Ask Me: What About Nightmares? Part 11: How Dreams Help Us With Scary Dreams

So, we have spent many articles talking about scary dreams, talking about why we have them, about different kinds of scary dreams and different kinds of fear – let’s talk about how to work with them and how our dreams bring what we need to work with nightmares. 

So, we have spent many articles talking about scary dreams, talking about why we have them, about different kinds of scary dreams and different kinds of fear – let’s talk about how to work with them and how our dreams bring what we need to work with nightmares.
Part of working with our fears in dreaming is that part of having fear is the fear of working with fear alone.
Let me say that another way – for so many of us, working with fear, experiencing trauma, often included the fact that we were alone in our experiences. Alone in our fear, alone with what happened, alone in the aftermath, alone in ongoing situations. This is so often the most difficult part of working with fear or trauma – the alone factor.
For some trauma work, the alone factor can be more traumatizing than an event. Because aloneness feels ongoing.
When we have this experience of feeling isolated, we may assume, even unconsciously, that we will be alone in all experiences around fear. Even the kinds of scary situations that are good, even the kinds of scary situations that are healing. So many of us often do not know how to ask for help and support and/or receive that help and support.
Our dreams address this by offering support, attention and intention. When offered a scary dream, with whatever kind of fear, there is always, somewhere, some kind of new support offered as well. Our dreams and the archetypes, our guides/teachers, who inhabit the dreams, will come in surprising ways and with a precision to what we need.
What does this mean?
It means we do not need to work with our fears, our past traumas, our new unknowns alone. Not like in the past.

Netsuke of Two Figures, 19th century Japan.

What does it mean to us to not be alone, even if we still feel isolated in our waking lives? Even if we still feel we stand alone in some places? Even if we are alone in acknowledging and speaking about trauma?
What does it mean to be seen? What does it mean to know what we know and be supported in our knowing and our own intuition?
Our dreams know what this all means. It means we can begin to trust ourselves and our experiences. More – our experiences of our experiences.
First scary dreams acknowledge us in all these ways.
And then they bring us to knowing we are not alone.
So, then, how? How do our dreams support us to not feel alone with our experiences when we have felt alone and isolated? When we have had to face into scary situations and their aftermaths alone, without support? When we were faced with situations where there was no way out, where our choices were taken from us.
By literally giving us support. By literally offering other possibilities. And they do this in many different ways.
One way is to offer help in the midst of a scary moment in a dream.
In one of my earliest dreams, I was a child in a terrible prison camp. No hope, everything grim and full of horrors. Until I found a place that was a candy store. A candy store!! It was a small closet and filled with all kinds of chocolates and sweets. The woman behind the small counter was curvy, warm and full of life. She began to tell me about all the candy in the store, in a very specific order, a wink in her voice. I realized she was showing me that there was a way out and, not just that, she was given me literal directions, through the sweet descriptions of sweets.
As I have spoken before, I have never been imprisoned or in any kind of camp, but I have had dreams of being imprisoned. I feel that when I was a girl and, in a recurring dream I have written about before, I threw my small body into an empty, open casket, there was a way I did become emotionally and spiritually imprisoned. Buried, feeling as if there was no way out.
And here was a spiritual, archetypal woman telling me that there was a way out. Sweetness.

In additions, an association I have with candy is that when I was a girl, around the same time I had the recurring dream about the casket, I would steal quarters from my father’s change pile on his dresser and sneak to the King Kwik [a 24-hour convenience store chain that used to be in Cincinnati where I grew up] near our house. Once there, I would carefully figure out how much candy I could buy with the few bits of coins I had. It was a little escape for me, something I did without anyone in my family knowing. I didn’t even go with friends. It was a way I created sweetness in my life just for me.
An escape. The divine feminine in my dream telling me to follow the sweetness, as I had done as a girl.
Here, the help from the archetypes, from the dream, comes in the actually scary moment in the actual scary setting. In this dream, there is a direct intervention into the situation. She is also offering me a promise that, even when I believe there is no way out, there is always a way out.
She is also offering a remembrance of a time when I may not have felt alone in my house as a child, for the woman in the dream was also a memory I had forgotten about a woman who took care of me when I was very little. Who, according to my mother, loved me very much. I imagine she loved me in a very uncomplicated way, unlike the love I received from my own mother. This woman only looked after me for about a year when I was very little, but she, too, was an escape for me. A promise of knowing uncomplicated love from a mother figure.
This dream offered not only the promise of a way out from a very difficult place I had been living but offered it through a love I had known and recognized as a small girl. The dream tapped into a memory I had lost to remind me – I did know that kind of uncomplicated love, even if it was only for a short time.
It was there in me to remember again. To know that the dreams still held that kind of uncomplicated love for me, too.
I remember waking from the dream in tears and, when I worked it with my dream practitioner, I wept again. I still feel her presence, these 26 years since the dream.
In our next article, we will explore more how the dreams can offer direct intervention in a dream.