In my nightmare, I could see it forming on my dog Lily’s belly… this giant bursting hand-like thing reaching out towards me. And, because of dream-logic, I decided to go to class instead of taking care of my poor doggy. After class was over, I found out that Chris had taken her to the vet, who said she needed to put her to sleep; so he did. I never got to say goodbye, and I was heartbroken. And then I woke up.
It was more than a weird dream because there was actual physical panic involved, the fear of the unknown thing inside Lily, the thought of having to care for her and not being able to, and especially the betrayal I felt when Chris put her to sleep without letting me say goodbye, or without giving me a choice. When I woke up, I immediately looked for Lily, and felt so safe after knowing she was okay and that it was just a dream.
About a week after New Years, I broke down. I could no longer handle the sleepless nights, the severe anxiety and panic attacks, the depression, the nightly night terrors or nightmares.
And now, mid-March, this is the first nightmare I’ve had in about a week and a half. My panic attacks are no longer daily, or sometimes multiple times a day, but now about once or twice a week. I was finally, and thankfully, given the confirmation that I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder.*
See, when you haven’t been sleeping, and when everything triggers you to have a panic attack or gives you anxiety or makes you hate yourself, it’s difficult not to be moody. And, after being told so many times that my brief moments happiness was me “acting manic” or that I’m not myself, I started to believe it.
My therapist told me something very important last week, something I had not considered: abusers know exactly what they are doing.
I had always made excuses for the man who mistreated me — that he too was just reacting to a world that gave him a bad hand, that I had somehow contributed to his anger and that I had control over it, and worst of all that I loved him.
I think I put the responsibility on myself for his actions because having a sense of control where he gave me none made me feel safe. By making myself a participant in my abuse, I felt as if I could make it stop if only I tried hard enough.
I couldn’t because in reality he is the only one that had control of my abuse.
There was an incident where he choked me after I repeatedly attempted to delete a photo he took to blackmail me off his phone. He made the situation all about me, that he wouldn’t have done that if I would have left him alone. His statement had some truth to it — yes, I could have stopped trying to get the picture off his phone. I could have let him have the picture.
But that would also mean giving up trying to defend myself against him.
Until my therapist said that abusers know what they’re doing, I would have never considered it. And she is so right.
I don’t know who I am. I know the facts — my name, where I grew up, the boyfriends I’ve had, what hobbies I used to participate in, the names of the friends I used to have. My abuser had broken me so far down that my only joy became planning and organizing, making lists, dieting and binging. It became a life structured around repairing the damage.
I still can’t bring myself to play a video game for longer than 20 minutes. I still have a difficult time leaving the house without someone I trust going with me.
I remember the ghost of me — the silly and energetic and outgoing girl, the one who loved spending time with friends almost every night of the week.
I’ve tried filling the void with novelty purses and plushies and figurines, the things I would have liked before. It feels like such an empty gesture towards myself. It feels like drowning.
Time stopped that December in 2010 when I first met him. My friends vanished, or rather, he made it so they vanished. I still feel stuck there. I have dreams about those friends all the time, ones where they feel so far away and I’m chasing them through a store or some other place where it’s difficult to see.
It’s been almost four years since I left Texas. It’s been almost eight since that December, and all I want to do is go back and tell myself not to go on that date, to pay more attention to myself and my friends, to leave him after he slit the back of his legs to make me stay.
Nightmares have a way of safely processing our wounds. They feel awful and exhausting, especially when only getting a few hours of sleep. But after this nightmare I realized how important it was for me to have them. Chris had taken away my agency in the dream, had made it so I didn’t have a choice saying goodbye to my pup after this awful thing had happened to her.
That’s exactly what happened to me in 2010. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to myself before this awful thing happened to me. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to my friends because who knew that would have been the last time I spent any meaningful time with them. Who knew that everything I owned, including my beloved cat Momo, would be gone.
But you see, Chris would never in a million years do something like that. It was safe for my mind to think about him because of how gentle and kind he is, and that when I woke I would immediately return to safety. And the thing I lost was something I knew that was still there — my dog who always seems to know when I need love.
My nightmare, really, was a reminder that I’m safe and loved, that I’m no longer in a constant state of danger.
I don’t have a solution to this. This is just one small realization on a journey of recovery I will always take. I’m learning how to live again, little by little.
* I only mention that I’m thankful about not being bipolar because I was on the wrong medication. Getting on the right meds have helped me in such a huge way because they’ve helped me think and see things clearly without anxiety. Being bipolar has it’s challenges, just as PTSD, and an accurate diagnosis can move mountains.