Broken glass, pins, nails…these are the items that litter my dreams at night. They start growing from beneath my skin, they fill my ears, eyes, and nose, and they coat me like a suit of armor. When I told my spiritual director that these are the sorts of reoccurring dreams I have frequently, she looked taken aback. She asked if I had ever seen a Jungian therapist, or one who specialized in dream interpretation. Um, nope. That sounds…odd. Her concern did prompt me to start researching dreams, though. They are symbols of the subconscious. If something is bothering a person, it will eventually emerge in their dreams. There’s no escape.
That all makes sense to me. It’s how I know that I’m still not over my fears about witches, demons, and the trauma inflicted by charismatic, evil-obsessed spirituality. In my dreams, I’ll frequently get attacked by a witch or start getting possessed, and the language I learned from the old days comes spilling out, in an attempt to fight. It never works.
I can do work when I’m awake to try and decipher the dreams, to deal with what understanding I can glean from them, but while I’m in the dream, I feel powerless. I started looking into how dreams could be controlled, and “lucid dreaming” came up. It’s when you know you’re in a dream and gain a heightened sense of awareness and control. You can effectively create objects, conjure specific people, and perform actions from thin air, just like you would if you were awake and writing a story. This time, though, you’re living the story within the dream world.
I read “A Field Guide To Lucid Dreaming,” and learned that I mostly dream in the second tier of dreaming: I know I’m dreaming, but I have very limited control. In nearly every dream I have, I know it isn’t real, but I can’t do the things I want to, like fly or make nightmares go away. In order to get more lucid and improve my control, I’ve had to start keeping a dream journal again. It’s an overwhelming process, because I remember my dreams in great detail, and I dream pretty much every time I go to sleep. If I take a nap during the day, I’ll dream, so that’s two dreams per 24-hour period.
I’ve written down about ten dreams since I started my new dream journal, and I have dozens of dreams written down from a few years back. In going through them, there are patterns that emerge. The first one I’m going to take a look at is where the dreams are set. One of the most frequent locales? High school.
High school was really hard. Making friends was like trying to tame a wild animal, when the roles of wild animal and human switch frequently. The strict adherence to conservative evangelicalism and policing of thought ground me down to an angry, throbbing pencil nub that felt like it couldn’t be useful anywhere else. I loved a boy who couldn’t love me back the way I needed, and when he left me, I realized I had poured all my energy into that relationship and I had nothing left for healing. Depression hit hard and the medication trials hit harder, so both my mind and body were exhausted.
It’s been so many years since that time and I tell myself I’m over it, but when I go to sleep, I’m back in those hallways, and things are a little bit stranger. My uniform shrinks and grows, transforming its shape, so I can’t focus on anything else. I get lost and panicked that I’ll be late for class. I try taking a math test, only to suddenly collapse with blurred vision while the teacher remains uninterested and unconcerned in what’s happening. I get into fights with classmates from my past, screaming at them, but their faces are blank and they move like shadows past me.
In those dreams, I feel a handful of emotions depending on what’s going on, plot-wise, but there are trends: abandoned, voiceless, trapped, neglected, alone. These are all feelings I had in high school, and they all came to a peak when I was so depressed, I wasn’t going to school. I don’t even know how many days I missed. During that time, I don’t recall maybe more than one person reaching out and asking if I was okay. Some would ask my brother if I was coming to school when he showed up alone in the morning, but eventually, after getting the same answer every time, they just stopped asking. If I had gotten mono or something other longer physical illness, I might have gotten get-well cards, or flowers, or a visitor or two. For depression, dead silence.
On the rare occasion when I was in at school, I was so lifeless, I just fell asleep during class. I couldn’t fight it; I had no energy for fighting. Someone trying to keep me awake wouldn’t have been helpful, but I can’t even imagine what a pat on the back or squeeze of the hand from a girl sitting next to me would have done for my motivation to keep trying to live. It felt like people were just watching me slowly die. I have no idea what they thought of it. Pity, probably.
The dreams I keep having tell me I’m not fully-healed from the feelings of abandonment and neglect high school spawned. Those emotions are a refrain in a song that will play in my head whenever my soul aligns a current experience with the past, and they send me right back in time. All the years of learning and maturity and recovery crumble, and it’s like I never left that building.
I’m not quite sure what to do about it. Well, that’s not true. My spiritual director recommends writing letters to myself as if I was back in the moment of trauma. I would be sending my own get-well cards into the past. That sounds like a good enough plan as any, especially since I’m a writer, it’s my strongest love language, but it’s also kind of scary. It seems so emotionally overwhelming and painful, like tearing the scab off a wound that never really healed. This is the year of wild emotions, though, so I have to start somewhere.