Dreadful Dreams: Crimes Against Myself?

The dreadful dream

A few years ago I awoke in the wee morning hours with a start. Heart racing, I traipsed down the stairs and curled up on the couch. Clutching a pillow, staring into the darkness, I agonized. “What had I done!?”

I felt sure it was heinous. I had hidden it, . . . hadn’t I? Maybe. And if I didn’t? Would I be caught? All the details were foggy. Something I did or didn’t do, but the result was the same: a dead body. Had I hidden the body? Covered my tracks?

Blurred details aside, the sense that —either by commission or omission— I had ended a life was starkly vivid and disturbing. So much so that I sat in the darkness more than two hours, sorting images in my head. Motel stairs, running down passageways, damp night, and a car trunk. Irreversible. Whether I faced retribution or not, this dreadful remorse and self-contempt would be mine forever.

As early morning light began filtering through the blinds, the fingers of dread and regret eased their grip on my mind and heart. I took some convincing, but I finally realized: It was just a dream. A dreadful dream.

This was a new dream, not one that revisited previous dreamlands or dreamscenes. Maybe that’s why the emotions of it squeezed my mind for so many hours.

I kept the dream and my reaction to myself for several days, because the idea of disclosing it produced a sense of dread and guilt. Finally, a week later, I shared it with a friend at a party. She gave me an odd look then glanced at her husband, and moved to the patio without responding.

Uh oh!

I obsessed about her reaction and finally, a few days later, I built up the nerve to ask why she reacted that way.

Oh nothing! I had a disturbing, hard-to-shake dream. My husband and I had just talked about it before we saw you that day.

Whew! So I’m not psycho, right?

No.

A few months later, I had a similar dream that woke me with a start, and the dread and self-doubt began setting in. This time, however, I didn’t have to wait for the sun to rise to snap out of it.

These dreams. They are the most infrequent but the most dreadful. What do they mean?

This week, I had another one. Although the “crime” seemed less severe, I started my day with a foggy head and a sack of sand on my heart.

Like most anyone, I’ve done things I don’t like to confess. I may have actually done a thing or two that I’ve never confessed, but those embarrassing acts never involved loss of life, as do these dreams.

What do my dreadful dreams mean?

I’ve considered three things: Community, politics, and self-achievement.

Summer 2016 has me thinking and frozen. The shootings and the injustices in my city, the deaths of friends, the heartbreak of friends, the floods, and the piles of molding memories stretching along curbs of entire neighborhoods . . . frenzied thinking.

In the struggle to do something significant and helpful, in the effort to make a difference when the need is so large, I question my days, the history of my endeavors, my time spent. Does it help? Does it matter? Can I do better?

Are the dreadful dreams about time not spent in lifting up my community?

When I fold in the 2016 political climate, I question my honesty. As the mis-/dis-information piles higher and higher, like moldy belongings on a curb, I wonder if my polite quiet is appropriate. Maybe my political silence is even harmful and dishonest.

I’ve always been gray, in-the-middle. Gray, grey, gray . . . never extreme. Am I lost in that?

Is it dishonest —a crime!— when sometimes my mind draws dark, bold lines through the mucky muck of political banter, but I politely listen. Doesn’t someone need to listen?

I wonder if the occasional angst and existential dream that jolt me out of bed are driven by my gray pool of politeness.

Maybe my dreadful dreams are about crimes against myself. Not so much about what I have done, but rather about what I did not do, what I didn’t complete. Those three novels, fifty-some short stories, mediocre poems, and a few screenplays.

Could those dreadful dreams indeed be about a death? The death of a writer? A malnourished mind and a neglected “pen”?

Then I circle back. The sunlight pushes through the blinds.

I’m sure my dreadful dreams may have something to do with paths not taken, the house I didn’t help gut, the well-bitten tongue in a swarm of political nonsense, the books I didn’t write, the time I butchered with bites too big to chew, and the broken promises to myself.

But I’m a believer in allowing. And in mirrors for reflection.

Allowing begins with self.

I gave what I could.

It’s in my nature to be gray, to listen.

I write when I can.

Is my dreadful dream a crime?

You might say “the jury is still out.” But not really. It was a dream. I’m the jury. I know I didn’t kill anybody. I decide if I’m guilty or not of a crime against myself. It’s up to me to define the dream, to come to terms with myself. Maybe I’ll decide to help more, to speak more often, to write more. If I don’t, that’s my dreadful dream.

What are your dreadful dreams?

© Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016

Take Five and Feel Better

A little over a year ago, I had fallen into a pit of negative emotion.

The pit had formed for a variety of reasons: I was working hideous hours and pushing aside personal or domestic interests; the freezes were killing my plants; it was dark by 5:15 p.m. Even though I understood why I was a grumpy curmudgeon, I was having trouble digging myself out of this pit.

So I decided to take five. Five positive measures for myself, each day before noon.

I chose a combination of physical, emotional, and creative measures.

  1. Five simple exercises

    Not a gym workout, just a few minutes of five exercises to get my blood pumping. Arm swings, toe touches, sit-ups, yoga, curls. I wasn’t scientific about it. I just did five exercises.

  2. Five gratefuls and affirmations backyard-pine-tree

    Practicing gratitude and affirmations has become popular, and while the practice currently borders on cliché, the power of authentic gratitude is real. I made it a point to do this every morning. Some days I shared them, not on status updates, but with my partner, a friend, or one of my children. Sharing made them more meaningful and powerful. More authentic.

  3. Five minutes outside

    Working at home, I often pop out of bed and beeline from coffee to computer, where I’ll stay for rest of the day. Even though I keep a garden, I can easily go days without stepping outside, especially during winter. I made it a point to BE outside. Not to take out the trash or water a plant. Just be out there. Soak in the sun, feel the moistness of the fog, listen to the rain, gaze up the pine. Five minutes of just me and the outside.

  4. Five minutes of quiet/meditation

    For years, I made an effort to meditate 20 minutes a day. I struggled with monkeys chattering in my head. I found myself opening an eye to check the time (how much longer do I have to sit here?). More stressful than quiet, so I stopped. But five minutes? I could do that! Since my Take Five journey began, I’ve worked myself back up to 15 minutes of quiet. When the monkeys chatter too loudly or I peek at the clock, I focus on my breathing. Breathe in for me breathe out for me.

  5. Five written sentences for myself

    This is huge. This is why I’m here now. I already write. I write a lot. “Rental writing”: work, projects, textbooks. Although I would put aside time for my own words, I often felt spent, too weary to write from the heart. Yet I yearned to “write for real.” I knew writing had to be one of the five. I decided on five sentences before noon. No pressure to be a story, a chapter in a novel, a scene for a movie. Just five sentences for me from me.sunflower4

Deliberately doing five things early in the day focused on concepts that matter to me was powerful.

While I wasn’t Ms. Sunshine every day, whenever I would start sliding into that pit, I found it easier to get my footing and pull myself up, into the sunshine.

Sure. I’ve fallen all the way into the pit a few times since. The difference is that now, if I’m not already taking them, I make sure I take five. Exercise, be grateful, go outside, be quiet, write my words: these are my five. This practice centers on self and nurturing, and I find it helpful even when I’m not wallowing in a gloomy pit.

How are you feeling today?

If you could feel better, why not Take Five?

What will your five be?

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.