I woke sobbing this morning after a fitful sleep filled with nightmares. Not the kind where the monster with dripping fangs chases you like a scared rabbit through the set of a Hammer horror movie. Those are easily dealt with… wake, smile and turn over. Okay, possibly a quick glance under the bed, just in case… No, these were the nightmares of ‘what ifs’, the hidden fears and worries that seethe deviously below the surface of the mind until they find an outlet in dream.
I seldom have bad dreams these days. There was a time when the nightmare persisted, both in sleep and in the light of day, when reality itself was unrelieved by waking and the daily terror of opening my eyes brought worse fears than the night. It was a time followed by hope and worry, punctuated by flashbacks and questions to which each answer seemed more painful than the last. But those days have long ago slipped into the realm of memory and the rich well of experienced life, exorcised by achievement and laughter.
I could say I have no idea what caused the nightmares last night but I would be lying to myself. The trigger was my sons. Worry for one of them, who I dreamed was calling me in the middle of the night… a sure sign that something was wrong… and watching the other walk across a room at near normal speed… an astounding achievement in the face of the past eight years. Yet in spite of this, it opened the door of memory and resurrected old fears long dismissed but which left their scars on my heart and which, every so often, remind me of their presence.
Once the nightmare is in full gallop the vulnerability creeps in and all the other doubts and worries surface. All those what ifs that everyday reality holds. From the most mundane financial niggles, through the emotional fragilities to the health issues…. all the possibilities and unlikelihoods decide to play themselves out in a facsimile of reality on the cinema screen of dream.
It is the very plausibility of these nightmares that make them so heartrending and terrifying. In sleep we do not have the clarity of choice that we do when awake, nor do we have access to the strengths and experience that make us who we are. We are simply the victim of our own oft unspoken and unexamined fears and we wake in a fragile solitude, crying like a child in need of comfort.
But dreams, although they may dredge up and highlight the hidden agenda of our fears, are not the reality we face each day, nor are we as helpless when we are conscious as we are when caught in their toils. We can use those dreams and nightmares to find the roots of our fears…those deep-seated things from which we hide… and exorcise them, one by one. Even nightmares have their uses.
So in the cold light of day and over the third coffee, I call one son to make sure I was only dreaming and that he is okay. We talk for a while, because actually, he wasn’t… but he hadn’t called. Then I take out the nightmares and examine them.
With my whole being awake and aware I can see the flaws and inconsistencies in the dreams. I can turn and face those fears which have a foundation in reality and deal with them, admitting their presence and validity, admitting my own vulnerability, yet choosing to face them straight on, looking them in the eye so to speak, armed with a lifetime of experience and an arsenal of learned strength.
After all, what use is being awake if we choose to let the terrors of sleep rule our lives? The freedom of clarity can shine into the darkest corner of our fears and show that the monster lurking there was merely a shadow in the moonlight.