Ask Me: What About Nightmares? Part 12: How Dreams Intervene in Direct Ways

Sometimes dreams offer us choices. Sometimes dreams offer different perspectives. Sometimes dreams show us what we cannot or do not see.

With dreams that frighten us, dreams that work with us around what has frightened or is currently frightening to us, dreams that work with being with and healing trauma in surprising ways, sometimes dreams do more than show or tell. They intervene directly.

Part of the difficulty of working with trauma can stem from that fact that there was no intervention. No one came to either stop what was happening or to help in the aftermath. No one asked if we were okay. No one said “This is not right!” and stood up for us in moments when we did not have the power to do so ourselves. We were/are left with the terrible and then we are left with a narrative that we are alone and “always will be”.

It is part of what makes us love movies and shows where, in the story, a person is alone but then is not because someone came to intervene. There are so many shows/books/movies like this – I am thinking of a recent show called The Last of Us about a man helping a girl during a zombie like event. We also just watched His Dark Materials which is, again, about a girl and all the help that comes to her in the forms of good witches, an armored bear and friends.

We love these shows because they speak to many people’s experiences and our wish that someone had intervened in key moments in our lives.

Dreams do this for us. A dream may have us in a familiar scary place from our past or a place that is a metaphor for a scary time in our past, but it will change the narrative by not leaving us alone. By intervening.

Angel, Giuseppe San Martino, Italy [Naples], 18th Century

Before I even started working with dreams, including my own, before I even understood I had “trauma” that needing healing, I had a dream that still lives very deeply in me. 

In the dream, a woman begins by teaching me to fly, to find my wings. But I become scared, so scared and, in my fear, I fall into an endlessly tall building that has no windows and no doors. There is no way out of this building. For most of the dream, I wander the building becoming more and more lost, more and more hopeless, more and more scared of the other captives who all seem like zombies to me. I become more and more shut down. I completely forget I can fly.

Until a man comes and hands me paper and pen. He says, “Write. Write your stories, write what is in you. Do not stop.” He helps me find a safe place in the terrible prison, he sits with me as I begin to write. He believes me. He holds space for me. As I write and as I feel supported by this man, I become less frightened. As I become less frightened, less full of hopelessness and aloneness, I begin to remember. I do not write just about the fear but what happened before the fear, what happened when I was flying. The dream ends when I fully remember and fly out of the prison to meet the woman who had taught me to fly and who is still there, waiting for me.

Oh, I still love this dream. 

For there are two actual interventions – the first being the divine feminine who comes to teach me, remind me, that I can take flight. She comes in the beginning and she is there in the end when I am released from the prison. She is there to be with me in the discovery of what it means for me to take flight.

The other intervention arrives in the man who comes to me in the deepest place of despair. Just as in the dream I discussed last week about being imprisoned, here I am again imprisoned but in a place where logic does not apply. The only way out is to remember my magic and my ability to fly.

How does this relate to my waking life? I grew up in a family where most people had forgotten their magic and had, actively, worked to clip the wings of those who wanted to find theirs. Growing up in my birth family and extended family felt just like the dream – everyone a little dead, lost in their fears, with no way out. In that world, I did try to retreat into corners, find places to hide. In that despair, I could not find a way out.

In my fear, I forgot the story of who I am and who I could be. I forgot I could soar. 

The man in the dream did what no one in my outer life had done – he came and said, remember your stories. He came and said, tell your stories at least to yourself so you can remember. 

The dream created a place where, instead of being alone, I was met in my aloneness and helped. With the man helping in my fear and despair and the woman helping me to find my own wings. Which I also did not have in my waking life as a girl. 

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When a dream intervenes in this way, it is to offer what we did not have because we do need help. We do need someone to come take us by the hand and stand with us, for us. To show us the way and to step in and help us find that way. 

The archetypes in our dreams make that space for us. In ways, of course, that are so uniquely created for us. The man, the animus, came to show me that I had the power if I could simply remember. And to remember, I needed to write my stories. I had no paper, no pen. He handed me what I needed. He created the safe space for me to plummet into my own stories through the writing of them. 

Both the man and the woman in this dream help me in ways that were so foreign and strange to me at the time. That were so freeing, too. 

Because when an archetype intervenes in a dream situation that mirrors something in our outer life, they are not just coming to help with something in the past. They come to intervene and help break patterns that we created to survive but that become like prisons. Patterns we are usually still living in our waking lives.

The man was not just holding space for me, not just wanting me to remember. He was giving instruction, direct instruction, on how to do this. He was showing me how to remember by writing and by creating a safe space as I did so. He was saying, in a not-subtle way, “Write! Write and you will remember who you are!”

Like these archetypes in my dream, archetypes who intervene come to show us that we have the love and support to break out of old patterns and old ways of surviving so that we can find our wings. They come to show us how and to create space for us. They come to break the narrative that we are alone. We are not alone. They come to be with us and encourage us as we find our wings and find we can fly, find we can soar. And then, they fly with us.