When I was married to my ex-husband, I was plagued nearly every night by the same dream. In it, I was riding in the back seat of an old beat up car, without a seat belt. After a few minutes of being jerked back and forth by the car’s movement, I noticed the frightening reality that the driver’s seat was empty, and that I was heading at break-neck speed into a brick wall, off of a bridge, or over a cliff. Certainly, I panicked. I tried to make my way across the console to grab the steering wheel, to hit the brake, and steady my course, but an invisible force held me back and, inevitably, I awoke, sweat-drenched with my heart racing. Back then, in my wake, I was a naïve 23 year-old with a new baby, no family to speak of, an uncertain husband, and an incomplete college degree in elementary education. At the time, I was working at a shelter for battered women, as a child advocate. On a blessed slow day, meaning the shelter was nearly empty and my paper work was caught up, I sat chatting with one of the shelter’s counselors that I had become friends with. She told me she was thinking of writing a book about dreams. This conversation, predictably, led me to tell her about my repetitive nightmare.
“You know,” she said, “When you analyze it, that dream makes perfect sense. You have a lot going on in your life that you don’t feel you have control over. You’re not in YOUR driver’s seat.”
She was absolutely right; my life did feel out of control. I couldn’t always keep my new daughter contented, and I really had no one to call to ask for mothering advice. No matter how pretty I made myself, how good of cook, or lover I was, I couldn’t make my semi-committed husband head-over-heels in love with me. I couldn’t afford to stop working to afford to go back to school, and I couldn’t afford school if I stopped working. My temporary job was good work. I helped people, but every day I heard stories that I wished I hadn’t: beatings, rapes, molestations. I could lend comfort, but I couldn’t make those atrocities go away.
Her analysis opened my eyes. Were my dreams a subconscious reflection of my reality? Were they a warning, a signal, or the stepping stone to a resolution? I took my friend’s suggestion and put a spiral notebook and a pen by my bedside. Each morning I wrote down what I remembered of my dreams, and then wrote a short synopsis of how they might be related to what was going on in my life, and what particular feelings they evoked. One night I dreamt I was ambling through my apartment looking for my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal, but every time I turned on a light switch the bulb burned out, leaving me in the dark. The next morning after describing my dream in my journal, I realized I was overwhelmed by the fear that I wouldn’t be a good enough mother to my daughter. Without my own mother’s wisdom to draw from I felt “in the dark.” The stuffed animal symbolized my daughter’s comfort and well-being. Could I give her the life she deserved? Could I always make her feel safe and loved? The bulbs burning out each time I turned on the light represented the frustration I felt with being a new mom. I knew I needed to take action to resolve my worries. I began to get to know the other moms at my daughter’s daycare. While I formed friendships, I also inherited a new resource for advice. Additionally, I came to the realization that although my mom was gone, I still had the memory of the things she did to make me feel loved and safe. I was no longer in the dark.
After a time, I left my job at the shelter, went back to school, had another baby girl, and got a divorce. I lost touch with my friend, but I continued to keep my dream journal. In my new role as a divorced, working mom I found myself back in the driver’s seat. I was in control of my path; in control of my destiny. Sometimes in my dreams I would push off from the ground and fly above the Earth moving, my arms and legs in a steady breaststroke. I would awake feeling refreshed from my soaring, and realize I was content with my growing daughters, and satisfied with my ability to provide for us. Other times, dreams that I was driving on a busy road in an invisible car that left me vulnerable to the bustling traffic around me, would prompt me to examine the elements that were making me feel vulnerable in my real life. I increased my insurance policies, and started college funds for my daughters.
I’m no Freud. I’m a teacher, a mother, and a wife, but in my 20 plus years of dream journaling I have noticed a direct correlation in the tones of my dreams and the tones of my life. For me, my dreams are a signal that things are either going well, need improvement, or feel out of control. With this awareness I strive to adjust my environment to a steady equilibrium. What do your dreams say to you?