We were standing alone for the first time in years, waiting for the kids to get their things together. Silence is usually something I enjoy, but with so many heavy issues standing with us in the room, the feeling was almost as oppressive as our marriage had been.
“I had this crazy dream,” I burst out.
My husband raised his eyebrows.
“Yeah,” I continued, glancing towards the door for any sign of the kids. “I won 25,000 dollars, and I had a whole discussion with you about it. It was the first time I dreamed about you, and I wasn’t scared.”
His face changed in the Jekyll and Hyde way it had during the last stressful years of our marriage.
This was the look that had so often chilled my blood.
He stepped towards me.
I woke up, my heart pounding in my ears. I was in my single bed in my new apartment, my new life wrapped around me like my IKEA comforter.
That’s what I get for watching Inception before sleeping: dreams within dreams within dreams.
But the nightmares are a real issue. Usually, I know I’ve had one because I wake up shaking or sweating — often I don’t remember why. I have no trouble falling asleep — it’s just when I wake that I have trouble talking myself back down from the ledge.
The thing that bothers me most when I wake from a nightmare is my own heartbeat. The drumming is loud and relentless. No earplugs can keep out the sound. I read the Tell-Tale Heart with a new perspective.
Usually I dream of my husband, and how he was towards the end. Other times I dream of old white men, threatening me with their bibles. Sometimes the dreams are worse than others. There is a scale of nightmare intensity based upon level of contact.
Emails from my husband produce a quick jolt from slumber, followed by further sleep. With texts, I wake with the usual racing heartbeat, so I get up, drink some water and then go back to bed. The result of a phone call is that I wake in a pool of sweat, where I will lie for an hour or two, thinking about my anxieties and solving the world’s problems; Skype brings a panic attack, and sometimes tears, that will either keep me awake all night, or create additional nightmares when I doze off.
I don’t Skype anymore.
Complicating matters is that as a writer, I have a very good imagination — I always have, just ask my mom. And I can’t just shove imagination into the junk drawer like I can with memory.
As I write my personal experiences into the life of the main character in my novel, not only do I replay events, but they become distorted, like pulling apart taffy on a hot day.
Generally, a good day of writing leads to a bad night of sleeping.
Sometimes guided meditations or the sound of the ocean from my phone can lull me back to sleep. Other times, I lie awake until the alarm goes off, and my labrador sticks his nose in my face to tell me it’s time for our morning run.
Disordered sleep. Insomnia. These words loom over me. The effects of emotional abuse run deeper than I’d imagined.
I had seen a doctor the week before I was kicked off my husband’s insurance. She gave me some strategies to help me through the night. They help somewhat: keeping the room dark and orderly; writing down my anxieties before I hit the pillow.
Still, alone in the night, I wish I could hire Leonardo DiCaprio to construct my dreams like they did in the movie — it would be worth every penny.
I feel as an emancipated woman, I should be able to deal with this insomnia that wears my body and mind. I should be my own hero. But at the moment, the only place I sleep truly well is at my boyfriend’s house. There, I can step away from stress. His presence relaxes me. My subconscious feels safe and secure.
As a lawnchair feminist, I hate this about myself. I want to feel this safety at 01:47, when I’m alone in bed. But some things, I realize, will take time. You don’t just bounce back from 20 years of walking on eggshells. No matter how much you try to forget, your brain holds on to these dark episodes.
So, I will keep on dreaming.
And hopefully sleeping.
Two and a half years ago, I left the real nightmares behind; someday I will leave the intangible ones behind too.
Now, it’s time to listen to the ocean. To unclench my fists, stretch my toes and breathe deeply. To sink into my bed and dream.
To my fellow insomniacs, I wish you a peaceful night, whether you are knitting or writing or drawing or dreaming.
I know I’m not the only one trying to sleep.