Dreamwork Reaches to Where Memory Can’t

Last night, another dream of water.

This time, I was tossed a rope by my father and encouraged to hop along lily-pad-like buoys across a pond. From there, I swung on the rope like Tarzan and landed in a deep, clear pool.

It was a backyard pool; perhaps it was even the swimming pool in the yard behind my childhood home. Except the pool water was very crisp and clear, and the deep end into which I landed much, much deeper than any deep end I had ever found myself in before.

I looked up to the top toward the sky as one does from the bottom of the deep end. Fear washed over me: Will I have enough breath to swim back up? I wondered.

And then when I woke, I rocked in slow rhythm to a lament that seems to play on repeat these days. 

Oh, these dreams of deep water.

Oh, these feelings I am almost drowning in. 

* * *

The first time I started seeing an individual therapist, I was 19 years old. This means, I have been actively at work on my “stuff” for just under 30 years.

In the in-between, I have seen other therapists (at least five that I can recall), a couple of psychiatrists, and engaged with one or two coaches. I have participated in personal development workshops, leadership training workshops, mindfulness workshops. I’ve gone on silent meditation retreats. I’ve logged thousands of hours on YouTube watching insightful videos on attachment wounding, childhood trauma, sex, relationships, polyvagal theory, healing your nervous system, grief, loss, mind-body connection, embodiment practices, and various other topics.

Dreamwork, however, has plunged me into the depths like nothing else.

In this work, I face truths about myself I didn’t know, despite a stellar memory and a militant kind of willingness to examine and re-discover myself.

One such truth that has risen from the depths is that I carry a lot of shame. A lot.

The dreams make this so clear to me in a way I have not been able to see in waking life: in bathroom dreams in which I need to relieve myself, but can’t; in which the toilet seat is covered in poop; in which there are people watching me; in which the door won’t lock.

Menstruation dreams, or dreams in which I have sat in something that created a mess on the bottom of my pants.

Dreams in which I am naked, or half-dressed, or wearing an inappropriate outfit for the occasion.

Dreams of bad breath. A bad taste in my mouth. Yucky, yucky, yucky stuff I can’t successfully spit out.

So many dreams in which something about me is wrong, and there are people watching. So many dreams in which I am unclean or not adequately dressed.

I can see the evidence of shame in my dreams clearly now, but I still don’t have understanding as to why this is part of my core belief system. Which is to say: I don’t have explicit memory of events from childhood that would cause me to feel this way about myself.

As a result, I did not know that I had such a strong belief that I was not worthy of kindness or praise or adoration.

I never knew to explore the issue of shame with a therapist in talk therapy or with a group because I did not know it was an issue.

I wasn’t aware of how shame was influencing my choices and behavior because I didn’t even know it was “in the room.”

It’s often the information or the events we don’t consciously remember or even know we should try to remember that dreams want us to remember:

  • The implicit memories of infancy and early childhood
  • The pre-verbal events that frightened us
  • The traumatic episode with a teacher in elementary school 
  • The abuse at home we dissociated from

It’s become clear to me that if I don’t address the pain I don’t even consciously remember, my healing will remain at the level it is today. 

* * *

Certainly, there is still more I could explore in talk therapy or work through independently via other means.

Yet, there is a growing awareness of the “dark matter” of my memory, and the need to allow myself to “see it” if I am going to stop patterns, stop inflicting unintentional harm on people I love, stop placing myself in potentially toxic situations or settings, stop devaluing myself, etc. 

The dreams remember what I can’t or won’t. And with courage, tenacity, and compassion for myself, I may eventually be able to heal what I can’t yet see.

In the meantime, I am grateful for the loving insight of my dreamwork practitioner who recognizes the shame in the imagery of my dreams, and who gently encourages me to take in the truth of it. 

The images would not arise from me and for me if it was not time for me to finally know, and hopefully, heal.