I think one of the most terrifying and traumatic experiences for an abused boy, as well as for the survivor he becomes in adulthood, comes when he has nightmares. If his bed felt safe in the past it no longer feels safe now. Night and darkness are the source of new fears and sleep brings new terrors instead of a respite of rest and safety. Even if the survivor is in bed in the arms of someone he loves, the safest person for him in all the world, he can still awake screaming, shaking and drenched in sweat.
I think this is an area where "creating safety" becomes absolutely urgent. We can talk to our T about this, and of course we really HAVE to do that. But at night there we are again: it's dark, there's our bed, and we are tired. What's going to happen? We desperately need our rest, but are we going to get any? How can we sleep and actually rest when in reality we feel that rest is just letting our defenses down for yet another nocturnal ambush.
As with so much of what I have to say here, I will be looking back to where the whole mess started, in our childhood when we were being abused.
Even in family environments that are less than ideal (except in really horrific cases), I think a young boy looks at the world around him and feels safe in it. He doesn't think that catastrophe awaits him, simply because the world has never held real danger for him in the past. But then when the abuse starts all that feeling of security disappears.
I remember that in my case, and even though I was raised in a loving caring family, I did not feel safe even in my own house. I was afraid something I would say or do would give away what was happening to me, and the only place I felt safe was in my room.
Even there, however, there was the danger of night. I had horrific dreams of faceless boys in an underground chamber being maimed and killed somehow by growling machines, and as I lay in my bed I feared that disembodied hands and tongues would come up from underneath the bed and touch me and do things to me.
Looking back now I can understand all that better. The dream about the chamber and the machines was the work of the imagination of a boy who had discovered that the peril of the world is boundless; nothing was so cruel or terrifying that it could not happen to him. My dream about the machines was just a night-time version of my general feeling of fear and doom. During the day I wondered what was behind a bush or what might be in the trunk of the car.
The dream about the hands was due to the fact that the abuser would sometimes strip me naked in the middle of the room and make me shut my eyes while he "explored" me. I had to stand there with my arms at my side, trembling and not knowing what would happen to me next.
Coping with nightmares and feelings like this has not been easy, but I do think I have had some success. For one thing, I stress to myself that the source for all this lies in my childhood. That's obvious enough, but what can I do with that information? I can tell myself that this was all in the past and that now, as an adult, I am not in danger like I was years ago. I can see that my task is to convince Little Larry that he too is safe and that he has nothing to fear now. I will not allow him to be hurt again; he is not alone like he was four decades ago. By viewing my task as a job for Big Larry to reassure Little Larry, I "create safety". Big Larry approaches the task from a foothold of security. He is not at risk, there are no machines and no hands. The problem lies with Little Larry, a hurting boy he so desperately wants to protect anyway.
Another thing I do is forget about the idea of trying to force myself not to think about what might happen at night. As a boy I would lay in bed with the covers pulled up over my head thinking, Please no machines, I don't want the hands again, etc. But of course by doing that I was just branding the images further into my mind. As I have said elsewhere today, imagine someone telling you, "You are absolutely forbidden to think of a purple giraffe for five minutes!!!" Could you do that? Of course not. You may never have thought of such a thing in all your life, but for the next five minutes at least, your head will be full of wonderful purple giraffes galloping and grazing over vast African vistas!
What I found I had to do was, bluntly put, just say "fuck it". If it comes it comes, and if it does I will deal with it. For reasons I don't yet understand, that already robs the possibility of a nightmare of a lot of its terror, perhaps because I am not going to bed with the attitude that I am a defenseless target.
I also think in advance of what I can do to "create safety" for myself if a nightmare comes. I have told my wife about all my nightmares, and that already gives me an ally. I have a dim night light that I can use if I need it. I keep a book of poetry that relaxes me on my bedside table, and in the past I have also kept a packet or album of cool photographs handy. So again, I go to bed not entirely defenseless.
If I DO have a nightmare and wake up gasping and sweating and knowing I won't be able to get back to sleep right away, I don't lay there in the dark brooding. I snap on my night light and read a bit, and if I see that's not going to calm me down I just call in the artillery - I wake up my wife and we go downstairs for a cup of herb tea and talk about what happened for a few minutes. That's one of the hardest things for a survivor to do, by the way - asking for the help he needs. But I think this is a good case of a time when we just need to reach out to those around us who love us and want the best for us.
Some guys might see ways of adapting these ideas. For example, if you have a dog, there's a fantastic ally!!
Or a stuffed animal? Use it. If you live alone but have a really close safe friend across the hall, ask for his/her help.
I want to end with a word to teens on the site. You all know what I am talking about when I say how terrible nightmares can be. All of us have gone through that stage when we think we have to act tough like all our friends; all of us have been afraid to do things that might get us called names like "girly", "sissy", "pussy", and so on. But it's all bullshit. All of your friends freak out over nightmares the same as you do, and there is nothing stupid about "creating safety" for yourself or asking for help. Have you disclosed to your parents yet? If you have, let them help you. Tell them you get bad dreams and ask if you can come talk if you wake up really scared. Are you going to a cool sleepover and you're embarrassed to take a stuffed animal along? Stick him in the bottom of your backpack - YOU will know he's there!
Anyway, you would be amazed how many of your "tough" friends have their own furry pals stashed in their room somewhere, same as you do.
But at the same time, consider your options. Suppose the sleepover is going to mean getting stoned and watching slasher flicks until the middle of the night. Does it make sense for you to go to that one if you are having trouble with nightmares? Will it be fun anymore if you wake up at 4 am trembling, scared in the dark, and soaked in sweat while everyone else is crashed all around you? Part of recovery, and "creating safety", is making realistic decisions that are good for YOU.