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The Dream Is Always the Same

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I took the title from the movie Risky Business. If memory serves, it’s the first line of the movie. In it, Joel talks about his dream, which, if you boil it down, amounts to failing to achieve what he desires most.

I’ve had a similar recurring dream for years and years. In them, I’m being chased by something. The antagonists vary; sometimes they’re giants, sometimes creatures like Godzilla … you get the idea. In them, I am small and helpless and something much bigger than me wants to crush me into something resembling a gelatinous mess. It doesn’t take a shrink to figure out this is how I’ve seen myself for a long time.

If you look at my profile, you’ll see that I wrote an article last year about letting go. You see, I’m divorced after being married for a good part of my adult life. The divorce has nothing to do with the dream (I think). What it has been is a catalyst for change. It’s been a multi-part process. First, I had to work through all the stuff related to letting go of that old life and oh God, it was hard. I spent so much time sobbing on the floor, on the couch, in bed. In the car. Awful. I could burst into tears without actually thinking about how my life had been demolished. This went on for months. But then I got to this plateau where it was not good, but okay, and I turned my attention to building this new life.

I started doing new things. I went back to school, got the boat fixed, and threw out anything that had the taint of my old life on it then bought new. I’d lost weight so got new clothes. All this was uncomfortable because it was new, but it was tolerable. I still cried. Again, after some time passed, it was okay. Another plateau.

Later, I started seeing patterns of my own behavior that were old and unhealthy, ways of acting that contributed to unhappiness and—you guessed it—feeling helpless and small. I wanted to change and was ready for it, finally, after being on the planet for fifty years.
David Burns, M.D. wrote a book many years ago about cognitive or new mood therapy. Essentially, it is the practice of talking yourself out of feeling bad. Just as you can talk yourself into feeling bad, you can also talk yourself out of it. Taken one step further, you can talk yourself out of behavior you don’t like. I’ve been working on this, starting with the awareness of what I’m thinking about when I behave in ways I don’t like.

It isn’t an easy thing to do, though in the grand scheme of things, much easier than going through a divorce or other life-altering event. It takes courage and a bit of trust in yourself to say, “I don’t want to do that anymore,” especially when you’ve done it for so long and you’re in the middle of wanting to do it again.

As an example, I have a hard time giving up. On anything. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have a hard time of letting go of people who either aren’t good for me, or don’t even want to be with me. I’ve had the absurd notion that if I just keep trying, it’ll change. Well, it never does, and I just end up getting hurt and angry.

So I came to care for a guy, and he either didn’t feel the same, or didn’t want to do anything about it. I realized that I didn’t want to continue to try, knowing what the outcome was going to be. So I didn’t. I stopped trying. Instead of feeling bad about giving up (read: failing), I felt like I’d done myself a huge favor. I spared myself more hurt.

Last night, I had the recurring dream of helplessness. I was being chased by zombies (not giants!) and usually I wake up, my body lit up with adrenaline, breathing fast, terrified. This time an amazing thing happened. I, all by myself, stomped them into a gelatinous mess, and when I woke up, I felt okay. Good even.

Maybe I’ll have the dream again. Maybe not. Either way, I think it’s progress. I’ll take it.


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