“I am not my nightmares”

People always say “live in the moment,” but they never say which moment. For a long time, I’ve been living in a moment I wish I could forget. When I go to sleep, I am transported to a place where nothing is safe, where everything is violent, where I am helpless, and where I have to relive my experience with rape again and again. I cry in my sleep, scream for help, thrash around like a woman possessed, and I can’t wake myself up. I live in the moment. It’s terrible.

When I first started dating, I avoided sleeping with the people I dated because I was afraid they would be freaked out by my nightmares. The first person I actually fell asleep with was woken up by my nightmares, and even though I had warned him beforehand that I had nightmares due to PTSD, he was angry with me, told me to “snap out of it” and made me leave his room in the middle of the night. I didn’t fall asleep next to another person for a long time. I avoid sleepovers. Always have. If I do end up spending the night with a friend, I lie awake all night, staring at the ceiling and doing my best to ward off the impending flashbacks and nightmares. I can go days without sleep, depending on coffee and fear to keep me awake. Sometimes my life is difficult and hard and scary, but it is no match for my memories. They are harrowing. They are specific. They are vivid and gruesome and real and lonely. Living in those terrible moments from my past makes living in any moment hard. It makes living in general hard. I sometimes think I would give anything to be able to forget. To be able to sleep. Peacefully. Just for a little while.

But almost a year ago, I met someone. We fell in love. And I told them everything about my nightmares and how afraid I was to make them upset or angry with me. I was terrified to sleep next to them, imagining only the worst, imagining that I would be kicked out in the middle of the night again, groggy and half-awake, cold and frightened. But then when we finally slept together and I inevitably had a nightmare, I was met with only kindness. A kiss on my forehead, a hand on my waist. They softly reminded me that I was in a safe place where nobody was going to hurt me. That they would never hurt me. I believed them. I believe them more and more every day.

I can sleep through the night now. Not always, but more often than before. When I have nightmares or flashbacks or both, I am called back to the present with a kiss and a smile. I am learning to live in the moments I want now instead of the moments that scarred me for life. I am learning that my past is indeed behind me, even if the memories are still sharp and painful. I am stronger than I thought I was. I am loved. I am still afraid sometimes, but I know now that it’s okay to be afraid. I am not my nightmares. Not anymore.