Exit nightmares, enter peace

I just realized. It’s been a year since the last nightmare about my stalker.

This is nothing short of fantastic.

It got old fast. Her invading my sleepy time. Completely hosing one of my few chances of getting away from (pretty crappy) memories. Ending with me sleep-taking, or rather, sleep-bellowing, “Get out!” or “I’m calling the police!” Waking to my arms flailing, body rising up from the covers to fight her miasma.

Unable to fall back asleep. Hours of staring at the ceiling. Hours.

"Sleepless," Steve Petrucelli, Creative Commons

"Sleepless," Steve Petrucelli, Creative Commons

After four years of that garbage, it’s about time the night sweats ended. Besides the personal drain, it created too many awkward situations. Worrying. Someone might hear my random screaming. Call the police on my behalf. Or disrupt everyone during a girls’ getaway weekend. Or mentally scar a love interest.

How I fretted over those “what-ifs.”

Now it’s gone. A milestone … my psyche finally catching up with reality. Reality being about a quadrillion times safer than during the Dark Years. In fact …

(Dare I say it?)

… life is normal now. Normal is relative, though. Really now: can anyone define “normal”? For this blogger, it means is that a low-level hum of white noise finally entered my living space. Live is vanilla. No one is yelling at me. I leave the house without planning self-defense. Exhaustion doesn’t linger. as much I stay up way past 8:00 p.m. at night. Have the mental stamina to obsess over Mr. Robot. (Elliot is Tyrell. I have serious facts to back it up.)

Friends now regularly visit without fearing for their safety. (My stalker, who lived next to me, would feel slighted over not getting an invite. She became enraged. Would create a ruckus to disrupt our fun time. Especially punished me after guests departed.)

My cat got his Facebook page up. Some people say I’m way too lenient about his Internet time. But, I indulge him. He rants about me to a small fan club. (The cat is kind of a jerk.) Claims he's running for President. Posts selfies of himself sleeping. 

I’m also completely over the moon about my day job.

This magical land of normalcy deserves a name. So, I’ll call it “Peace.” It's about time. Took about five years to somewhat rebuild what my stalker obliterated. Again, it’s somewhat rebuilt. I resent losing what can never be regained. Like spending the last few years of my youth fighting my stalker instead of trying to settle down and have kids. Like giving up my home. Like the health problems those years of constant fear created. Or that it accelerated my hair turing silver. 

Those things.

The Ruin, by Flying Gutterball, on Creative Commons

The Ruin, by Flying Gutterball, on Creative Commons

I say this while admitting it’s a miracle that I even could rebuild. Many victims don’t get this luxury. It's common for stalkers to not retreat even after legal intervention. Creating an endless cycle of reactionary fear. Their victims are always on the run. Or always attending release hearings, trying to keep the stalker in prison. Dealing with staying one step ahead of trigger events, mental breakdowns, or chronic mistrust of humanity.

Really. I’m lucky. But. Those years of rebuilding, and dealing with aftershocks (like wake-up-screaming nightmares) felt like an eternity. Rebuilding is neither sexy or easy. It’s the mental equivalent of the worst backbreaking day of work, then going home to lift weights for a few hours. Making the steps to healing a daily mantra, repeating them to myself, for the sake of forming new habits. Pausing before starting the day, to brief myself on the day. Anticipating what might happen. Then, deciding the best adult response in advance, so that it would come naturally in the heat of the moment.

For example: “Today I’m going encounter Person X, who is a bully. His tactics trigger bad memories of my stalker. Therefore, he will exhaust me. I will now plan how to respond to him without reacting to the past."

Or, "On the bus today, I might encounter someone who looks like my stalker. I will sit by that woman. Get a good look at her. Proving to myself it's not her. Training myself to not be permanently jumpy." 

Or, "After work, socialize. Build social networks that my stalker almost destroyed, when she tried to isolate me from people. I will decide now how long is too long to stay at the party, so that the crush of humanity. doesn't overwhelm and drain me. I acknowledge that this does happen frequently, as a result of being stalked. I will plan pleasant and engaging conversational topics now, so that I don’t accidentally talk about being stalked, which is constantly on my mind.

"Party," Ricardo Lado, Creative Commons 

"Party," Ricardo Lado, Creative Commons 

All those worries have faded. But. There’s still the empty, hollowed-out angst. Sometimes dumping me too long in “The Land of Now What?” whose residents jackhammer my skull with questions. “How do I move forward, after a stalker tried to end me?” They used to demand answers. Now those doubts have matured. The residents know that although answers have arrived, resolution will never come. 

Not necessarily completely linked to survivor’s guilt, but, intertwined with chronic doubts that are inevitable with middle age. Realizing half of a life is over, while asking,  “Who am I?” and “Is a vroom-vroom sports car the answer?” and “What did I do with my youth?” Stopping myself from answering, “Well, the last part was spent staying one step ahead of a stalker …” Feeling all the worse because of it. But unwilling to make that the reason for the enveloping, dark, brooding, angst. 

Then, countering those feelings. During the Dark Years, friends and I all feared the day they'd find my corpse in a small heap outside my front door. It didn't happen. So. Come to think of it. Living past 40? Experiencing middle age? I am so fortunate to be alive. And functioning.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

So, let’s make something of it.

Since there is no rulebook, no counsel that could even remotely set me on the right way to figure out how to move on, I become a pioneer. Figuring it out as I go. Cluing you in when I think something works. Letting friends buy me drinks when the frustration is too much. Allowing myself to stop and point to small victories.

Like sleeping through the night without screaming.