I woke during the night, in a panic. Drenched in sweat, shaking, heart pounding, sobbing – a nightmare. I still have them, although they are far less frequent. I am immobilized while I get my bearings; my bedroom is hung with paintings that remind me I am safe, and are characterized by the use of glow-in-the-dark paints, too, so that in the literal ‘darkest moment’, I am still illuminated softly by love, by hope, by inspiration, and all manner of gentle reminders that life is quite a separate experience happening outside The Nightmare City. I remember to take deep breaths, and fold myself into a comfortable cross-legged position (I can’t quite manage Lotus posture unless I have been doing yoga for some minutes). I meditate for a few minutes until my heart slows, and the trembling stops. I check the clock – I managed only about 90 minutes of sleep before the nightmares hit. It happens. It used to herald hours, or days of nightmares to come.

How will I

How will I “find my way home”?
“Daytime in The Nightmare City” 10″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas with glow, glitter and micaceous oxide. Indoor light, charged. 2014

I got up long enough to get a drink of water – a childhood ritual of wakefulness that still soothes me – and walk calmly through my small home; there are no places for monsters hide, here. I am quite safe, even within this fragile vessel if I allow myself to be aware of how much of content of my conscious mind is chosen, and created. I am not empowering my nightmares by considering them in detail after I wake, and they slowly dissipate. (Seriously, they do. It does require literally letting go of thinking ‘about’ them; thinking about them in the moments after waking only gives them significance and power.) I think of my traveling partner, sick at home, hopefully sleeping. This, too, helps calm me. I don’t focus on the distance, or that I can’t just crawl into his arms for comfort – I breathe, and consider him sleeping comfortably, himself, safe and undisturbed, and allow my own feeling of security and safety to continue to build on the awareness that much is right in the world, in the quiet of night, here, now. I am okay in this moment.

I stand in the twilight of my kitchen, lit by the walkway light just outside my window, filtered by the closed blinds, and finish a second glass of water and smiling, thinking it would be likely to wake me later needing to pee. I don’t give that another thought, instead feeling the cool water in my mouth, and enjoying the awareness of indoor plumbing and running water, and being in the moment. That’s another thing I find very calming after bad nightmares; savoring the awareness of the comforts of life, whatever they may be. Don’t they have more real substance than a nightmare? 🙂

I returned to bed, filling my thoughts with things that feel good, but perhaps not intensely so…things that would be gentle on my consciousness: clouds drifting across a blue sky, soft autumn breezes, the sound of peeping frogs, memories of fireflies… I woke at the sound of my alarm, feeling rested and undisturbed.

It has been rare for me to have just one nightmare, and follow that with restful sleep. Incremental change over time is a thing – and  yes, there are practices to practice and verbs involved. I expect my results will vary. Hey, my results do vary and there are verbs involved; living in the midst of stress, drama, and turmoil resulted in nightmares almost nightly, and weeks of disturbed sleep at a time, and terrifying isolation because there was no safe outlet for discussion, with no particular emotional support available, interrupted by just days of restful sleep. Yes, the choices matter – and they are not always easy ones. I now live alone, because at least for now even living with other people presents enough additional stress for me that I find managing my symptoms more challenging, and they are far more likely to flare up (much of my PTSD is related to trauma in the context of relationships, and domestic violence). (And no, I’m not saying everyone with PTSD should live alone – that’s ludicrous; I’m just one person, making my own choices, and following my own path. This is what I need for me. I don’t even know that this is what I will ‘always’ need – since ‘always’ is incredibly unlikely, ever.)

Even though I am having my own experience, I'm not really alone in this; music reminds me how much of this experience is really shared.

Even though I am having my own experience, I am not alone.

Turns out to be a lovely morning. I’ve got my favorite playlist on, because sometimes the demons need to be reminded that I’m going to bounce back, and I need to remind them they don’t tell me. lol Yep – the songs on my playlist aren’t just catchy tracks that I enjoy dancing to – they tell me stories, remind me of truths, and help me drive my demons back. Mornings after nightmares are best with music. 🙂 [Your results may vary.]