Last night I had a nightmare… a teeny-eensy one, just a brief bump, an awareness of what was happening then straight back to sleep. It wasn’t always so. For many years I regularly had full-on, bolt upright, sweating, screaming, heart-pounding nightmares. They literally left me shaking for hours and frazzled for days.

In these nightmares, I die. More specifically, I have a task I have to do to stay alive—such as hanging onto a piece of rope—but no, I let go. I fail. The nightmare begins the moment I let go, the moment the situation cannot be retrieved. Sometimes it’s not just me. It’s my family as well.

James Bond

The means of death is usually not apparent. I wake up before the actual moment of death. Sometimes it is, like a wall closing in and crushing me, in a scene straight out of the underground lair of some 1970s James Bond villain.

The means of death is usually not apparent. I wake up before the actual moment of death. Sometimes it is, like a wall closing in and crushing me, in a scene straight out of the underground lair of some 1970s James Bond villain.

My most memorable nightmare happened in a motel in Auckland. It was of the crushing wall variety. I leaped out of bed and scrambled to escape from the unit. I woke up when I realised I was opening the glass sliding door of the unit. Being summer, I was sleeping naked. In the morning I found I’d knocked over a lamp, dislodged a bedside unit, grazed my knees and skinned my knuckles. In my mind’s eye I can still see the white brick wall of that motel to this day.

Rescue remedies

Over the years I tried a variety of therapies. Meditation, lavender-tinged sleeping balms, creative writing exercises. None of them worked. Then, somewhere along the line, I realised my nightmares were linked to my personal growth.

Some years ago I had a holiday in the Italian Lakes. I stayed at a hotel that my father discovered in 1949. We were regular visitors in the late 60s and early 70s. In the 1980s I had a profound experience of sexual healing there. When I returned many years later, I had a wham-bam nightmare almost every night.

Fear of death

I understood that my nightmares were actually obsolete pieces of psychological programming that I was releasing. I wasn’t dying; my outworn self was. In my dream state, this manifested as dreams about dying. But because we have an unconscious belief that death is a negative event, I experienced these dreams as nightmares.

This opened up an avenue of therapy that genuinely worked. By consciously recognising and releasing my fear of death I took the ‘negative spin’ off these dreams. Their intensity waned, as well as their frequency. I can’t remember the last nightmare I had previous to yesterday’s little thing that went bump in the night.

The moral of the story is clear: check your assumptions. If you’re dealing with any kind of emotional trauma or dysfunctional episodes, ask yourself what you might be assuming that impacts the situation. My nightmares taught me that I was not only growing but also healing.

Image: Harlequin4 by FearfulStills on Flickr.