There are the nightmares that are just frightening; they wake you up, heart pounding, and it takes a moment to remember you are safe in your own bed, that whatever scary thing you dreamed about isn’t real, and then you go back to sleep. The next day you might remember, you might even tell it to someone and try and figure out what it meant. Then it retreats back into your subconscious and you forget about it.
We have those nightmares a lot.
But we also have this other kind….
These nightmares are so vivid, so very real, and so terrifying beyond anything words can express. Your whole body fights to escape the horror of it. You wake up screaming, your body thrashing so violently you wonder if this is what having a seizure would feel like. You tell yourself it’s just a dream, but you know it’s not. You are exhausted, but you fight sleep because you are terrified of what else you might dream about. You can’t shake it off the next day. It haunts you. And you feel small and scared and so lost.
I had a nightmare like that on April Fools Day.
I dreamed I was in a room underground full of cages. The room is dark. The walls are black. The floor is black. The cages look like dog crates. They are silver metal and they have locks at the front to open them. The crates are stacked on top of each other in the middle of the room like a pile of luggage. We can’t quite count them, but we think there are maybe 12 cages.
Inside each cage is a child of around 4 or 5 years old. The children, all girls, are naked. Some are bleeding. Some have red burn marks on their skin. There is no space to stand up or move around. Some of the little girls are curled up small, hugging their knees. Others are staring at us with big eyes. They look just like me.
We hear men’s voices coming from a room nearby, but inside the room with the cages nobody makes a sound. Nobody cries. We breathe because we have too. Even now almost a week later, if I close my eyes I can still hear the sound of children breathing silently in the dark.
Then, suddenly, we are outside in a woods somewhere. There are men in robes circled around us. We are standing at the side of an open grave, we can almost read the writing on the gravestone. There are two little girls. One is thin and weak, the other stronger, healthier. The healthy child is happy because she’s been told she is going to be in charge now. The men are very pleased with her. She has been given a long black stick with small forked prongs at one end. She is told to make the smaller child climb into the hole, cover her with insects, and bury her alive.
I wake up screaming, my whole body fighting to get out of the hole in the ground. I can taste the soil in my mouth. But I can also feel the weight of the cattle prod in my hand and a wave of guilt crashes over me.
The next day I feel like I’m drowning. I’ve done enough work on my abuse now to know this dream is a fragment of something that actually happened. My body aches. I feel sick. Everything is spinning. Everything is too much. I can barely move. I keep seeing knives and slit wrists in my thoughts, and I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do. I’ve forgotten why I should want to stay alive when the only thing that makes any sense to me right now is death.
I remember that I’m supposed to remind myself that this is in the past, it’s not happening now. But that’s stupid, because time doesn’t work like that when you have DID.
Then and there, here and now. It’s all the same.
And I don’t know how the memory starts, or how it ends, or even what it means. All I have is a growing knowledge that, somehow, all of those children in the dream were me, or parts of me. I was the children in the cages. I was the child in the grave who got covered in insects and soil. And I was the child holding the cattle prod who wanted to make the men pleased with her.
Later on in the day, I remembered that when the men came and got me out of the hole they were laughing at me, but I didn’t understand the joke.
I don’t know what to do with this memory.
I don’t know what to do with all of this pain.