The other night I had an unusual dream. I dreamt that I and a number of other people moved to another world, where we established a new civilization. It was beautiful and it worked. Not flawlessly of course, it was no utopia. But it was good. Over the course of the dream, I found that I grew stronger and stronger, until I could fly, and even change my shape to forms most helpful to the tasks at hand.
This was not unusual.I dreamt that some calamity was headed towards us, and so we retreated deep into the mountains, built ourselves a refuge, and there we lay ourselves under a magical sleep, to let the calamity pass us by.
This was not unusual.
I dreamt that after a thousand years, (stay with me here, this is fairytale land. metaphors y’all.) we woke from our long slumber, rising to a different world, like those who followed a wisp into fairyland and were taken by the dance.
That was not unusual.
We came home to a world in shambles. It was nothing like we what had left. Not because of the calamity: instead, it was clear that we had failed to bring everyone with us into safety. We left people behind. In our absence, they had weathered calamity upon calamity, and each time had rebuilt upon the ruins of what came before, so that when we arrived home again, we couldn’t find the bottom. We couldn’t fathom how deep it went, these ruins upon ruins. The builders were no where to be seen, neither their children, nor their children’s children. The whole of it was empty, dark, breathing only ghosts of memories.
This is something new.
We explored. We found those areas where we could reasonably ascertain the structural stability of the ruins we were building upon. Tearing down that which was dangerous, clearing away the mess of ages of decay, establishing new buildings. Fixing roads and re-laying tracks, building new and better trains, so that we could scatter to stability wherever it might lay, but not be made disparate by distance. We laid pipes and drew clean water up from the depths of the earth itself, turned fields gone fallow, gone to forest, and found use for it all. We began again.
As we explored, we heard more and more stories of ghosts, beyond mere tales of sorrows and shadows breathing in the dark. These were tales of attacks whose actors were gone as quickly as they appeared, sabotage undermining new structures, entire sections of rails and roads disappearing within a short time of their repair. Then murder.
I and others worked hard and quickly to fix the damage, replace where necessary, and so reclaim the home that had once been ours. I grew tall once, and strong, as though made from the bones of the mountain, to hold up structures until their foundations could be mended. I became small and lithe, fitting into tight places where I could bring intricate skill to detailed works of beauty and necessity. Once, the tracks of a railroad vanished, discovered fortunately before disaster. The train was already on its way and was too close to halt its progress. I became a great dragon, holding myself still and steady in the gap, willingly deforming my flesh so that the train could safely cross my back to the other side without derailing.
Awareness dawned slowly. I delegated most of my tasks, a few at a time, overseeing my aides until I was sure of them, then I left and delved deep into the dark to find the shadows who threatened us. Find them I did, poor, malnourished, huddling in terror in the bowels of the ruins, afraid to step out into the light of the sun and into the air of a world that had, while we were gone, become deadly dangerous to them. Because I was alone, the bolder of them revealed themselves and spoke with me. Strange words they spoke, and foreign concepts, informed almost entirely by fear and dread of the world beyond the small havens they had created. Fear and dread of us as well, for surely we were yet another calamity come upon them, suddenly, loudly, destroying the very bones of their world.
I told them of the decay which invaded the heart of their home, the danger that this rot will soon come crashing down upon their heads. We are not the enemy, we are your friends, your ancestors, let us repay the debt of leaving you behind. Let us fix your cities. We will lay foundations, build walls, and slowly, as you permit, introduce you back to sun and sky. Let us bring you home. They cowered in fear and nearly fled.
Trust was regained, and I was admitted more deeply into their city, until I reached a place of meeting, a grand hall whose arching ceiling was skillfully crafted glass. But in fear they had covered over the glass with sheets of plastic and aluminum, with grime and cloth, so that the sun only dimly filtered through. Yet this place was wider, more open, than any place within their city than I had yet seen. There was more light and less fear here than I had encountered elsewhere. In a fit of near madness driven by a desire to free them (too quickly!) I gained the ceiling and attempted to remove several panels. People cowered, yelled in fear and anger, and a few pulled me back from the slim shaft of brightness I had set free.
I had thrown them all into chaos, and opinion among them was divided as to my motives: ignorance, or lies craftily woven to gain their confidence before destroying them, or… I heard only these. Argument continued after I left.
Eventually I made my way back towards what had once been the main entrance to our home. I set my hands again to testing walls and supports, tearing down the weakest and shoring up the strongest. Someone came after me again in the dark, violent. We battled. I struggled to hold back, to present an adequate defense without harming the other. Another of the hidden people intervened.
In the course of the conversation which followed, I came to understand how deeply terrified they were by the destruction we brought with us. Surely they would all die, or whoever did manage to survive would once again be homeless and beset by the darkest of troubles. I struggled to help them understand that we were only destroying that which could not be saved. I led them to areas where our work was nearing completion, through rooms and halls where the wood and stone were mended or new, whole, where electricity was consistent, and water freely available. Windows which looked out upon new gardens, luxuriant after so much dim dryness. I showed them, from a distance, trains and workers allowing people to travel freely from place to place.
