Night Terrors

Night Terror
A piercing scream awakens me.  Three a.m.  A  boy-child  is flailing around, thrashing, hitting, screaming.  Jerry runs to him,waits for the thrashing to stop, speaking words of comfort.  The boy-child has been home in the states a few months. He spent the previous two years in an orphanage playing parent to his siblings.  He is seven years young. The night terrors come frequently.

“Sleep terrors are episodes of fear, flailing and screaming while asleep. Also known as night terrors, sleep terrors often are paired with sleepwalking.

Although sleep terrors are more common in children, they can affect adults. A sleep terror episode usually lasts from seconds to a few minutes.”- Mayo Clinic

“When stress plays out at night. The older a child gets, the more cognitive she becomes, and the more able to store experiences and memories in her brain. The degree of stress, even trauma, that adoption can bring depends on memories of her past experience (whether in an institution or not, whether well-cared-for or abused in some way) combined with the comprehension of her adoption experience (gradual or abrupt, amount of transition preparation, whether or not brought into a new culture with a new language). A child’s reaction to such stress or trauma may be controlled by day, but released when she feels more vulnerable, as at night. Hence, the sleep problems so many adopted children experience.”

I wake up on the porch swing sitting by my mother.

“You were sleep- walking,” she says as she gazes across the road at the railroad tracks.  Another move.  Another house.  Sleep walking again.  At summer camp, I sleep walk into another cabin, push a girl out of her bunk and sleep the rest of the night there.  I wake in the morning disoriented, confused.  I am sent to the camp psychologist who asks me weird questions about my past and haunted houses.  She thinks my fears stem from a visit to a haunted house.  She doesn’t understand.  I spent my first five years in a house haunted by fear, depression and alcohol.  That’s much scarier than a haunted house at an amusement park.

I understand why my adopted children have night terrors.  It’s not what they ate before they went to bed.  It’s their subconscious either re-living or working through past experiences.  Until they come to a place of healing,  the night terrors visit, unwanted and uninvited.

“If you are a parent of an adopted child who suffers from night terrors, it is certainly painful to have to consider that the child may have come from a highly traumatic background.”-

Kathryn Reiss’s daughter came from foster care at age 10 as a “riotous sleeper” — sleeping fitfully, thrashing around in bed, often waking totally turned around with the bedding all twisted. She also wet the bed. Reiss’s reaction was low-key and encouraging: “I never got annoyed with her. I just changed the sheets and told her she would stop when she felt more settled.” Indeed, the turmoil melted away when it became clear that the adoption would be finalized.

One day my son recounted, “the older boys would come into our rooms and beat us up in the middle of the night.”  No safe haven.  No security. Speaking  the truth sets him free.  The night terrors subside.  He sleeps through the night.

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