My doctor recently requested that my husband keep an eye on me while I sleep, whenever possible. I have been struggling with exhaustion for months despite eating well, exercising, taking my medicine and sleeping well, so she wanted him to observe me from time to time. If I snored a lot, or seemed to stop breathing (!) she would refer me for a sleep apnea test at our local hospital.
This past week Matt reported on his findings with the following observation:
"You sleep like a dog."
I raised my eyebrows at him, my unspoken way of letting him know to tone it down before all hell broke loose.
"I mean, you know how a dog whimpers and looks like it's running in its sleep? That's what you did. For like an hour."
I thought back to the night's sleep he was referring to, and realized I had a series of terrible nightmares that night. This has always been part of my sleep--having vivid dreams is normal, having vivid nightmares equally normal. Since going on medication last fall, my nightmares have gotten more intense, more frequent, and even weirder than usual. And you, lucky reader, get to hear about them now! But have no fear, I will focus more on the weird than the intense so that these serve for enjoyment and amusement.
Church Shenanigans (CS)
I've been having church dreams for several years, and they only metamorphosed into nightmares the last few months. In the beginning they were normal clergy dreams gone awry: I was scheduled to preach, but when I got to the pulpit my sermon notes were missing, or my Bible wouldn't open to the right passage, or I would be scheduled to preach and someone else would be called in last minute to replace me as I stood on the platform, overlooked and aghast.
More recently the dreams have been nightmares: I am stuck in the church at night, and the doors are being broken down by local drug dealers (this has roots in reality, not because the church has been broken into but because our church's location on a major thoroughfare makes it a workspace for drug dealers, prostitutes, and pimps at night). Last night I had one that blessedly downshifted to something between a nightmare and a dream: I was waiting to be served communion and noticed that the servers were using water on one side (instead of wine or grape juice) and milk on the other. I was preparing to break up the service with a lecture on sacramental theology when, horror of horrors, the servers on the milk side SPILLED THE MILK on the church carpet and weren't cleaning it up! So then I was mentally torn between the theological lecture on using wine/grape juice and a mommified scolding as to the importance of not having milk on the carpet! (I did both.) Nightmare of nightmares!
Spousal Indifference (CS)
This is what it sounds like: my nightmare is that I am trying to communicating something to Matt and he responds with complete and utter indifference. These are the dreams that I wake from ready to smack him--so far I haven't, but since it's a "serial" this requires ongoing discipline. These are, it must be said, not rooted in any reality beyond my cool and composed husband remaining cool and composed when I, invariably, have arguments with him and do not remain cool and composed.
Sample SI nightmare:
Two of my kids have just been killed in a war (it's complicated). I am mourning their death (obvs). I get home and find Matt packing and getting ready to leave for a Steve Carrell comedy festival. He tells me he's had a stressful week at work and just needs to get away. To this, I respond, "Okay, honey, I believe that you've had a stressful week at work, but our KIDS JUST DIED. I am kind of having a stressful week myself and would appreciate it if you would stick around."
At this point, Matt becomes worn out by my nagging (!) and goes to another room to continue packing for his weekend away. I try to call him on his cell phone and he answers but pretends he can't hear me. I realize that I need to pick up one of our surviving children from school, so go to the room and yell at the top of my lungs "Please don't leave until after I get our son!" He kind of nods, and gets back to packing. I get in the car and start to drive away, when I see in the rearview mirror my scandalous husband climbing on a motorcycle, and riding away, bright red feathers streaming behind him (apparently this is standard Steve Carrell apparel). The terrible man couldn't wait for me to get back! I woke up immediately after this and just glared at Matt for the first ten minutes of the morning.
War/Holocaust/Tsunamis (WHT): I've had Holocaust nightmares since I was a child (long story). They were always bad, but have become so much worse since having children. Invariably I am trying to get them out of selection lines, out of lines to gas chambers. When they go missing I know they have been killed. The war and tsunami dreams are new, but the intensity always centres on the same subject: trying to find and save my children, and not being able to. There is, as you can imagine, nothing funny about these dreams.
Family Abandonment/Antipathy (FAA)
These are very closely related to SI dreams, except that they involve various members of my extended family. Usually Matt has done something terrible (i.e. had an affair, insulted me publicly, shirked his general spousal duties) or someone else has done something terrible and I get ANGRY. But then, instead of whatever wrong I have suffered being the nexus of pain, it is that my family turns and criticizes me for my response!
Sample FA dream:
Matt has decided that he is not going to put any more effort into our family; he is moving out without any financial support, communication, etc. I am angry (obvs). I then go to a dinner with my in-laws, and while standing announce loudly and in a high-pitched voice, "MATT IS A TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE MAN!" They all keep their faces straight and look at each other like, "Oh my goodness, she is a total psychopath." I begin to explicate my argument, recounting his terrible, terrible deeds, and my sister-in-law (who I adore in real life) stands up, puts her hands on my shoulders, and without saying anything walks me to another room and SHUTS THE DOOR SO I CAN'T GET BACK IN! Meanwhile Matt is lounging on a chair at the dinner table, rolling his eyes and ignoring me, not even remotely fazed by my shouting or his own sins.
Here is an interesting fact: my sister and I have multiple serial dreams/nightmares different from each other, but one is about the same thing from our two different perspectives. In it, we are both enamoured with one of our childhood crushes (same person, because this whole thing isn't weird enough already). But said crush is enamoured with OUR TWIN SISTER, not us! And when said crush falls in love with and runs away with said twin sister, we (the one dreaming) are angry and judgmental and like, "Um, excuse me twin sister, you are ALREADY MARRIED." And said twin sister is like, "Um, I'm sorry, what's the problem?" and goes anyway, leaving us (the dreamer) not only angry at her rapscallionism and left with the task of informing our heartbroken brother-in-law what has happened, but also heartbroken OURSELVES because our amour (childhood crush) prefers our sister to us!!!! And then we wake up and fight the desire to call and berate our sister for her imaginary infidelity. THIS SERIAL NIGHTMARE HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR ABOUT TEN YEARS. TEN YEARS!!!
And now for a slight shift in tone...
My family love hearing another of "Mommy's weirdo dreams", or sharing some of their own with me. I can't make the nightmares stop, so I like to think there is some good in telling other people about them; laughter is always a welcome gift, yes?
But I am equally aware that, whether amusing or heart-wrenching, my dreams have a root in reality--not always mine, but often someone else's. So, if nothing else, they serve to remind me to pray for those who are living the realities I only meet in the dark, or donate to organizations that help alleviate those realities for those really suffering them. Scientists have various ideas on the purpose of nightmares and dreams--they are a way we face our deepest, unrealized fears, or a way of helping us deal with our realized traumas; with the cover of night we face them in ways we can't in the light of day. But I think that they are also, as most of the ordinary stuff of our lives, avenues for redemption; paths to empathy and compassion. Dreams have helped prepare me to walk with friends and family through the valley of the shadow of death. Nightmares have pressed in my body a trace of the terror our neighbours around the world face, whether in Aleppo or Japan or Fallujah or Baton Rouge. Surely there is some good in being connected to their sorrow, don't you think? Surely there is some redemption in having our hearts broken, even while we sleep, if it means we can care better for our brothers and sisters thousands of miles away.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May dreams be sweet,
And rest complete.
And if not,
May dreams widen wounds
To form and transform
Wounded givers, and
Wounded lovers of a wounded world.