Somewhere, in the way of dreams, my battle with shadows continued, and I struggled not to injure the other while I pleaded with words upon words to convince the hidden one with whom I spoke. My words could only fail, for these speak rarely in words, instead conveying somehow images, feelings, song, something deeper and higher than words, but less detailed, less… coherent as I understand coherency. In the battle, I fell through ancient flooring, became stuck, and struggled to haul myself out again before my enemy could kill me.
I woke in a crouch and a crash on the floor next to my bed, a small shelf of books and objects shaking. For a moment, I was utterly confused, unsure of where or who I was, and even called these questions out to the room. I looked back, at the bed and into my mind, and saw that I had physically hauled myself out of bed and dream. Some time after awakening, I realized that the hidden people were every bit as much me as anyone else in my dreamscape. The city is my self, as it was and as it is. An obvious metaphor, but one I needed to recognize consciously.
I have fallen down, rebuilt and fallen, so many times that I stopped paying attention, and eventually gave in to living in darkness. A life outside of that darkness was so incomprehensible to me. But I did come out. It is as though I kept some piece of myself apart, safe, whole, and another piece of me wasn’t. Over the last week, as I have pondered this part of me, my hidden self, my wounded self, I wanted to give this part of myself dignity, so I thought I might address this self with a nickname from the time when I was her. But everything that came to mind didn’t fit. I realized then that these sorts of names belong to the waking self, and any attempt to give her a name would be yet another imposition, telling her that I don’t know how to listen, that she cannot be heard. After some thought then, I have decided thus: I am Theresa. I am I. She is Me. Like the woman who the Doctor (Capaldi) saves, who then cannot die. After ages wearing many names, she discards them all and calls herself simply Me. I am me, myself.
I speak in words, I analyze and lock down meanings. I see things in terms of causality and effect in a busy, moving, evolving world. Categories, judgements, decisions, time.
Me doesn’t think like that. Me thinks in feelings and images, in songs and phrases of poetry, in reference, on a grand scale. Me is now. Me is wounded, and me cannot put aside that woundedness, for Me is the wounded part that is set aside. I am trying to listen to Me. As I struggle to hear her, I am beginning more and more to see how differently we communicate. It isn’t direct, and I cannot assume control of this dialogue. I have to listen to Me, in quiet and in patience.
Last week I stumbled onto an emotional landmine which took me in terrible immediacy back to when I was Me, when trust was a vague concept and rarely an experienced reality, for almost no one around me could be trusted. I/Me was surrounded by betrayal, hate, vile words, wounding hands. I/Me was deprived, I thought, of agency; no fight was possible, because victory was unattainable. I was alone, with no one to defend me, and my whole world slowly collapsed around me until there was nothing but me and the abyss. I looked into the abyss. The abyss looked at me. It called me, and I longed to answer that call. It promised aid. It promised me room to breathe. I do badly needed room to breathe. Only the voice of God himself kept me from saying yes to being lost forever. His voice held me at the very edge of the precipice for a long time, until I learned how to look back, to crawl back, to stand, and then to walk. But even then, it was sometime before I actively walked forward, into light, instead of away from the dark. When I did, Me didn’t know how to follow, and Me has been trembling there for more than twenty years.
I hit a personal land mine: suddenly Me had a voice. Me screamed, demanding to be heard, raging to be acknowledged instead of silenced. Screamed and screamed and screamed. I begged Me to stop. Please, Me, please, I’m working on this. I hear you. I’m trying. But I cannot do anything to help while under the onslaught of so much terror. Me, I need room to breathe. I need to breathe! Me kept screaming, because I have had more than two decades to breath, and Me has not. Me cannot walk away from the terror like I can. I tried to listen. I tried to understand. I remember the hall in the dream, with so many of the hidden trying to acknowledge that one space with more room and more light, bravely entering into that dim hall as though it were a grand cathedral, and suddenly I saw the metaphor: there are so many of them. There are so many moments of Me. There is so much.
A friend said recently that trauma never goes away. It can be rocked and cradled to sleep, nourished upon healthy broth, sutured, and given so much time, so much love and grace, so much to aid healing and growth. And these work! They do, the fruits of these efforts are so real. It is the only reason I could walk into that hall and attempt to face the hidden. I had to undergo so much healing before I could learn how to converse with Me.
I reached out, made an appointment, and today was my first visit with my therapist, Chris. Let’s just jump right past any obvious symbolism there. Together, question and answer, we sought to draw an outline of I and Me and the struggle I face. We made no efforts to progress. That will come next time, later, over the course of session upon session.
I found upon leaving that I am exhausted. Over the last week, the voice of Me has quieted and slid into the background. I knew this would happen, and this is why I hastened to get an appointment right away, before she became so silent that I wouldn’t know how to begin. Today I realized that I can almost physically feel the presence of Me. I can hear a sort of metaphysical “breathing”. I hear humming, frustration, relief, anger, and above that, what surprises is that I can hear Me listening. I am trying to hear and understand her, and in return she is being more patient, giving space to my efforts.
I think this is a good start. I hope and pray that this is so.