Many years ago, a relative repeatedly threatened to kill me and my family. When his own life ended in a murder/suicide situation, I felt overwhelmed with stress and grief. I frequently had nightmares. Eventually I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was referred for psychological counseling.
At first, I followed the therapist's advice: I kept a journal to record my private pain. I talked to friends. I listened to music to try to relax. I tried meditation.
A decade later, after I had long since completed the prescribed therapy sessions, I had a bookshelf full of journals, a collection of soothing music, and a circle of loyal but weary friends. But I was still having panic attacks and I wasn't sleeping well.
One lunch hour, I wandered into a Christian Science Reading Room. Grateful for the profound quiet, I read a little from the books, just to be polite. But later I returned, drawn to the safety and comfort I'd felt during my visit.
I read from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, making notes that I took home and read when I woke up in the night. One was: "Christian Scientists, be a law to yourselves that mental malpractice cannot harm you either when asleep or when awake" (p. 442). Predictions and expectation of disturbed experience following trauma, I came to understand, is one form of "malpractice."
I continued this researching and pondering, finding the relief that had eluded me with journaling and meditating.
One Bible verse became very special, and I thought about it whenever a flashback occurred: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee" (Isa. 26:3).
The panic attacks began to diminish until they finally disappeared.
At night, I kept a portable CD player with headphones next to the bed so I could listen to hymns without disturbing my husband. In the morning, I would wake up feeling rested and closer to God. This helped my natural joy return.
I read Mrs. Eddy's writings every spare moment. My focus and concentration were so deep that hours would pass, unnoticed.
After about six months, I was dreaming one night. Being chased through the house, I ducked under a sink, waiting for the end to come. And then, the most amazing thing happened. I began to pray in my dream. I began to declare my loyalty to God as the only power, affirming that His present power was Love, and nothing could get past Love to harm me. I woke up. And laughed.
The reading, pondering, and praying that I had been doing so permeated my thinking that they transformed my nightmare. I became "a law" to myself to stay focused on God and not allow trauma to possess me ... even while asleep. I knew I would never have to be afraid of bad-dream torment again.
Almost another decade has passed – without nightmares or panic attacks. This convinces me that those who love God and learn to depend on Him can expect their prayers to be answered, as mine were. No one needs to feel condemned to helplessly suffer the effects of trauma.
Patient, persistent prayer is a powerful help. And our sleep can, indeed, be sweet.
When thou liest down,
thou shalt not be afraid:
yea, thou shalt lie down,
and thy sleep shall be sweet.