Two nights ago, I did a stupid thing. I read about something very disturbing right before going to bed.
Allan, D and I had been talking about trying to keep what we know about players' personal lives out of our enjoyment of sports. D mentioned Michael Vick. I had heard about it, but hadn't read any details. D said the details were too horrible to talk about.
I decided it was one of those things I had to know, even though knowing would upset me. So I read about it. That's OK. But anyone with sleep issues should know better than to do that before bed.
I woke up at 2:00 a.m., crying.
In my dream, we were at the vet's office where we had Buster put down. I saw our last moments with him, the same as they occurred. But in the dream, after we left the room, the doctor injected Buster with another drug that revived him. He wasn't really dead. Then Buster was taken to a pit where other dogs would attack him. (That is likely what happened to him in real life, and why our boy had so many problems.)
But that wasn't the worst part.
In the dream, Buster thought we let that happen to him. He thought we tricked him into going to the vet's office, then betrayed and abandoned him. That was the worst part.
At 2:00 a.m., this felt so real. My chest hurt like my heart was being crushed.
It was a while before my mind swam back up to full consciousness and I was able to convince myself this hadn't really happened.
* * * *
In some cultures, dreams are visitations from the spirit world, or travel to other dimensions or states of consciousness. One of my nephews studies depth psychology, an offshoot of Jungian thought that says a person cannot truly know themselves unless they understand their dreams.
I never wanted to examine my dreams. There have been times in my life when my greatest wish was for dreamless sleep. But I'm fascinated by how our minds are at work even when we're not conscious of it.
When I have a writing problem that I can't solve, staring at the computer screen and trying to force an answer will never work. The best thing to do, I've finally learned, is to get up and go do something else. When I'm being smart, I go for a swim. In the pool, or later, relaxing with a cup of tea, the answer comes to me.
That means my mind is working on the problem even when I'm not aware of it. I remember learning about this "Ah-ha Experience" in my own psychology classes in university. The human mind is so amazing.
* * * *
But the workings of my subconscious mind have been more curse than blessing. Anyone who has lived through post-traumatic stress syndrome will know what I mean.
After I was raped, I used to wake up in terror, every night, at the exact same time. Over time, and with a lot of help, this happened less frequently. Sometimes it wouldn't happen for months, and I would think it had stopped altogether. Then it would happen again.
I've been told it's very difficult to wake me up when I'm experiencing this. Whatever is being said to try to rouse me gets incorporated into the dream. So if someone is saying, "It's ok, you're ok, you're safe," then someone in the dream is saying this, while they assault or torture me.
In the dream I hear screaming, coming from a distance, and I try to move towards it. But I'm immobilized; I can't move. I know to be safe I must get to that screaming, but I can't. Finally the screaming gets louder and helps me wrench free. It's the sound of my own voice. My own screaming wakes me up.
After one of these incidents, I'm exhausted the whole next day, sometimes for several days. My concentration is low, I feel stressed, wrung out. Years after I was raped, it was still happening - only once in a while, but never stopping altogether. I would wonder, when will this cease? I am over it. I am healed. So when will this terror be flushed from my brain?
About ten years ago, I was quietly celebrating inside that I no longer had these night terrors. Years had passed - including the anniversary of the incident itself, formerly a difficult time for me - without an incident. In my public speaking - on "survivor panels" to help medical students, police, or other populations learn about rape and domestic violence, and for outreach to other possible survivors - I would say that it no longer happened at all.
Then I had another. This time I was angry. Enough already!
Years passed again. Surely that was the last one.
Within the last six months (I know because we lived in this house), it happened again. I didn't remember it upon waking, I just didn't feel well. Then later in the morning, it came back to me. I asked Allan, did something happen last night? Did I wake up?
All the work I've done - the therapy, the activism - all the time that has passed - more than two decades, for godsake! - and this shit is still in there?? Leave me alone already! I am healed, I am whole, I'm more than fine, I'm great. The rape is just part of my life's landscape, and has been for so many years. It's the worst thing that ever happened to me (and I hope it always will be), but that's all it is - something that happened to me. It was one incident, one night, and it was more than 20 years ago! Why, why, why can't this part of my consciousness get past it?
* * * *
In 2001, I started having minor anxiety attacks. Not full-blown panic as I've seen some people experience, but frightening little incidents of racing heartbeat, shallow breathing, anxiety and fear. I would think something terrible was about to happen to me. It mostly happened in the morning, upon waking. It seemed unconnected to anything going on in my life.
My own doctor thought it might be purely physical, an irregular heartbeat, the adrenaline surge that happens in the morning (when most heart attacks occur). But I wasn't being fully honest with her. The incidents were coming during the day, too.
I had a consultation with a psychiatrist who I really liked. To my surprise, she asked if I had ever had post-traumatic stress. I told her I had been raped, and she just asked a few simple questions to get the basic picture. She also asked briefly and pointedly about my childhood, and zeroed in on whatever fear and anxiety I had growing up.
Then she probed my current life. I didn't think I had anything to tell. But to my amazement, I ended up briefly relating "The Finger" incident. That's our shorthand for a series of events in which an incompetent dog trainer set us up for disaster, leading Buster to attack another dog. The other dog sustained minor injuries to its ear; Allan was hurt trying to separate the dogs, and spent five days in the hospital, having part of his finger re-attached. Buster - calm and sedate afterwards, with blood all over his face - was never the same.
The Finger occurred when we, with the "trainer," were walking Buster in our neighbourhood and he slipped out of his collar. After, I was terrified to walk him. The five days when Allan was in the hospital were incredibly scary for me. (Worse for him, certainly.)
Somehow the psychiatrist easily pulled all this out and brought it together. "There you go," she said. "That's likely the source of your anxiety."
She talked to me about anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. She said that the brains of people who have had post-traumatic stress syndrome react differently to anxiety and fear. The ultra-high levels of adrenaline pumped into the system during trauma permanently change the body's sensitivity to fear, anxiety and acute stress. She told me that if we saw a CT scan of my brain when I'm frightened, compared to the brain of a person who had never been traumatized, we would see a difference, whether or not I was aware of feeling anxious.
The session was a bit scary, but wonderfully insightful. She wrote a prescription (Klonopin to the rescue), and made some recommendations on how best to use it. She also gave me a few names of therapists, in case I wanted to continue. I didn't. I understand it as well as I want to. I don't want to explore any further. I just want to sleep through the night.
* * * *
Trauma is an over-used word. Like so many words in our world - hero, tragedy, awesome - its meaning has been ruined by overexposure. But trauma exists, and long after it's over, it exists still.
I imagine a many-tentacled creature burrowing deep into our minds, lying dormant, perfectly camouflaged. Until something - the tiniest of catalysts, minor, unnoticed in our waking life - taps its shoulder.