When Dreaming Is Cheaper Than Therapy

Working through the pain of domestic violence while I sleep

I have this recurring dream. In it, he is back, and I go through that night again and again like Groundhog’s Day. People often remark that they are restless, unable to sleep after a traumatic experience. I used to wish I had that problem — my predisposition is to fall easily into deep, heavy sleep. The only night I didn’t sleep was the night the incident occurred, and I was berated by calls and texts from my blacked out boyfriend. Actually, he became my “ex” that very night.

On June 14th, 2015, my life was forever changed at the whim of someone whom I’d loved and trusted for 8 years. I didn’t realize, at first, that he was completely gone — in a dangerous drug induced blackout. I had no idea that he would later have almost no recollection of the events that transpired. My ex came over, to keep me company, the night that my aunt passed away suddenly and I was feeling alone. He came under the pretense of comforting me, but it quickly turned into a real-life horror movie. I still don’t know exactly what set him off, I did feel annoyed by his lack of compassion, and had suspected that he might’ve gotten high before coming over. I asked him to go, and that’s when my world turned upside down.

The details of the evening make me shudder to this day. The person that I knew was gone. The person who stood before me, fists clenched, whose diabolical voice painted a terrifying picture of my impending fate, was a stranger in my room. At first, I didn’t think that he would kill me; he yelled, I yelled back. He fought, I fought back. I think I believed that if I got a good kick in, or was able to push him off of me, he would come to his senses and apologize for hurting me — we could go back to normal. I fathomed that we could even get away with pretending it had never happened. Hope disappeared along with my breath when I felt his hands grip tightly around my neck.

We were staring straight into each other’s eyes, our faces mere inches apart, and he was only squeezing tighter and tighter. I realized that each time I had landed a kick or a scratch, it had stoked the roaring fire which fueled his mania. I clawed wildly at his knuckles and his face, trying to get him to let go. He was strong, speaking to me in a deranged pitch, and I realized he was telling me that he was going to kill me. I felt his watch break in my hand; I hadn’t even registered that I was pulling on it in an attempt to get his hand off my neck. I knew that there would be hell to pay.

Sure enough, he threw me into my bedside table, I felt searing heat run down my shoulder and realized the candle on my table had fallen over, spilling onto me. Wax was in my hair, burning my skin, and sprayed across the wall. I was screaming for help — I thought for months that my neighbor was cowardly for never saying anything; it turned out that she did call the police when she heard the commotion. I knew I couldn’t blame her for being scared, I was scared too, but a little heads-up would’ve been nice. He yelled at me that I had broken the watch, that now I really had it coming. I apologized; it suddenly dawned on me that the months of boxing lessons I had excelled in, my size, and my stellar physical shape, all meant nothing. I was like a rag-doll and utterly defenseless.

I apologized for the broken watch, and I apologized for upsetting him. I apologized for scratching his face, and making it bleed. I apologized for yelling at him, and making him do what he did. Miraculously, he seemed to lose interest. He had beaten me into submission and, apparently, that would suffice.

He left, and I would never see him again. He would never apologize for what he had done, and he would complain that his prison sentence 9 months later was unfair. I wonder if any part of that night will come back to him while he sleeps on a cold, steel, bunk in a jail cell for the next 4 years.

My survival instincts have been a Godsend; I was able to cover the bruises while they healed, and I was able to call upon my silly, humorous side to convince everyone that I was fine. My friends and family know a watered-down overview of my experience, but in attempts to protect them, and myself, I have always kept my pain extremely private. I deliberately buried that night into the darkest corner of my heart, and have done a very good job of keeping it there. Except, that is, while I sleep.

The subconscious is a tricky and beautiful thing; fearsome in that you cannot escape it. As such, sleep has been my ultimate healer. It has allowed me, time and time again, to confront my feelings and understand my guilt. At first, the dream was a nightmare, sometimes he would come back to finish the job; sometimes I’d ask him to take me back and he would laugh, in a vile way, to let me know how little I mattered. Each alternate-ending brought me new clarity — It was like watching a series of plays, based on my life, and in each one a different fear or insecurity was addressed. The dreams allowed me to process the emotions that I worked so hard to avoid, and realize that I am safe now; that talking to the police wasn’t an act of betraying him, rather that he had already committed the ultimate betrayal. I know now that I couldn’t have done anything differently, and that I can move on without worrying that someone else will inevitably treat me that way.

The version of the dream that I had last night was unlike any other. No voices were raised, no punches thrown, no scary devilish presence filling the room. Last night, he came into my room and I observed him to be meek — not as tall as I remembered. Last night, he never said a word, he came to me and I told him it was time to go. He turned around slowly and walked away.

A powerful Elie Wiesel quote has always resonated with me, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”, and that is exactly what I have achieved, thanks to my midnight therapy sessions.