I believe dreams are important, and often try to interpret mine when I wake.
Some dreams are bizarre–my favorite odd one involved a coworker and me being chased through the mall by ninjas, with multiple Broadway musical songs to comment on the situation.
Most dreams, however, have a meaning–especially when you interpret them yourself.
Nightmares with a happy ending?
I began suffering from chronic nightmares during college. This went on for several years. Based on my experience, it is common for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) to relive traumatic memories in nightmares.
My nightmares became so bad that I was afraid to sleep. I’d stay up for considerable periods of time, sleeping only when sheer exhaustion overwhelmed me. I would also use alcohol to avoid dreaming. Predictably, this strategy caused multiple problems.
Eventually, I entered the Borderline Awareness and Skills Empowerment (BASE) program. A psychiatrist put me on clonidine to lessen the severity of the nightmares, and a therapist taught me how to rewrite the nightmares when I woke up. For example, sometimes I dream I’m being chased and can’t run away or scream for help. When I wake up, I remember the dream, but either fight back with martial arts, shrink my pursuer, or blow a strong wind out of my mouth until he/she/it is swept away.
Rewriting nightmares may seem impossible at first, but it becomes easier with practice. While I still have nightmares, they no longer leave me an emotional wreck for the rest of the day.
An important message
Some dreams convey important messages.
In a recent dream, I was walking around Monument Circle, talking to a wise man. As we passed a panhandler, I told the wise man that I believe in helping other people. However, I’m not a rich woman, and often can’t afford to give money away. How should I help the poor in Indianapolis?
He replied, “Don’t sail where you can’t swim.”
When I woke up, I remembered the mandatory swimming test for my college sailing class. The instructor took no one’s word for it. One year, a student lied and said he could swim. The student nearly drowned when his boat capsized and he discovered he was too heavy for the life jacket.
I sometimes wonder what kind of idiot would take a class involving boats if he/she is unable to swim. However, people with BPD do just that, metaphorically speaking. Schema therapy inventor Dr. Jeffrey Young describes this as a “self-sacrifice maladaptive schema”.
In other words, focusing on others to the point where you can’t meet your own needs is unhealthy. Don’t sail where you can’t swim.
Working through your waking life’s problems
Dreams can also serve as a release valve. When you’re really worried about something, a dream can serve as a way to resolve your internal conflict. As the ancient Greek tragedy writer Aeschylus wrote, “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
I sometimes become depressed because my life is not what I planned. I’d planned on living the American dream–big house, respectable job, plenty of money, no worries. I didn’t plan to end up on disability.
During a dream one night, I was back on my college campus. It was night–late enough to where no one was walking around–and I was talking to a woman in the shadows. She offered me a job–the chance to live the life I’d planned. The price was that the past ten years hadn’t happened.
I thought for a brief moment, then declined her offer. While there were many things I do not want to repeat, they all influenced the good things in my life. So, while my life isn’t what I planned, I wouldn’t trade it for the one I thought I wanted.
I woke up smiling, content and at peace.