I have what one might call an active dream life. I dream vividly, nearly every night, and wake up clearly remembering (and feeling!) what was going on.
Normally, I enjoy the bizarre output of my subconscious, especially on those rare occasions when I experience a lucid dream and can take control and do whatever I want (inevitably this means flying - dream flying is AWESOME).
One experience that I don't enjoy is called a false awakening. Thankfully, these are rare, with the last instance happening a few nights ago.
For those who haven't experienced a false awakening, let me walk you through my latest one:
Step one: Have nightmare.
Step two: Awaken from nightmare. In bed, at home. No problem, right?
Step three: Go about your day until something terrible happens (in this case, someone jumping through a window).
Step four: Awaken from nightmare. Bed, home. See where this is going?
Step five: Cycle back to through steps three and four until you're convinced you're losing your ever-lovin' mind.
Step six: Wake up. Bed, home. But this time you know to check! Go about your day looking for any sign that things are amiss. In my case, I noticed my husband was sitting in a chair we don't own. The jolt will cause you to ....
Step seven: Wake up. Check reality. Probably fail. It took me three times once I knew what was happening. The second time, I caught it because the stones on my wedding ring were wrong. The third because I couldn't read something I should have been able to.
Step eight: Scream "WAKE UP!" and try to force yourself out of the dream and back to reality.
Step nine: Wake up for real (hopefully). You can usually tell when you have snapped out of the dream, but I always do a little reality checking anyway since the other awakenings seemed real when they were occurring. Once life passes the "test", breathe a huge sigh of relief.
What the steps don't capture is the awfulness of the experience. Not only is there a sense of foreboding and often a scare with the false awakenings, but there is also an enormous sense of powerlessness. You are trapped in your dreams, and your force of will isn't strong enough to shake you from them.
I always have trouble going back to sleep once I'm "free" since I don't want to risk it happening again. Finally, I do go back to sleep, and then I can go years without another occurrence.
Of course, for all I know, I'm dreaming right now.
Illustration by kaneda99