When I was in college at SUNY Buffalo, I took a course in dream interpretation. It was a pretty far-out topic for the 1980’s, I suppose, but certainly no weirder than today’s courses in frisbee hurling and building with Legos. The professor was no dashiki-wearing, sandal-clad man of the cosmos, but a very straight-forward middle-aged fellow in plain, comfortable clothing and glasses. I daresay he was a psychologist of some sort (after so many years, I can’t recall), and passionate about this research without being strange about it.
The first time he asked someone to recount a dream, the entire class froze. We all wanted to analyze our own dreams (privately) and certainly didn’t have any compunction about dragging someone else’s nighttime images into the open for all to see, but our own? No way.
So I raised my hand and offered myself up as sacrificial chicken. What the hell. You don’t get anywhere in life by sitting on your hands.
I don’t remember a lot of details about the dream. There was a mighty thewed hero in it and swords and a spaceship with a crew that included myself (I think we were dressed in Star Fleet uniforms, but I could be wrong about that) and an albino named Ajax who on some level reminded me of my dad. I don’t recall any of the action, but as I talked the professor diagramed the dream, picking out archetypal images, the stuff of fairy tales and legends. What he told me in the end was that I felt trapped in the relationship I was in, that it was harming me rather than nurturing me. He didn’t ask if he was correct, he didn’t offer advice or compassion or resolution. He just told me what the dream told him.
He was right. And being able to access the truth of what my own brain had offered up energized me and helped me to finally break away from that disastrous, abusive relationship.
(On a side note, when I asked the professor to decipher a dream I’d had in which I woke up to find a miniature African water buffalo liking my fingers, he smiled and said, “Sometimes a dream is just your brain flushing.”)
I find my dreams a compelling curiosity. They provide story ideas and make me laugh out loud. (We have two legendary dreams in our family — one mine, one my husband’s — that many years after the fact still make us both break into giggles.) Nightmares are rare, but when I have them they are works of such horror that I invariably wake up screaming. I had several “repeater” dreams in my childhood (vampires; the big white monster; the gorilla on the airplane), but not so much in my adult years. What I have now is insomnia.
Not all the time. It comes and goes in no pattern I can recognize. I’ll be fine for months and then go for nights with little more than two or three hours of fitful rest. By the fifth or sixth night, I’m as close to homicide/suicidal as I ever get, weepy with exhaustion, but sooner or later, sweet sleep returns and I’m fine until the next round.
I’d love to know what causes it, but I’ve no clue. I’m sure stress feeds into it (Me? Stressed?), although there have been times when I’ve been at the happiest in my life and still unable to sleep, so go figure. One thing I will say for the curse of insomnia…when the dreams return, they offer up some interesting thought-fodder. Take last night, for instance.
I’ve been having trouble sleeping since last Friday night. That night’s lack of rest I understood — hubby and I had gone out to dinner at a new place (for us), had a great time, and topped the meal with a shared piece of tiramisu which, if you know the dessert at all, has both chocolate and coffee in it. I am very sensitive to caffeine (so much so that I can’t have a cup of caffeinated tea after noon or risk being awake all night). The dessert was worth that bout of sleeplessness, but I was a bit draggy on Saturday and looking forward to sleep. For whatever reason, I tossed and turned all night, watching the clock tick away each hour. Exhausting. Sunday and Monday were no better. Last night, with the house to myself, I ate a late meal, drank a thimbleful of wine, and slept for nearly seven hours. It wasn’t the totally unbroken rest I’d hoped for, but better than nothing. And I dreamed.
In the dream, I was the age I am now, but in college or some sort of school, attending right alongside two of my former Coast Guard cadets (Andrew Pritchett and Paul Alexander). I was walking across campus with Andrew when these sirens began to go off and people cried the warning of tornado. In the distance we saw a massive funnel cloud, black and whirling, bearing down on us. Andrew grabbed my hand and we ran to this building and down into the basement. We sat with our backs against the wall, all in a row — Andrew, me, Paul, Paul’s fiancée Kate, his mother Maureen, and waited for the storm to hit. I knew that my husband was out driving somewhere and was terrified that he would get caught in the storm even as something in my head knew that he’d found shelter in someone’s home. Before the storm hit, I woke up.
What does this dream tell me? That I feel threatened by outside events which are, to some degree, uncontrollable and frightening, but that I have people I can trust to help me. No matter if hubby is away (as he sometimes is on business trips), there are those I can call on (like Paul and Andrew) to keep me safe if I need help. It’s a truth I sometimes forget in my need to be independent and my desire to not bother anyone with my troubles.
On the other hand, I suppose the dream could mean absolutely nothing, with no more substance than a cerebral flush. But I think I’ll take my interpretation instead.