I had a nightmare last night. Not a bad dream, a nightmare. A bad dream is something you will remember when you awaken and say “wow…that was unpleasant.” A nightmare is something that wakes you up, sticks with you, and makes you uncomfortable enough that you’re not even sure you want to go back to sleep. The last nightmare I had was about my boys and I standing on a dock over icy water, think Anchorage in late March. Both boys stepped a little closer to the edge of the dock and simultaneously they both slipped into the water. I tried to grab them, got a hold of one, and the other went under and did not come back up. I didn’t have a chance to find out if I jumped in to get the other one because I awoke at the moment that I realized I was losing one. Still, this nightmare causes me to tear up years later.
My mom taught me once that our dreams are our mind’s way of working out things that are troubling us in our subconscious. The things that we bury deeply don’t stay buried. Sooner or later our mind wants to work them out. She taught me to look to the feeling you’re having when you are in the dream for a clue as to what is bothering you. Then, look to your life and see where that feeling might match up. In my nightmare where the boys fall off the dock, I was feeling helpless and guilty, guilty that I saved one and not the other. In my life at the time, I’d been working extra hard to help Joe after his ADHD diagnosis. I was putting in hours a night to help him with his school work, meanwhile letting Luke more or less fend for himself. I was doing what I needed to be doing at the time, but I knew deep down that I wasn’t giving as much to Luke as I was to Joe. During my waking hours, that thought would cross my mind but I would shrug it off, saying that I had to be there for Joe while he struggled. During my sleeping hours, my mind reminded me that I felt as if I was shortchanging Luke. I felt bad for neglecting him.
Well, last night my subconscious brought me a real doozy. I was on a plane with the boys, heading somewhere exotic and distant. The plane suddenly started to fall from the sky. The cabin was losing pressure. Oxygen masks dropped, but not mine. I put Luke’s on him. Then I realized Joe’s was mask was a cord with nothing attached. I moved him to another seat that had a working mask and secured it. I was now separated from Luke and crouching down next to Joe as I realized I was running out of air. I grabbed Joe’s hand, told him I loved him, and he began sobbing. That’s when I woke up, heart pounding, breathing more heavily than I should be. I lay there for a minute, taking deep breaths and simply trying to return to a normal pulse rate. I shook my head as if somehow the act would work like an Etch-A-Sketch and clear the image from my brain. It did not work. It was shades of my last nightmare coming back to me. I help Luke who doesn’t need much help and focus on Joe who needs me more, all the while feeling like a horrible mother for neglecting my second child. Not good.
I suppose the fact that we just learned that Luke has some serious reading concerns isn’t helping my subconscious relax any. As Luke was starting with his pre-reading skills, Joe was struggling mightily in first grade. For the next two years, I worked hard with Joe to try to catch him up to grade level. Luke seemed to be doing well enough, so I let him simmer on the back burner. I reasoned that a lot of kids struggle with reading until around 3rd grade. For many children, at that time things start to click. At the end of last year, however, I realized how far behind Luke was with his reading skills but by then the issue was already firmly in place. Now, Luke gets to endure 2 hours a week of customized reading tutoring with a dyslexia specialist in our home to try to correct the issues we didn’t catch when he was first learning to read. And, yes, I feel like a big schmuck for not being more proactive and paying enough attention to Luke. Big letter L on my loser forehead.
You know, I appreciate the work my subconscious is trying to do for me, always running in background and working furiously to fix things for me. But, sometimes, I really wish it would just leave me alone. I’m subjugating those emotions because I don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to deal with them at this point. Why can’t my subconscious take a vacation like my conscience does on occasion? Being The Mom (like The Donald only without all the braggadocio and bloviating) is tough. Is it too much to ask for a little respite on occasion? Wait a minute. Instead of having my subconscious leave me, perhaps it would be better if I left it? Perhaps if I could leave it behind with my conscience, I could relax, let loose, and recharge somewhere tropical, like Hawaii. Then I could come back with the energy to help both boys simultaneously, and my subconscious could return to its job, running quietly in background mode and leaving me the hell alone.
For an interesting take on dream theory read any of psychologist James Hillman’s work. He wrote many fine psychology books such as Revisioning Psychology, Dreams and the Underworld, or the Soul’s code: On Character and Calling. The following from Wikipedia capsulizes his approach to dreams:
Because archetypal psychology is concerned with fantasy, myth, and image, it is not surprising that dreams are considered to be significant in relation to soul and soul-making. Hillman does not believe that dreams are simply random residue or flotsam from waking life (as advanced by physiologists), but neither does he believe that dreams are compensatory for the struggles of waking life, or are invested with “secret” meanings of how one should live, as did Jung. Rather, “dreams tell us where we are, not what to do” (1979). Therefore, Hillman is against the traditional interpretive methods of dream analysis. Hillman’s approach is phenomenological rather than analytic (which breaks the dream down into its constituent parts) and interpretive/hermeneutic (which may make a dream image “something other” than what it appears to be in the dream). His famous dictum with regard to dream content and process is “Stick with the image.”
For example, Hillman (1983a) discusses a patient’s dream about a huge black snake. The dream work would include “keeping the snake” and describing it rather than making it something other than a snake. Hillman notes that “the moment you’ve defined the snake, interpreted it, you’ve lost the snake, you’ve stopped it and the person leaves the hour with a concept about my repressed sexuality or my cold black passions … and you’ve lost the snake. The task of analysis is to keep the snake there, the black snake…see, the black snake’s no longer necessary the moment it’s been interpreted, and you don’t need your dreams any more because they’ve been interpreted” (p. 54). One would inquire more about the snake as it is presented in the dream by the psyche so to draw it forth from its lair in the unconscious. The snake is huge and black, but what else? Is it molting or shedding its skin? Is it sunning itself on a rock? Is it digesting its prey? This descriptive strategy keeps the image alive, in Hillman’s opinion, and offers the possibility for understanding the psyche.
Very interesting, Ken. Wish I had dreams about big snakes. Lol!
This is well written!
Guilt stinks and it is powerful.