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When Nightmares Become Reality

Growing up I can remember watching movies on the Lifetime Channel.  I could watch them because all of the plots seemed so bizarre and foreign to me.  Except for the one where a mother was killed by falling logs during a logging truck accident.  Ever since that movie, I've had nightmares about logging trucks and am petrified of them.  Ask my husband.

And then one day, while pregnant with Dinomite, there was a logging truck accident right in front of my house.  We lived on the main highway.  Every ounce of my being shook, as I called my husband at work.  I couldn't begin to describe how I felt in that moment, when my nightmares became reality.

When Nightmares Become Reality
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Little did I know, that the logging truck incident was just the beginning of a long list of Lifetime movies that would play out in my life.

After Bulldozer was born, I was told by my doctors, not to have anymore children.  I was okay with that then.  There were always other options like adoption.

When Bulldozer was six months old we felt the impression that a little girl was waiting to come to our family.  We researched all of our options.  In the end, we felt inspired to adopt through the foster care system.

The process to become certified foster parents took about nine months.  And then the waiting began.  I would be cleaning or putting the boys down to nap, when I'd be hit with these overwhelming feelings of sorrow and anxiety.

What was happening to my little girl, so that she could eventually come to our family?

I was overcome with emotion every time.  In my head, I couldn't begin to imagine what she was enduring, nor did I want to.  But I couldn't stop thinking about it.  I wept and grieved, praying fervently for her.

Things I had only known as nightmares were reality for my daughter, and I could do absolutely nothing to stop them from happening.

And then she arrived as a foster baby.  Her mother surrendered her rights quickly.  She was safe and she was ours.  But it wasn't that simple.  Permanent damage had been done before she came to us.  Our daughter had Reactive Attachment Disorder and PTSD.

Adjusting to life as a parent of a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder was very difficult for me.  Looking back, those first few years were the darkest times I can remember.  Her screaming never stopped.  She experienced night terrors.  Every day seemed like a constant battle, with her refusal to let me care for her.

When I'm stressed, I don't sleep.

Parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder and PTSD is the most stressful thing I've ever done.

Sleep was not happening.

My daughter eventually grew from an infant to a toddler, and I thought times would get better.  I still had hope they would anyway.  But as her speech improved, she could communicate.  And with communication came descriptions of flashbacks and memories of incidents from the past.

One wouldn't think a child so young would remember.

But they do.


Every time she spoke and shared more information about what happened to her, I lost it.  Since when do nightmares become reality in our home?  How can this be?  This isn't happening!  But it was.  There was no escape.

Oh, how I wanted to sleep.  I wanted to enjoy the innocence of sweat dreams.  But there was no innocence left.  Nightmares weren't even nightmares anymore.  Nightmares had become reality.

And so I stayed awake.  There was only one thing that could ease my mind, and that was watching medical dramas on TV.  The only thing I could think of that was worse than what my daughter was telling me, was medical trauma.  I would watch episode after episode of Grey's Anatomy until my eyes literally fell shut, receiving a maximum of about 4 hours of sleep each night.

This went on for years.

And it wasn't just me.  It was her too.  Every time she'd close her eyes, she'd have these vivid dreams of what was, or worse, what might happen again.  We began to see paranoia in our daughter.  She worried all the time and was developing OCD tendencies.  She wouldn't sleep, It was too scary.  In her case, medicinal intervention was necessary.

In my case, we had to stop living the drama that came with being foster parents.  Because not only were we hearing about past accounts from our daughter, we were living them every day with foster children we were caring for.

Until you live that lifestyle, you have no idea how many of your nightmares are reality for so many innocent children.

It took two years to recover from those experiences, before I was able to sleep at night.  I had to simplify life in as many ways as I could.

I'd like to say the stress lessens over time, and nightmares go back to being nightmares, but it just gets worse.  Except now different nightmares become reality.  These new ones involve the safety of our family because of Reactive Attachment Disorder.

The only thing that helps me endure it all is love.  I love my daughter.  If it takes every fiber of my being to help her overcome these nightmares that are reality, I'll do it.

It's also that love that helps me sleep at night, even on the worst days.  I need the courage and the strength to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.  Without sleep, I don't have that.

