my life. It’s something embarrassing for me to admit, that I’m a grown ass woman having nightmares and that I’m legit afraid of the dark…but here I am.
It’s something I’m currently working on in therapy and very hopeful that some day these will go away and I’ll go back to dreaming without the anxiety attacks. For now, I’ve accepted them as a part of my recovery process and I’ll just handle each one as it comes.