Names and Nightmares

Names and Nightmares

PTSD is a funny animal. And by "funny" I mean "not funny at all, fuck you PTSD."

Last week I posted about the reluctance of people in the lives of rape survivors to find out how closely they might be connected to an assailant. As you might expect, a few friends reached out to me after that post went live, and they asked. They were shocked, or it confirmed long-held suspicions. Either way, I had steeled myself for it. They asked me to name my assailant and I did.

It was not liberating.

It was fucking terrifying.

I did not even have to say that name outloud, but I agonized over typing it, I sweated as I stared at it on my laptop, on my phone, on paper. And after putting it down, I had to wait. I couldn't even send it into the world without my stomach clenching into painful knots.

And then I sent it anyway.

Regardless of what I'm going to say next, I want to say this to everyone who reached out: thank you. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to know that you want this knowledge, that you want to ensure that your social circles are safe and supportive. Thank you.

I named my assailant. Then the nightmares started.

Stop for a moment and think about this, because I want people to understand how hard it is to name an assailant. I want those of you who have never been through this really get the scope of how deeply these wounds cut.

The week after my first assault, I tried to kill myself. I managed okay for a few years after that, until the first time I named my assailant. But then the nightmares started. After my second assault, the nightmares were incessant. I didn't get an uninterrupted night's sleep for two full years. I tried writing them down, I tried painting them, I tried making jokes of the nightmares, tried making a joke of the way I woke screaming over and over again. It was funny, and by funny I mean "not funny at all, it was fucking harrowing." But it is kind of funny, the power a single name can have over you. I didn't speak it out loud, all I did was write it down, in a poem I never looked at again.

It has been nineteen-and-a-half years. I wrote the name of my assailant down, didn't even say it out loud and proceeded to have days of nightmares in which his name appears again and again, on the covers of books or in the news, and then his face, and then his voice. Like Beetlejuice, his name has the power to invoke, utterly and completely. And like that fictional ghost, everything is warped, weaponized, by its presence.

In one week I have had no fewer than fourteen dreams that woke me up sweating, my heart pounding, that filled with fear for me and my family's safety, that dragged me right back to that place of bargaining, that place where you tell yourself you can live with almost anything if you just fucking survive and then you are wrong, because you can't live with it.

It's been a rough week. And during this week, the news has been full to bursting of celebrity suicide and offers of genuinely well-intentioned acquaintances begging their friends to please let me help you, and it's hard to wrap my head around the confluence of the two. I've been more medicated this past week than ever in my life, taking whatever medicine makes the terror and panic and self-loathing back away... and the medications make me sleepy, and I dream, and there he is.

This isn't the kind of post where I tell you all how to overcome these things, because I'm working on it, I'm working on it and I simply don't know. But I want you to know. I want you to know what it's like to live with this, even when nobody is questioning me, when nobody is accusing me of lying or of having something to gain. I imagine the silence breakers of the world building the courage to say, "Me Too," and then facing what I'm going through, and facing it while their communities fracture around them.

If you can, try to imagine what that must be like. Think about the women who cried as they described their encounters with Roy Moore decades in the past. These are real wounds. They are always somewhat open. They are always bleeding.

Sweet dreams, lovely readers. Sleep well. Be kind. And stay strong. <3


If you are a survivor of sexual violence and need somebody to talk to, at any time, please reach out the RAINN hope line: 800.656.HOPE, or their chat service at RAINN.org


Read more about the way people react to revelations about sexual violence here: Rape is Like Potty Training, and Other Lies from the Comment Section

Read my most recent post here: Saying No to a High School Reunion, or, What To Do when your Friends are Friends with your Rapist

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