We can repeat it like a mantra in our heads: It was just a dream. It was just a dream. But when waking from a nightmare, no matter how unrealistic, it’s hard to believe that it was just a dream, that just a brush off. An only that invalidates our pain. Because the dream may not have been real in the way we view reality. But it did happen. And it hurt. God, it hurt.
We wake, tears streaming down our face, choking on emotions that go so deep we feel like we’ll never stop falling into them. Yes, it was only a dream, and if we’re lucky, the impact of that dream will fade for us. But often, dreams that startle us into waking, that pull from us emotions so strong that we’re wrecked by them, are often more than just dreams. They’re often signs that we have need to heal the areas agitated by those dreams.
Recently, I had a dream that was mostly a series of fragments. A part of my mind knew it was a dream simply because of the fragmented nature of each sequence, how it didn’t flow together in the way that I understand time when I’m awake. Some of it wasn’t in chronological order, and there were big plot points missing that seemed to be hastily filled in. The dream involved a person who is no longer a part of my life, which was also a signal to me that it was *only* a dream. One would think, particularly with having this level of awareness while dreaming that it was, in fact, a dream, that I would be less disturbed upon waking. But instead, I woke up deeply saddened. The loss I felt was real, even though it was based on events that hadn’t actually taken place. The sharp pain of grief stayed with me long after the details of the dream had started to fade into oblivion.
While I’m not trying to bore you with detailed dream descriptions and interpretations, I will say that I sit inside of that sadness and know that I still have much healing left to do surrounding that loss. There were elements in that dream that are clearly ones of abandonment and of not feeling like I was, or can ever be, enough. Those are real issues with long roots. I had thought that I had healed those areas sufficiently, but as I sit with the psychological trauma of my dream, I feel that these issues still need to be addressed. Instead of looking at my dream as reinforcing those belief systems, I can instead look at it as an opportunity to continue healing.
Opportunity is such a positive word. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t always come to us in a positive way. Most of our opportunities come to us, instead, disguised as challenges. We often mistake them as bad luck or a terrible thing that happens to us. Hidden inside of these difficult experiences are the true opportunities for growth and change. We don’t transform in the ways that we need to when everything is peaceful and calm. Our healing doesn’t happen out of our happiness but out of the struggle. Dreams like this, terrible nightmares that haunt our days, are opportunities to look at the underlying messages.
Dream interpretation is never cut and dried. It’s tempting to take everything too literally. What’s important is that we identify the feelings and underlying roots of those feelings when we investigate our own dreams. For me, there were clear loss and abandonment issues that triggered grief and feelings of worthlessness. The details of what happened in the dream aren’t as relevant as the feelings they evoked. It’s easy for me to trace the roots of those feelings, and they go far beyond the timeline of that particular loss. The clear message that I’m left with is that I have more healing to do, and likely more grief to feel before I get there.
It wasn’t just a dream. It never is. The feelings we experience are valid. What happened in those dreams still happened to us, even if it didn’t happen in this particular plane of reality. All we can do in the aftermath of those experiences is to deal with those feelings, to bring healing to the hurt that we feel, and to uncover any issues that we still need to work through to find peace.