Last week, we explored how the heart of all thresholds is the immediacy of choice.
In waking life and in our dreaming life, we are offered doors, choices, thresholds in many different ways. But the most important part is our choice around them.
I was thinking about my kid’s college graduation a few weeks back and what an important threshold it has been for them and for us as a family. Not just the fact of their accomplishments but also the weekend of the actual ceremony.
I loved how Sam moved through the weekend – celebrating in their own way. Loved how they even did the ceremony in their own way, a way that worked for them.
It made me think of my own graduation from my undergrad years. For me, I made a different choice about how to mark my graduation – which was to not “walk”, to not even attend commencement. When my name was called during the ceremony, I was nowhere near the place.
It was a choice for me and, honestly, not a great one. I did not mark the threshold, did not allow anyone – including myself – the opportunity to celebrate, to listen to too long speeches, to cheer at the end, to take pictures in my robes. I just ignored it.
Which is something I had learned as a way to survive, as a way to avoid being hurt.
Our ways of learning how to survive, our ways of dealing with trauma often can blind us to what we need around a threshold moment or time or blind us to even being at a threshold.
Which is why our dreams want to show us not just the thresholds of our lives – large and small – but also to show us our choices around them.
Trauma and our learned ways of survival from trauma do deeply affect the way we meet and make choices with threshold moments in our lives. Especially if we have trauma around threshold moments.
Which is, quite frankly, often the case.
Here is one of the reasons I did not attend my own college graduation. When I graduated, my parents were many years divorced but were still actively angry with each other – and using us kids as a way to have their battles. For my graduation, my mother told me she would not come if my father was invited and would, in fact, be devastated if I did invite him. Threatened to stop speaking to me. My father told me he would not come if my mother was going to make a scene and that I would have to do certain things to make it comfortable for him before he would even consider coming.
It went back and forth and it became terribly clear to me that commencement was just another battleground for them. Just another excuse to be in a fight. It was not about my graduation at all.
It was terribly clear that it was repeating the same pattern that had been repeated for all the years of my childhood. That I would be emotionally punished no matter what I tried to do.
So, I choose not to go, not to have any celebration.
Threshold moments often stir up unsettled feelings, unsafe situations that have gone dormant, places for things to implode or explode.
When I was a domestic violence counselor, we always dreaded threshold days – holidays especially – because it was a time that tensions flared and people with rage often raged. Christmas, Passover, New Year’s Eve. And personal thresholds like birthdays and graduations, births and funerals, illnesses.
The hotline would ring and ring and the shelter would fill.
Traumatic events often accompany thresholds because when we approach a threshold, the natural impulse is to have a pause to look back and to look forward. It is a time to take a breath and take a long view.
When we do this, this includes all of the difficulties, all of the hurt, all of the trauma as well. When we do this and we are still in unsafe situations, the unsafe situations become more unsafe.
When we find we are no longer in our traumatic situations – for example, when we grow up and leave childhood homes where we were not safe – we may still approach thresholds with dread and fear. We may still approach thresholds with the same survival tactics we developed when we were kids.
For me, the best way to avoid anything bad happening around my important moments was to avoid doing anything around my important moments. I often did not tell my parents about my soccer games, about events at school, about accomplishments, about awards. It was just easier.
When I graduated from my undergraduate years, I was 22 years old and had done no healing work. So, I made a trauma informed choice, feeling it was the only choice I could make.
I did not know at 22 that I could have done other things. Like not invited either parent and had my own celebration. Like invited both and not worry about what they did or did not do.
There were many options but I could not see them. I only saw one possibility. Which is what trauma survival tells us – there is only one way to survive and that is the way we survived.
Dreams hold the space for threshold moments so that they can show us what and when they are and also so we can learn to have different experiences around them.
We can learn there are other ways to be besides in survival mode, when we are safe. That there are many choices to consider even when we are not entirely safe. That there are ways to be with all that may arise in these moments – not just how to be with situations, but also with our feelings of grief, loss, sadness. And even how to be with our joy and excitement.
Our dreams can help us not just with finding the thresholds in our lives, but also by showing us more options, showing us more possibilities, giving us hope as we look back and forward.
When I graduated from my Master’s Program, I had done many years of my own healing work and I knew it was important for me to mark graduation for myself.
I did invite both my parents [only one came and was sullen the entire time because I did not cater to her wishes] and I also invited dear friends who came and celebrated with me.
I knew I had many choices in how to be with such a big moment and I leaned into those choices in new ways. It was a great day and a great weekend for me. I did not just “survive” – I allowed myself to take the big breath and the long look back and forward.