Trigger warning: descriptions of sexual assault
When I was a kid, volcanoes scared the shit out of me. I had countless dreams about running away from lava. Nowadays, nightmares are rare but they almost always have one of two subjects: being in a speeding car with broken brakes… or something related to rape/sexual assault.
The most common dreams involve running into the first person who sexual assaulted me. (If you’re not familiar with my story, click here and read the part about “N”). I only saw him a few times after the breakup and we only spoke once. I haven’t seen him since realizing that what he did is considered sexual assault. It’s a possibility that has always worried me. Once, I was so afraid of running into him at a grad party that I got distracted and ran a red light – no harm done, thank God. Only later did I realize that he and the graduate barely knew each other, if at all. I’ve had a lot of anxiety around seeing this guy again. I don’t know how it would turn out. I think this fear has led to all the dreams about seeing him again. Fortunately, I’m less stressed about his now than I have been in years past.
But I digress. One of the dreams involved N showing up at my college. He saw me as he walked by and gave me a look that said that he knew that h’ed messed me up and took pride in it. I remember at first pretending that I didn’t see him, and then when he looked at me I tried really hard to look natural – like I wasn’t afraid of him.
In another, we ran into each other and he tried to chat and catch up with me, pretending that everything between us was peachy. I didn’t even want to deal with him so I told him to leave me alone and started walking away. He held onto my arm hard and wouldn’t let me go.
A few times, dream-me handled things pretty well. In one, I ran into him and was afraid at first. But after a little while, that went away and I had a strong urge to tell him to go to hell. In another, he was with a mutual friend. I chatted with the mutual friend, completely ignoring N’s presence. It felt weird being in the same room as him but I wasn’t terribly nervous.
The second category of dreams I have are about people I know sexually assaulting me. Many of the dreams start out consensually and then they don’t respect my boundaries when they try to push things further. I don’t even wake up after many of them, so I have to endure the immediate aftermath in the dream. In some dreams I’ve told friends, considered reporting, gotten the person to leave me alone and in one… I just shut down. I couldn’t even handle it. I hate how I always feel so powerless in these dreams.
I’ve dreamed about friends getting handsy, P trying to kiss me and not taking no for an answer (“You know you want to,” he said. *cringe*), an acquaintance who made a move and said “I can’t help myself. I’m drunk.” when I stopped him, someone not stopping even when I was screaming at him, and plenty more.
The worst by far was a relatively vivid dream about N attempting to sexually assault me again. We ran into each other and he tried to kiss me… so I kicked him in the balls. That didn’t stop him from trying to touch me. I could barely block his hands in time. There was a large group of people around us the whole time. I was obviously in distress and no one would help me. We ended up on the ground, wrestling and rolling around until we ended up next to a police car. I begged for his help but he needed backup. I cried as he drove away. And then N pulled the bottom of my shirt up and smirked down at me. The last thing I remember is him kneeling next to me, about to sexually assault me… That one really threw me for a loop. I had a hard time falling asleep afterward.
I guess some good news is that only once have I every had a dream that relates to reliving a sexual assault of mine. It was essentially a more aggressive version of the first time N sexually assaulted me. I just couldn’t pull his hand away.
And finally, we have the full blown rape dreams. I’ve never actually dreamed about rape itself – my dreams always end before it happens, start afterward, or I escape before it can happen. The first rape dream I ever had was actually long before I was ever sexually assaulted. I must’ve been 12 years old. I dreamed about some older men trying to drug my best friend and me. That one really freaked me out for a while. Twice I remember dreams about successfully fighting off near strangers. In one, the dream was dragged out afterward and lasted for another day inside the dream. I got intense triggers and breakdowns, was a wreck in class the net day, told some friends and family and decided to report it. I also had a dream about N attempting to rape me, but thankfully I don’t remember any details whatsoever.
Many of them have been very vivid and long, so my mental health is almost never stellar after waking up from one of those. An annoying pattern I’ve noticed is that whenever I’m making large strides in recovering from sexual assault, I have more frequent dreams about it. My hope is that eventually more I heal, the less dreams I have about sexual assault. I get triggered often during the day, so it sucks that even my dreams aren’t even safe.
Thank you for reading this article. You can find my backstory here.