When Dreams Produce Real Pain

Crystal Jackson
4 min readFeb 13, 2018
Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho on Unsplash

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.