In January 1999, I woke up from a dream that wasn’t typical for me. I’m not going to recount the entire dream, but at the end, I lifted my gaze from my empty hand to what had been a tree-lined campus to my left, only to find that the buildings and trees had disappeared. In their placed was a desert made up of a sandstone maze about two feet high, stretching as far as I could see. When I woke up, I felt different. Restless. I understood instinctively that something inside me was changing.
For the rest of the month, I continuing to have recurring thematic elements – especially the sandstone maze – in my dreams. They were more lucid than usual, and even without any specific mention of my personal PTSD traumas, it was like those dreams were putting to bed some of the old baggage my brain had held onto. It felt like my brain was literally shifting around and reorganizing, the way a computer does when defragging. (Does defragging even happen anymore? So much of modern-day hard drives are virtual and cloud-based…)
Years later, I learned from the boys’ pediatrician that toddlers and children often go through periods of nightmares right before they make large developmental leaps. The leaps weren’t necessarily emotional or intellectual – they could be as simple as learning to walk or talk or use the toilet. Or they could be intellectual – right before something clicks, and they learn to read, for example – or emotional – common going into puberty. When I learned this, I thought back to those dreams from January 1999, the ones that felt Significant with a capital S, and the way my mental health went through a huge shift at that time. It was the first time I could remember going through a period of Significant dreams, but not the last.
These periods always seem to come when I need to learn something. Either I’m hiding from a truth in my life, or my subconscious brain is putting together external clues that my conscious brain hasn’t registered, or I’m processing some age-old traumas that I might not even know I’m still carrying. The dreams aren’t always nightmares. They can actually be quite euphoric. But they all hold common elements. They’re more lucid, overly symbolic (to the point of heavy-handedness), and repeat at least one thematic image to drive the point home.
I entered one of these dream therapy sessions (ha!) in mid-November.
Honestly, I have no idea what they’re trying to tell me this time, or what my brain is about to do or shed. The repeated elements are of the street I grew up on. Both the house my parents rented and my grandparents’ house were on the same street, and both of those houses frequent my dreams. The street between them, on the other hand, isn’t usually part of my dreamscape. I keep dreaming about it as if it’s a minefield that I have to cross, in the dark, holding my breath so as to not catch the attention of any sleeping predators. Sometimes I’m carrying something valuable, and I’m terrified I’ll be robbed and shot. Sometimes it’s dogs waiting to rip me apart. Sometimes, I’m clearly not meant to be there, and the local gang will jump me if they see me. (This last was a literal fear from my early adolescence – I lived in a hive of gang activity and rivalry.) All of these things wouldn’t be extremely unusual given that they were all legitimate fears I had as a kid walking in that neighborhood. (To this day, my aunt takes a weapon and pepper spray with her when she runs in that neighborhood. There is a lot of violence (and violent dogs!).) But then there is the maze.
I don’t know why mazes seem to crop up so often in these Significant dreamscapes. In any case, the current maze starts about halfway up the street as I walk from my grandmother’s house to my old house. Instead of a street, I have to enter a building and walk through multiple rooms, trying to find a way out and back onto the other end of the street. Each room I go through has another danger that I have to try to silently avoid, in addition to getting more and more lost. When – if – I do make it to the other side, I find that the street has changed so much that my old house is no longer there. It’s been bulldozed to the ground for an apartment complex or strip center. Or it’s there, but it’s changed so much that I realize this isn’t my home anymore. Either way, the thing that I’m looking for, the past that I’m trying to step back into, no longer exists. (Did I mention already that the symbolism in these dreams is extremely heavy-handed?)
Here’s the thing: In reality, I would never in a million years go back to live in that house and neighborhood, no matter how well you paid me. Sure, I pined for it for the first few years after we moved, though mostly that was because I had to change schools and I missed my old life. But that desire ended well over two decades ago. These dreams aren’t about that house, or that street, or those PTSD triggers from growing up in a dangerous environment. Maybe they’re something about holding onto the past or being lost or tiptoeing around dangers. Or maybe it’s something altogether different that I haven’t yet figured out. Either way, it feels like my brain is once again on a precipice, about to click over into something new, some growth that it’s finally ready to make. And despite the nightmarish quality of these dreamscapes, I don’t mind. In the end, I know that if I pay enough attention, I’ll learn something new about myself, or have an ah-ha moment, or let go of a burden I’ve carried for way too long.