Am I The Only One?

It’s time to go to sleep, but it can be hard to relax. I close my eyes and slide into my imagination. The setting changes, but it’s always related to a setting I’m currently involved in (graduate school at one point, workplace at another). The details change, but it always involves violence and sometimes kidnapping and/or rape. If there was kidnapping involved, it was always in a white van.

For many years, this was how I lulled myself to sleep. Strange, I know, that this would put me to sleep. But for a long time, I never even questioned this pattern. It was just what I did. Later, I started to connect it to my own past but I still did it. And over the last year or more, I have mostly let it go. Instead I read until I am nearly asleep or I visit the girl in my “house.”

And then it came back. It was time to go to sleep, and as I settled down, I felt like I needed to go to this violent mental space again. I didn’t know why, but it felt necessary, so I let myself go, in explicit and painful details. And I fell asleep.

Am I the only one who does this? I have never heard anyone else talk about it. I can’t imagine that it’s a healthy behavior–it seems like a way of re-traumatizing myself.

And yet there is something soothing about it. I have wondered about this a lot. Sometimes I think I am soothed because if I imagine going through a violent assault, then it’s over and done with, and I can relax. Other times I think it’s because I usually include a piece where someone finds out and helps me get to the hospital where I am cared for. Perhaps the idea of having the attack noticed and my need for care recognized is what relaxes me. Maybe it fulfills my desire to be rescued. If that’s the case, maybe I can remold this into a story of being loved and cared for, and leave out the abusive piece?

There’s also the question of why I felt I needed this now, after not using this strategy for a long time. I am in a pretty decent emotional space, miles away from where I was this past spring and summer, so I can’t really explain what’s going on. Time, perhaps, to restart the journaling.

Tomorrow I’ll have my first therapy appointment in a month. That means I can start to move emotionally from the remote Amazon to the more remote parts of my psyche.

dreams of violence

Artwork by loish, available here.

18 thoughts on “Am I The Only One?

  1. I used to read scary books all the time. Then i moved on to scary movies. Maybe my brain is drawn to adrenaline hyped movies, maybe I just like them. I like romantic comedies too. So who knows. It might be a way of working things out. Like processing trauma, going over it again again till one masters it, is the one in control, and it loses its hold dissipating altogether.
    Since my repeated traumas in childhood went underground, unprocessed due to no intervention, worse, and expectation to contain it and show love to the ones who threatened my life and well-being, my injured brain will mostly likely remain damaged to a certain degree, though meditation has allowed much healing of it.

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    • The trauma(s) I think about before bed are not what really happened to me as a child, but rather my imagination of things happening to me at my current age. And it changes over time, incorporating where I live and people I know at different times in my life. So I don’t know if it’s about processing the trauma over and over in order to reduce its hold. Hmm. Or perhaps it is, but in a very indirect way. It’s not the details that matter, but the rather the theme of being in danger, being hurt, but surviving it and having someone want to help me heal. Maybe that is the bedtime story that I have needed to tell myself literally hundreds of times.

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  2. Wow, yes, I’ve done something similar and it recurs in times of stress. I think it’s a kind of safe way to re-enact things and 1. be safe enough to work at processing it because there’s no actual danger (although the “processing” didn’t really work for me, but hey), and 2. the mind falling into a familiar groove, like an earworm, and 3. the chance to imagine a different outcome.

    But actually I thought I was the only one, and that it was just part of my crazy, so thank you for sharing this.

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    • Thanks for sharing that you do this, too. I like your three purposes. I don’t think I got a lot of meaningful processing out of it, but I am starting to think that in a weird way, I have used it to comfort myself. And it’s definitely an earworm of sorts.

      Then there is the possibility of imagining a different outcome. I have done this about various old events in my life (arguments with my college boyfriend, oral exams with fierce professors) but actually never done it about any traumatic event that really happened to me. I wonder what that would feel like.

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      • Sometimes my different outcome is that I am back there but I am the “Now-Me” and so I can fight back, or I am able to prevent it from happening, or I can kill the abuser, or I have some kind of superpowers that let me change the whole scenario. I feel both embarrassed and empowered by these recreations of the past.

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        • I only did this once, creating a new scenario where I was the Now-Me or the Protective Mother confronting an abuser of the Child-Me. Now that you mention it, it felt really good; maybe I should do that more often!

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  3. Yup, I used to read real life violent crime books constantly. My therapist at the time was a big reader and would always ask me what I was reading. My answers seemed to frustrate her and she would make suggestions of calmer books. This lasted for 4 or 5 years. Then suddenly my desire for these books faded.

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  4. My impression is that this is an adaptive response to attempt to process trauma; perhaps bringing such memories to mind at a more unconscious level, is less frightening than during purely waking hours. You’re not the only one. Bethany introduced me to the idea of ‘repetition compulsion,’ which I have since become familiar with – re-enactment of trauma, intentional or not, trying to create a new narrative for it. Not that it makes it feel less strange, but I do think what you do is a coping strategy that definitely has served its purpose.

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  5. Ah. So glad Rachel mentioned repetition compulsion. That’s what came to mind for me as I read this as well. I do similar things and have similar thoughts. And I do find them comforting though I’m not sure if they help or hurt. I do get to imagine a new outcome and being saved, but idk. A very timely and thoughtful post. I’d love to read more on this if more surfaces for you.

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  6. I finally realise that you are not talking about going over past events, but inventing current ones. And I do that too, and the reason feel fairly clear for me: The world is a scary and dangerous place. People are scary and dangerous. I constantly imagine what bad things might happen or what could go wrong, and I play out the scenario and in a weird way this makes me feel more prepared for emergencies. I don’t know if this is related, but I am in fact great in a crisis (although the aftereffects will linger for ages) and also I am really good at critiquing plans in terms of What Could Possibly Go Wrong and then coming up with alternatives in terms of How Can We Make It Not Go Wrong. I think this is at least in part due to the fact that in my head I am going over potential bad scenarios pretty much constantly, and working through how to react and how to survive.

    I used to also FEEL these scenarios in a bodily way, and I wonder how much of that was my mind trying to make sense of somatic flashbacks. But now it’s a more intellectual exercise and not generally accompanied by adrenaline and palpitations, thank Dog. And I think that change came from being in therapy and understanding that those physical sensations were in fact flashbacks that weren’t attached to a verbal/visual memory. But that’s a whole different story.

    You’ve been talking about the process of going back to work in a new position, and the uncertainty around that. Could your use of this strategy be (in part) a way of rehearsing for the unknown that’s coming up soon?

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  7. You know I create godawful scenarios in my mind and have recurring nightmares that I’m raped or I do something and then I’m left alone and without clothes and I don’t know what to do. But for me it is the desire for someone to help me and to care enough about me. I’m always afraid to call anyone or ask for help. And I never trust that anyone will save me and I stay scared and alone….but I think it’s representative of my shame and I did something bad and I want to tell but I’m afraid. It’s complicated isn’t it!

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    • It is complicated. I’ve always been kind of ashamed of myself for doing this (once I even developed any awareness that I did it), but I feel kind of better knowing I’m not the only one. I’d rather think I have a “normal” response to abnormal and inappropriate experiences, instead of believing I am just abnormal/wrong/bad.

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  8. Pingback: Repetitive Compulsion, Psych Ward Dream & the Waltz of the Flowers | la quemada

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