Not the ‘hearts desire’ kind, the ‘strange stuff your brain gets up to while you’re sleeping’ kind. Although, the overlap of these two rather different concepts with the one word really interests me. In our group Bridges last week we talked about this. There’s a whole fascinating and complicated science to dreams, how they work, when they occur, why some people remember them and some don’t and all sorts of interesting things. But that’s not what I’m going to get into here. As someone with PSTD, dreams and nightmares are a big part of my world. I’m one of those highly creative types who dream furiously, frequently, in colour, and have some control in my dreams. (which doesn’t stop awful things happening – kind of like life) I’m also a highly traumatised person whose subconscious at times seems to be a swamp full of pain and misery, and nightly immersions can be distressing and exhausting. So doctors are often very surprised when I say that were there a medication that could stop all my dreams, I wouldn’t want to take it.
This isn’t masochistic, it’s because my dreams are an important source of information about how I’m travelling. For someone who’s severely dissociative, I am so accustomed to numbing and walling myself off that I can be in quite serious trouble and not notice until I collapse. My dreams are a nightly consultation with my mind in which the truth of how I’m going is revealed. For a few hours I sit in a theatre and watch my inner world play out upon the stage. I need the information to make good choices in my life.
I’m not a huge fan of interpreting dreams, I think taking them literally and getting hung up details or thinking they are predictive is misguided. It can be kind of fun to read other people’s ideas about what things mean in dreams, but in my experience, people’s personal internal symbolism can be highly specific and unique. Not all dreams are in any way useful. I don’t rely on my dreams to the exclusion of all other sources of information, it’s just one more way to collect data on myself and see how I’m doing and what I need.
When I dream of being hunted I know I’m feeling afraid and overwhelmed. I need to retreat to safe territory, perhaps spend a day at home or cut down on some of my activity for a little while. When I dream of reuniting with people who once loved me I know I’m grieving and lonely. I need to give myself time to hurt and look for a chance to connect socially. When I dream of torture I’ve learned that means I’m under intense stress and at high risk – even if I don’t feel like I am. I use this awareness to help me look after myself better. Dreams can be a way of gauging how you’re going inside, and of helping information to cross dissociative barriers.
There’s another reason I wouldn’t want to stop dreaming. As someone with a severe dissociative disorder, I’m well aware of what walling off your pain can do. I know the weird disjointed feeling of surface calm while deep inside the screaming wont stop. I don’t want to forget I have nightmares. I want to calm my pain so I don’t have so many. As a child I valued my dreams deeply. No matter what happened during the day, at night I was free from the world. I traveled my imagination like an astronaut in space. It was something that couldn’t be taken away from me.
For multiples, dreams can serve as an even more important source of information – communication between parts. Again, this isn’t universal so try not to feel stressed if you don’t work like this. But if you are a multiple it may be worth considering paying some attention to your dreams if you recall them. Some people find that different parts have their own dreams. Some people find that dreams are how deeply buried parts who never come out communicate their fears and desires. It can be a way of system mapping and learning what other parts of you feel and need. You may be able to open a channel of internal communication by letting your system know that you’re paying attention. Try staying in bed in the morning for a moment to reflect on your dreams. If you don’t think about them in the first moments of waking they tend to fade away. Perhaps your dreams will help you listen to yourself and hear an uncensored reply. Or perhaps not. People are funny that way.