When the flashbacks prevent sleep…

My heart and prayers go out to the community of Boulder. Thank you to all the courageous men and women who were present and who arrived to rescue and to protect. I am humbled by your sacrifices and grateful to your entire families for theirs as well.

Reflection – in case sleep has gone by the wayside.

There is no way to unsee, or un-experience something. Things flash quickly to mind at a second’s notice. For me, emotions flood to the surface and bring me back to traumas, heartbreaks, and the inhuman moment I have witnessed. Whether firsthand or secondhand trauma, there seem to be few words to explain the process our minds, hearts and bodies go through.

Flashbacks and fears come more swiftly when the evening activities have decreased and the lights are turned down low. Our imaginations start to drift, and as much as we don’t want them to, images and sounds infiltrate our dreams, waking us up in cold sweats and hearts pounding. This is, if by chance, we fall asleep. I believe what happens in our sleep demonstrates how we are truly doing. It can show when our spirits are crushed and our hope is deferred.

Flashbacks and fear loves the darkness. It can hide and the “tough” persona can hang on. We fear giving secondary trauma to anyone who has to hear our story, so we hold it in. Or, we vomit everything over and over to anyone who will listen. In both cases, after a while we wonder where our friends are and why they aren’t as available. Our significant other, or spouse, don’t know what to say. They grieve with or for us, but they also have their own process of grief if involved.

In my experience, knowing who to talk to before the trauma hits decreases the time the flashbacks and fear have time to hold on. When we speak our experiences, our fears, and our shame into the light and out loud it has less leverage and less ability to be hidden. When we bring something out from the hidden places it commands less power over us.

I heard this incredible story of a nurse who was doing his mental health rotation years ago in nursing school. He was in an adolescent inpatient hospital. This young girl needed to sleep. She had seen unspeakable things. Everything she had experienced was not only at night, but she dreamed about them every night. She had stopped sleeping. As you can image, the mental health issues around months of not sleeping were overwhelming. Nothing was working. This nursing student asked his instructor to change his practicum to night shifts. He sat by her bedside for several nights in a row. The minute she jerked awake from a dream, she would yell. He would speak to her and kept his hand on hers. She began to sleep, no longer as paralyzed by her fear. Over time, she was able to work on her fear during the day because she was sleeping more at night.

Sleep goes a long way towards healing, so, please, begin to speak so your experiences cannot stay hidden. Find a professional therapist, a counselor, a coach, or a peer to listen and help you bring to light what you have seen and what you continue to remember. Don’t linger in the flashbacks. Don’t minimize your experience when you hear someone else’s story. Speak truth out loud truth over your life, your safety or your ability to overcome. Let the light in to those hidden places.

It’s never too late to ask for help. Planning ahead for your safe person is great, but if today is the day you need to talk to someone, don’t wait. There are many opens, but here in Colorado there is a crisis service: https://coloradocrisisservices.org/ or call them: 1-844-493-TALK (8255). Or check out https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists to find a therapist near you.

I pray sleep upon you and restful spaces where you can be free to let the light into those hidden places.


Published by Stephanie Trowbridge

Follower of Jesus. Artist. Wife. Mother.

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