Friday, December 5, 2014

I Dreamed A Dream (And Remembered It!!!!)

I've always been jealous of people who have amazingly vivid dreams and then remember them, especially since I've been taking Effexor: it's one of those medications that can cause wild dreams, and I was kind of hoping that would happen to me. I don't doubt that I dream every night -- dreaming is something your brain does during certain phases of the sleep cycle. On occasion, I've even known that I've woken up from dreaming, or been awakened by a dream. But it's pretty rare for me to remember a dream even moments after I've just woken up, and I've always wished that wasn't true. So imagine my delight when I remembered this beauty that I woke up from the other day!

In my dream, we were all still living at my parents' house, and were in the process of getting ready to go somewhere. It was morning, and I must have been finished whatever I needed to do, because everyone else was doing stuff and I wasn't. I was looking out the window in my old room.

I could feel the earth rumbling beneath me, and hear sounds like explosions, like the earth shattering. I looked out the window, and in the distance I could see volcanoes exploding. The sky was filling with smoke, and I could see the fire pouring to earth. I felt a dull sense of dread and panic in my belly, and I was telling my family that we needed to hurry, that we needed to get out of there, but no one else was in a rush. I felt like no one was listening to me, that no one saw how dangerous the situation was, how we were all on the cusp of being consumed.

I went downstairs and put my hand on one of the external walls, and it was warm. I was totally convinced one of the volcanoes was close by and ready to explode. I kept pushing, telling everyone "let's go," until finally we were ready to head out to the car.

As soon as I stood outside, I saw a patch of dried lava in the front yard near the side of the house, near our neighbor's retaining wall, so right near the property line. The lava was oddly grey, and the patch was small, but I knew that I had been right. "You see," I told them, "there is it. I was right." I remember they were like "Where?" and I was like "Right there," and pointing right at it, but it was like they couldn't see it. My father was walking around the lawn, looking and looking, until he was practically right on top of it. And finally he was like, "Oh yeah, I see what you're talking about." So finally there was an acknowledgement that I wasn't delusional or seeing things that weren't there, but everyone was still acting like it wasn't a big deal.

I was telling them that we needed to leave, to get out now, that it was going to blow any minute, but my family was unconcerned. Finally we were getting in the car when my brother realized he'd forgotten some sort of important document. My father gave one of those long-suffering sighs he gives and told us to start heading down the hill away from the house while we went back for it, and that he'd meet up with us with the car. So we started walking quickly away, until suddenly we were at the bottom of the hill.

We were looking up toward the house, wondering when he was going to show up, when our house suddenly exploded, blowing violently outward and apart. I knew right away that my father was gone, but I didn't feel anything about it, not sad, or relieved, or anything. In that moment, everyone started to panic, and we all started to run. Objects and bits of things were flying through the air -- more like a movie about a tornado, really -- and my brother and I were dodging. I knew my mother can't run if her life depended on it (she just physically can't), but I wasn't looking back for her or thinking about her. I was just sticking by my brother, trying to make sure he got out of this alive.

Something was flying through the air toward us, and I knew it was the car from our house. It was coming toward us, too hard and too fast. We dodged, we ran, our lungs burned from the smoke in the air, and our eyes streamed from the fire breaking out of the earth in the distance. The car just missed me and hit my brother square in the back, and he was gone instantly.

And then I woke up.

I was like, holy shit I had a dream and I remembered it! Now what do I do? I felt sort of like the dog that finally catches the car.

Being me, I couldn't just leave it alone: dreams can be a treasure-trove of information, yes? I'm not saying that, like Freud and others in the psychoanalytic tradition, that dreams are a direct product of the unconscious mind shedding insight into repressed desires (dreams, and techniques like free-association, are particularly important tools for the analyst who proves to be terrible at hypnotism). But I am saying that the mind/brain is particularly adapted for finding patterns that make sense out of even random stimuli, so much so that we can perceive patterns where none exist as the brain tries to process dispirate and disjointed pieces of information. Even if neurons in the pons (a part of the brainstem) are firing randomly, that doesn't mean that the patterns the cerebral cortex uses to synthesize the information doesn't tell us anything about ourselves. It stands to reason that the brain is going to use patterns that are accessible, that fit into previous schemas and belief constructs, or that reinforce concepts we've already accepted.

Our mind can also challenge us, revealing ideas and patterns that we know are there but haven't consciously accepted. Sometimes, I find I really do have two ideas or two constructs that fundamentally contradict each other, or that I know on some level to be true, and I'm sure that's the case for lots of people: sometimes we don't notice the non-dominant one, or fail to pay attention to evidence that supports it, simply because our mind is using that as a strategy to reduce or avoid cognitive dissonance. It helps us go about the daily business of functioning. But it can be really unhelpful if the schema you're running around with is one that needs to change.

To make a long story short, I think dreams can be interesting and informative regardless of where we think they come from. And so: onwards with analyzing the crap out of it!

I think it's interesting that the events involved in the dream were events about explosion. That's often how I felt living in that house: that we were on top of something that was constantly simmering, constantly threatening to blow-up in some irreparable way. It was there beneath and behind everything we did. Obviously, that fear of explosion, of one thing too many or one day too much, causing a kind of violent destruction, is something I still think about, and also in some way know is inevitable. In the dream, I try to warn my family to escape, but already know there is nothing I can do to stop the volcano from happening because we are past the point of no return.

