TW – Trigger warning content contains impacts of domestic violence and suicide
I’ve always advocated for the importance of sleep for health – more important than nutrition, exercise or any other element. Sleep is how the brain ‘cleans house’ and allows our subconscious to process our day.
That was all well and good until traumatic events unfolded in my life a little over a year ago, truly disrupting my sleep. Trauma impacts sleep, and it caused significant challenges for me.
When I reflect on how much my sleep has improved now, I feel proud of myself.
Let me start from the beginning…
I didn’t sleep at all for nights after I bravely told my abuser I wanted to separate. He was a coercive controller who then went missing in order to manipulate me. Two days later, he killed himself in traumatic circumstances.
So, you can imagine how my sleep was then…
The wake ups
In the weeks that followed, my sleep was barely existent. I would regularly wake up around midnight and everything would horrifically flash back.
Sleep seemed impossible and I sometimes called a support hotline for assistance to cope with my emotions.
My nightmares always had the same theme. That my abuser was alive again, trying to get to me. I was terrified. The nightmares shook me every time.
I tried a few techniques, including telling myself it was just a dream, to take the heat out.
I used ‘image rehearsal therapy’. I rehearsed a new ending to the dream while awake, to train my brain to substitute the new ending when I had another dream.
I experienced powerful energy healing sessions, with a Healer who helped me to release energetic connections with my abuser.
The combination of these techniques has truly helped. I haven’t had a nightmare for 2 months!
Early morning wakefulness
My anxious brain often wakes me up early and instantly provides unhelpful thoughts.
For the past month I have used slow counting to help with the early morning overthinking. I count from 1 to 10, give each number a colour, and visualise something pleasant. For example, 1 is blue and I visualise an ocean. It’s helped me to be mindful and push intense thoughts aside.
I confess to having used alcohol to escape unbearable emotions. It appears to help, but the help is only temporary. The 3am anxiety attacks are waiting just around the corner. When I drank regularly, my anxiety skyrocketed, and sleep was unsettled.
I decided the 3am anxiety attacks were not worth it and stopped drinking for a month. It was hard to start with, but the quality of my sleep improved and 3am wake ups reduced. I am now committed to using tools other than alcohol to support my health.
Today, I’m sleeping well, my anxiety has improved significantly,
and I generally feel good. I found it powerful to try different approaches to see what worked.
With a good night’s sleep, I feel resilient and ready to take on the world!