I Had A Dream.
I had a series of nightmares, actually, that changed my life in a way hazy half remembered dreams rarely do. Night after night for a full two weeks…detailed, visceral, and violently raw. In the retelling of these dreams, I should make a disclaimer that this post will be significantly more graphic than any of my other posts…mostly because usually I like to write in general terms about happy shit. And while these dreams have congruently increased my happiness in ways I couldn’t imagine, getting to that point will take reading about intense, violent, disturbing dream experiences. So if you prefer to skip over an R rated equivalent of dream violence, maybe go pick some flowers or drinking some hot spiced apple cider and then skip to the end.
When the kids and I were down in South America earlier this year, my ex joined us after a bit. The last time we’d spent that much time together 24/7 was before our separation when we all lived back in Colorado 3 years ago. My friends wondered how it was going, and at first it was a bit rocky for both of us. As you can imagine. But for years while the kids were young he’d always worked out of state 5 days a week, and I really wanted him to be able to spend time with them while on this epic adventure. So, it was a tug of war between what I wanted for the kids and what I needed for myself.
A few weeks after he arrived my dreams started. The first night, someone in my dream was trying to kill me and so I killed them with a weapon instead. Rawr!
I should fill in a bit of backstory. For the 6 months prior to my separation, I had a recurring dream where I suffocated to death in countless ways. One night I would drown. The next night I would asphyxiate in space. Sometimes I would choke to death. One night my dream started with my ex tickling me until I couldn’t catch my breath, and my dream self begged for him to stop but he didn’t and I died then too. When we split, the dreams stopped but I was still haunted by the powerlessness I felt when I’d wake up from them.
So now that the dying dreams started up again I was happy that at least I wasn’t a casualty anymore. I am woman! See me roar! I am now stronger! Better! I can handle this shit! I am in control! I will cut a bitch that tries to take anything from me! Fuck yeah!
Night after night, dream people would attack me and I would kill them with various weapons. I took this as a sign of empowerment. I WILL BRING THE HAMMER DOWN!
Then, when dream people came at me there were no weapons and I started having to kill them with my bare hands. One night I spent my whole dream choking someone to death and when I woke up my arms were sore, as if I’d been contracting my muscles in real life while the dream nightmare was taking place. I was shaken up by the visceral nature of it all. I did not feel empowered, I felt sick. The next night I broke somebody’s neck, and I could feel the ligaments rip apart. I woke up sweaty and shaking. The next night, when the dream person came for me, my dream self refused to kill them. She tried to run away, but the dream person ran after her. So she (I) broke their arm as a warning. The chase didn’t stop, so she (I) broke their other arm. I could feel each bone shatter. I could feel the force I needed to snap the bones. She (I) broke one leg, then the other before realizing the chase would never stop. So she (I) kicked the dream person to death. I felt every impact of my foot. I woke up with bile in my mouth.
My nightmares weren’t done with me. The next night, the dream murderers started making innocent people come after me by threatening them. Game on, dreams. Way to up the ante. But guess what? I’m done sacrificing myself for other people. DO YOU HEAR ME? When push comes to shove, I will shove. So I did. These new dream people were innocent, but they were still coming after me, so I still had to kill them. I woke up tired and weary of the violence. “Please stop, please stop, please stop” I’d think every night before bed. But still, they kept coming. And still, I was resolved to do anything to protect myself.
I didn’t think it could get any worse, and then I had the final dream. I was on a train full of passengers. Every seat was filled. Someone on the train was going to kill me. To stop it from happening would mean derailing the train and killing everyone on board. Hundreds of people would die. People who weren’t after me. People who were innocent and unaware. Babies, mothers, a high school volleyball team, fathers, families, old people, newlyweds. I talked to them all as I tried to find my killer, in an effort to pinpoint the threat and avoid all this collateral damage. I was trying to buy my dream self some time, trying to think of any way out of this situation. Trying to stay alive without paying such a high cost. Trying to wake myself up.
But the dream pushed the inevitable conclusion forward. The choice remained firm. Me or them. For the final time, I chose me. I blew up the front car on the train. It derailed, sending wreckage into a river below. I stood on the bridge watching the destruction. The scene was too graphic to even write about here. I saw luggage, drowning people, and car seats float past me. I watched as hysterical family members arrived to claim the bodies. I was alive, but at what cost?
I woke up shaking, weeping, a low moan escaping my mouth from somewhere deep inside. I didn’t stop for a long time. “No more, no more, no more” I repeated over and over. For the next few days and weeks and even now, the images would come back to me and I’d start crying again trying to process the meaning. Ever since then, my interactions in life have shifted. It wasn’t long after that dream that I felt my temper rising after something my ex said to me, and I thought of the words to say to lash out at him to protect my Self. But something else was there in front of my words. It was the thought, “At what cost?” and I thought of the collateral damage. Everything has a cost, and it would be my kids paying the price. I felt the violence of his words on me, and the violence that my words would have to others.
No more, no more, no more.
For weeks I struggled with the back and forth of feeling this violence of words, actions, thoughts of others towards me and my need to protect my boundaries at all cost…but now also feeling the effects of this zero sum game.
No more, no more, no more.
Slowly, slowly, slowly I began to define the experience and redefine myself. What was I willing to protect, with what violence, and at what cost.
My kids…do something to them and I will hunt you down and hurt you. Yes.
My boundaries, my inner Self…destroy that and I will destroy you.
But oh my god, what do I need to protect? Can anyone really take those intangibles away from me? Can anyone really hurt those things by words or actions? Really? No.
They exist in themselves.
They are strong in themselves.
They can’t be stolen away. They can’t be hurt. I don’t have to defend what isn’t at risk.
How can I take anything personally when nothing is a threat? What I have and am, no one can take away from me.
Whenever my defense mechanism kicks in; if someone is being cruel or hateful or disagreeing or whatever, it is tied to my new awareness of the violence that comes from reacting to it. I have proven to myself over and over in the dreams that I am more than willing and more than capable of whatever it takes to defend myself. But at what cost? I see it in the world around me…everyone’s fierce need to protect and defend what is actually strong enough to not need to be defended. And the cost is high.
I don’t have to destroy anything because nothing can destroy what is essentially me.
I mean, obviously, I can be physically hurt…but how often is that a reality? How often is someone actually trying to physically harm me? 0% of the time.
Everything else is just a perceived threat. A difference of opinion. It’s not me vs. them anymore, because what I am isn’t up for debate.
We are all more powerfully enduring and impervious than we can imagine.
I don’t even know how to end this post really. The feelings that those nightmares brought to me have stuck with me and are triggered by the littlest things. The only way I know how to not relive that again is to not engage in that kind of either/or thinking anymore. It’s like the classic line in “WarGames”…”Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.” If I know that you can’t really hurt my essential self, then no matter how much of a douchebag you are, you aren’t my enemy.
I want to create, not destroy. I want to build, not tear down. I want to open dialogue, not defend walls.
Life isn’t a zero sum game. We’re all in it together.