Nightmares that linger

What is it about nightmares that gives them so much power in the daytime? After all they’re not real, right? Right! And yet…

What seems to make my nightmares so powerful after I wake up is the fact that the feelings are very real.  When I wake up I don’t leave the fear, panic, nausea, panic (yes I said panic twice — not sure how else to emphasize it) behind.  It’s all still there. Even though the images are gone — as long as I can keep my eyes open and don’t slide off into the nightmare again — the feelings remain. And the feelings suck! 

Last night, or to be precise 4.10am this morning, I woke up in the middle of a nightmare. I had been pursued by a rapist who morphed into a man in black (no surprises there) and I was somehow looking down on the top of his head trying to fly through a broken window to escape. Then he flew too, and all of a sudden the figure became quite demonic and exaggerated, evil personified if you like.  The more religious might be inclined to say he became the devil, but to me “devil” is just a metaphor for evil. Either way you name it I was being pursued and trying to escape with my life. As is typical for me in such dreams, even when I try to interject the saving device of phoning for help, I can’t remember the phone number for my therapist or the police, and then the phone doesn’t work etc .etc. More panic.

This time I decided to jump into a body of water to escape … I think I was mixing religious mythology with the Wizard of Oz and hoping the devil would dissolve (melt). He did for a while and I sank into peacefulness. Quite happy to be succumbing to the watery depths.  It was such a relief. The he loomed again in front of me in the water …. And I woke up.  Panicked.

I paced the house for a while, trying not to wake my husband whose sleep patterns aren’t much better than my own, waiting for his alarm to sound so I could hang out for breakfast and experience some normalcy. 

So, the dream was fiction but the feelings were real? Yes. And yet…

There it is, you see. Freud and Jung, psychologists and Jackson Square“mystics,” they all know there is more to reality than just our conscious, immediate awareness. However much we try to deny it, there is some “real” in our dreams. Connections to events, feelings, senses, movies and TV images, memories, thoughts, memories of thoughts, thoughts of memories…whatever.  They can all play a part, as can our body chemistry. As a diabetic I know that I have cycles of blood levels during the night and that can affect the rest of my body I’m sure.

How we interpret dreams should I think be our own individual adventure.  Look for repeated themes or obvious connections to the Law and Order episode you watched before bedtime.  Consider what you ate or drank before bed and what your body might be trying to tell you. Don’t assume anything is a “revealed memory.”  Just unwrap the feelings during the day, maybe journal, and then let them go and see what seems to want to stay around. Then … well then you have to ask the piece that won’t go away … What is it that I need to learn? But if you don’t get an answer, leave it be. If there is something for you to learn, it will come up again another time.


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I am a wife and mother, a once-Catholic now UCC Christian, with a degree in Theology, a Masters in Religious Education, 27 years of theology teaching experience -- mainly High School, some College. I am now working as a Hospital Chaplain and feeling humbled and privileged every day. I love my family and I love to write; writing helps keep me sane. Published writing: • From Hurt To Healing, Publish America 2004, ebook on Amazon, 2011; •"Forgive and Forget," America Magazine, September 16, 2002; •"From Victim to Victimizer," Human Development Magazine, Summer 2005; • It's Just Not Fair, Introducing The Fairly-Good Mother, ebook at Amazon, 2011; • Traces of Hope: Surviving Grief and Loss, March 2015, St. Johann Press

One thought on “Nightmares that linger”

  1. i’m right there with you as far as the nightmares go. how can something that happens when you are asleep linger and have so much control over you for the rest of the day? i feel the same exact panic and anxiety for all of the following day. i rarely manage to fall back to sleep for fear the nightmare will grab me again. like you i get up and pace, or write, or sometimes if i’m brave enough i do some art work, or even wake up my mom. usually i lay in bed crippled with anxiety and fear, afraid to move, trying to ground myself in the present. my dreams seem to have a lot of religious undertones to it also with it’s serpents and demons and fire, but who knows how to interpret any of that too.
    i hope you are well, i’m sorry you are experiencing such agony, nightmares are our brains way of continuing the process of processing the trauma that happened to us. it’s a long road i guess. stay strong.
    with love,

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