 I can't watch Lifetime movies anymore.  Heck, I can't watch a lot of movies anymore.  They're too much of a reminder of when nightmares became reality.  But I can finally sleep, and so can she.  We'll take the progress!

If you were moved by this post, you may also enjoy the posts below.

This post is part of a monthly series called Parenting Children with Special Needs.  If you'd like to read more special needs posts, be sure to visit the links below!
Parenting Children with Special Needs

When Nightmares Become Reality | Every Star is Different
Surviving Night Terrors | Grace and Green Pastures


  1. Wow.. I cannot begin to imagine what that must be like :( Let alone to go through this constantly.

  2. Oh Renae, what a rollercoaster for you, for your daughter and your family. There is not much you can do to help with sleep, when dreams turn into nightmares. I can only hope that sleep is easier to come by for you all in time x

    1. Thank you. It's definitely been difficult, but we're still hopeful that over time all of those PTSD wounds can heal.

  3. Hi Renae,
    You are an extra ordinary mother. I always wonder you have the same 24 hours per day .. You are such an inspiration to me. I read all your posts . Can you tell me how do you manage your stress and keep going???

    1. Thank you so much for your sweet comment. It made my day. In regards to stress... I thoroughly enjoy exercising. So when I have time and have actually slept, that's usually my go to stress reliever. However, since the girls joined our family, I've gained about 70 lbs. The lack of sleep has really done a number on my body. Over the last 18 months I've been able to maintain, so now I'm working on losing it. When I'm unable to exercise, I'll usually clean, organize something, or watch action movies where a lot of things are blown up. It's silly, but it relaxes me. And how do I keep going? I think it's just part of my personality. I'll cry, scream, do what I need to do, and then 24 hours later I'm doing something about whatever problem that caused the emotions.

  4. Your story really touched my heart. What strength it must take to keep putting one foot in front of the other through such difficult problems.

  5. I can't imagine what you must be going through. Your daughter is lucky to be in such a great family now to support her in whatever ways she needs!

  6. Oh, I am so sorry! I have many friends that are foster parents and adoptive parents that have had to deal with RAD and it's such a difficult journey. I hope that your story really inspires others because it's definitely not easy.

  7. I'm so sorry you have had to go through all of that. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Thank you for opening our eyes on how difficult living with a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder can be. Although difficult, it is clear how much love you have to give, otherwise you'd never be able to take on this challenge. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It's so helpful to find and connect with people who may be experiencing the same things as you. You are that connection for others.

  10. I can not imagine what you and your family have and still are going through. I have never heard of Reactive Attachment Disorder until now.

  11. While I can not imagine what you and your family has gone through these past years, there is one thing you said that I do know -- that love. The love you have for your daughter, that amazing love, may it help you through all the bad times and lead you to many happier years ahead.

  12. WOW! I can't even imagine or don't want to for these babies that go through something so horrible. Thankfully they have you :) I am glad to hear everyone is sleeping better now.

  13. Wow. How stressful and difficult your path has been.... I found this an interesting read and an eye opener. I hope sleep becomes easier and longer with time.

  14. What a story. You are one strong mama. I vaguely remember learning about Reactive Attachment Disorder but I've known anyone with it. Your story is going to be so helpful to the right person.

  15. You are a wonderful mom. I can't even imagine how hard it is to go through all these. Thanks for sharing.

  16. I am so sorry that you had to experience such turmoil. We experienced something similar with our adopted son, although his challenges were different. Our whole family was impacted in a HUGE way and we still have emotional baggage from the experience. But we have experienced big improvements and have peace again together. Finally. Sending love and support.

  17. I'm so glad you're both able to sleep now -- everything is easier to handle with sleep. And I'm so glad you are her Mother! Keeping you both in our prayers.

  18. What a roller coaster of emotions it must have been! Thank you for sharing your story with us. You're daughter is lucky to have you as her mama!

  19. I am sorry you had to go through this.You are a strong woman and your daughter is a very lucky person to have you and your family helping her. It's the first time I hear about RAD.

  20. Goodness. That was so much for you to go through. She is lucky to have you