I think it's interesting that I was trying to tell my family something was wrong but no one was listening to me: there was no sense of alarm, no sense of having understood or believed what I said. Of course this reflects the reality of what it's like to live with my family. I keep saying over and over that things are not normal, not the way they're supposed to be, and my family either ignores me or tells me I'm basically delusional because everything is perfectly fine. In the end, everyone goes calmly about their routine while I stand alone, looking out the window watching the shape of our destruction.

I think it's interesting that, in the dream, everyone dies in the exploding volcano but me. On the face of it: this is the opposite of what actually happened: my family members are managing their lives pretty normally, whereas I am the one who has self-destructed with sudden and explosive violence. But in other ways that's not true. There are ways that they've been consumed by these patterns as something that just is true while I've had no choice but to try and desperately escape them. In the end, the net effect is the same: I am standing alone and the family I should have been able to rely on to weather the storm is absent.

I think it's interesting that the volcano I see on our front lawn is located on the property line, the boundary or limit that defines what belongs to whom, and beyond which you aren't supposed to go. There are major boundary issues in my family. I've spent most of my life confused about who and what I am to at least some extent, and as I think more about it I'm realizing that, given the circumstances of my life, maybe that's not such a surprise. My family has laid claim over my emotional and psychological life by telling me that my beliefs are stupid, that my emotions are wrong, that my memories are incorrect. I am porous, open to manipulation, the playground for other people's needs and perceptions. My boundaries have been violated by the people closest to me telling me my reality isn't real. My family has used their emotions and ideas inappropriately as well, using a lack of their own boundaries to try and blend the line between us and to create unhealthy relationships.

My family has laid claim over my space, time, and possessions, to the point that I could never be guaranteed privacy in my own room, or even in the bathroom. Nothing ever really belonged only to me, or was really mine -- not even my activities or decisions -- in a way that just wasn't true for the rest of my family members.

My family has laid claim over my body, saying things about my body and treating my body in ways that disregard any sense that I should have control over my own body, or even that my body belongs to me. My family has used their bodies to encroach on my space, to impose themselves on me, to make what should have been private to them into something public that pierces through my space. Suffice it to say, it doesn't come out of left field that the focal point of our destruction lies at the boundary of things.

I think it's interesting that the house is destroyed, and that I'm uncomfortable in it even before it blows up, because I don't have an archetypal image of "home" as a place that is comfortable, or stable, or safe. I think it's interesting that my father is the focal point of the explosion even though my mother is the more daily problem. I think it's interesting that she is the one telling us to take our time getting ready, to stick around, to be comfortable in a place that's about to kill us. I think it's interesting that I feel the heat from the outer wall in the basement, which I was always afraid of growing up.

I think it's interesting that I stay in the house as everyone takes their time instead of just running for it and saving myself. Because that's exactly what I did in real life, isn't it?

I think it's interesting that, when we finally do get out, I don't try to help my mother when it's time to run away. Over the years, I've had various dreams of having to save family members from our house as it burns, but I've never abandoned any of them before. But in this dream I absolutely know my mother can't help herself, but I easily turn my back on her and save myself instead. During the years I was in therapy with my original psychiatrist, we talked a few times about how I felt obligated to take care of my mother and needed to find a way to let go of that burden.

I think it's interesting that was trying to protect my brother, because that's something that was discussed, too. In the dream, I felt like I was trying to save us both. But I wasn't really, was I? We were just running side by side. In the end, I didn't throw myself in front of him, or push him out of the way, and take the blow of the projectile car myself. I dodged and lived.

I think maybe that's what I need to learn to do: to protect myself, really protect myself, without guilt or remorse. The reality is it all blew up and was consumed by fire. It happened. And I'm standing here, shaped and surrounded by those old patterns that tell me to go back into the flames, to keep standing still, to try and preserve everything the way it was. But being stuck in a house that's about to be consumed, constantly on edge, is no way to live.

I don't know exactly how to recover from barely escaping from an exploding volcano that swallowed my entire family. But I'm pretty sure it'll be a long and messy journey with scalding steam-vents along the way. And I'm certain that it will be a long time before I've gotten far enough away not to see the fire in the distance or smell the smoke clinging to my hair.


  1. I think your analysis is spot on!! I also think it's very positive - your brain is telling you it's ok, you're on the right track. You can move on, YOU survived after all.. Probably because you are much stronger than you give yourself credit for.. :-)

  2. I often read your blog and come away realizing I was a friend along the journey with so many more similarities than i ever realized. Good for you for realizing it's no way to live. Do you realize you said live? You are taking about living kat... Not just surviving. That's huge.

  3. I think your the primary take away in your analysis is correct. You are finally at a point where you are ready to take care of yourself as a priority. You don't have to hamper or harm anyone else, but they cannot be your primary concern. Perhaps it is because you have been out of your family's house for long enough now (six months?) that you are ready to be you and live for you. May the trend continue.

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  5. Yes: "I think maybe that's what I need to learn to do: to protect myself, really protect myself, without guilt or remorse. The reality is it all blew up and was consumed by fire. It happened. And I'm standing here, shaped and surrounded by those old patterns that tell me to go back into the flames, to keep standing still, to try and preserve everything the way it was. But being stuck in a house that's about to be consumed, constantly on edge, is no way to live."