This week I had a nightmare that was triggered by some work we’re doing in therapy regarding power: What it is, who in my life has it, and how it’s exercised.
When I was growing up, I saw only two kinds of people: Victimizer and victim. The victimizer had all the power; the victim had none. “Power” was defined as the ability to come and go as one pleased, to do as one pleased, and to experience no consequences for any deed. Ultimate freedom.
I once dated a man who, when he broke up with me, said, “Last night I was at a club and this girl was coming on to me. And I realized I couldn’t sleep with her because I was dating you!” He said this as if it were the most preposterous thing he’d ever heard. It was a real insight to his character. Danny wanted to live a life without consequences; therefore, he lived a life of no consequence. “Power” had been redefined for me. Those who came and went without being touched by the lives of others were the ones who suffered. “Freedom” = loneliness, detachment, and a lost place in the world. The inability to develop fully as a human being.
I’m very familiar with Starhawk’s concepts of “power-from-within” and “power-with,” which seem much more salient to me than “power-over.” Yet I’m still haunted by my childhood experiences of dominance and submission. This week’s dream shows that I still struggle with it, as well as my experiences of abandonment and minimizing of my emotions.
Had a really terrible dream this morn that I was in “my house” with a lot of my family and some of my friends and a Bad Guy came. I saw him thru the back window (yesterday I was at work and was startled to hear the back gate open and watch this guy walk in as bold as you please—turned out to be the meter reader). He was huge, like Hulk Hogan huge. I knew there was no way to stop him. He had a gun, though it was an ungainly, boxy thing made of thick plastic. He also had a small penknife. But I made everyone drop their weapons (did we have guns or knives? I can’t recall) and offer no resistance as he went thru the house. My brother-in-law was there, and a sister was in one of the rooms, and maybe two of my brothers or at least men who stood in for them. But there was the feeling of a lot of people in the house.
I went with the guy as he went thru the house to make sure no one resisted, lest they be shot. He seemed to be taking inventory—there was this smug sense that he had total power to come and go as he pleased, and to take what he pleased. I just kept watching him and watching him. Finally we were back by the back door of this house and he was distracted and I grabbed his gun. He tried to snatch it back but I already had it and I shot him. My aim was bad (I’ve never shot a gun) , so it hit him in his right shoulder. I tried to figure out how to cock the gun while he stood there, almost disbelieving that I would think that I could stop him. I wasn’t panicked or anything—I was super-focused like I get in emergencies. This time I shot him squarely in the chest—but the “bullets” were like Nerf balls. There was the shock of impact but no actual damage. But it did seem to indicate some kind of power, as in I had power over him and could now somehow stop him.
He seemed sort of disgusted with the inconvenience of the situation. So he came over and stabbed me in the throat, right where my voicebox is. I totally deflated and felt real fear for the first time. I can’t remember if I gave the gun back—no, I kept it, but its power was gone. He walked out. I watched him go thru the mudroom area, then down the back stairs and outside. And he seemed a little annoyed by the whole situation but it was clear he would be back and would do whatever he wanted.
I then started crying and was vulnerable—the need to be focused had passed. The people there told me to ring 911. I’d dropped my cell phone (one of my “weapons”/power items) when he’d come in, so I took my sister’s land line phone.
Cut to some highway where I’m walking along with this ungainly phone pressed to one ear, desperately trying to get reception and hear over all the noise, with the other hand pressed tightly over my voicebox to stop all the bleeding. I rang 911 and got cut off. Rang them back and the dispatcher was all bored and wouldn’t do anything. I kept begging and begging for help, both that the police find the guy before he left my neighborhood and that they come and help me, but she just kept saying it wasn’t an emergency and they weren’t going to come. Shades of the toboganning accident.
Then I rang J. It was the only number I could remember and I had to dial it 2 or 3 times to get it right because my fingers were so slippery with blood. Oh wait—before that—2 guys—they were also Bad Men and they knew what their compatriot had done. They met me on the path and were sort of leering at me, totally holding their power over me. I had to think fast and be very lucky to get out of there unscathed. But nothing was going to really faze them because they had all the power.
So then I rang J and by then I was really small and scared and vulnerable and I just asked him to come and pick me up and take me to the hospital. I kept walking and walking towards town as we talked. At first he pretended like he couldn’t understand what I was saying, then he tried to steamroll my experience and say it was nothing to be worried about, and then he finally admitted he didn’t want to get involved. By this point I was really just flat-out begging—I was so scared and tired and dirty and just desperately needed a clean, safe space where people would tend to my needs. I was worried about losing my voice forever, and it was my singing voice, not my talking voice. But he refused. We hung up and then I was “downtown” so I knew I was somewhat close to home but somehow it was still a ways away.
And now there were all these people between me and it, all curious and loud and self-involved. They kept asking me what had happened and it briefly made an interesting story for them but then they would start talking and laughing amongst themselves and merrily move along. I was so bereft. Just no help to be found. I felt so young and vulnerable and tired, that I was doing all the right things but no one was responding the way they were supposed to.
It was at that point that my conscious mind intruded and said, “C’mon, you don’t have to dream this,” and I woke myself up. I tried to cry a little but couldn’t, so I just whimpered for a while. Talk about needing a hug! I finally fell back into very uneasy sleep but kept replaying the dream until finally the alarm went off. I know I need to get up and get the Sun into my veins but I also just want to curl up and mourn.
When I was growing up, aside from the nightmares of nuclear holocaust, my worst dreams were of pursuit—a monster or Bad Man was coming after me and I had to try to get away. I often flew by flapping my arms strenuously (though once I was in a precarious ejection seat). I knew I couldn’t get away—no matter how fast or clever or resourceful I was, the Bad Man would get me. I was alone in the universe and even Nature was impassive or turned against me.
In my twenties more people started showing up in my dreams, usually family, and we were all victims together. Often I was tasked with protecting them—they were usually completely useless. Into my thirties the Bad Man morphed into other forces, such as tornadoes or tsunamis. Now, in my forties, the Bad Man has returned, but I am surrounded by many more people. It’s still usually my family, but there are often friends thrown in. They are getting more useful in the fight. This dream was the first I’ve had where they actually participated and made suggestions, such as telling me to take my sister’s phone. I hope this indicates that I feel more woven into the world. It’s my first dream example of power-with.
In this dream, the conflict over the gun and the actions of the Bad Man clearly show a struggle over power. The power I was searching for was that of freedom of my tribe to live peaceably. It was a power of defense and assertion. His power was of the old kind—that ability to walk in, devastate the environment, and then walk away. No questions asked. The tyrant.
The struggle over the gun was clearly a literal power struggle—I knew that even in the dream. And when he flicked that knife across my throat, he cut off my access to my power: The access to my singing voice. My song is intertwined with my soul, twisted together like strands of DNA, pulsing up from the great green Earth around my spinal chord and up through the crown of my head.
The rest of the dream is like some version of Demeter’s travails as she wanders the Earth seeking help in finding her daughter—finding her way home. My encounter with the two additional Bad Men made it clear that I was going to be a victim in a world populated by strongmen willing to exercise their power-over. The one bright spot is that I was able to get away by the power of my wits. But still, as in the dreams when I was young, I knew some Bad Man would eventually catch up to me and I would, at some point, fall.
Unsuccessfully seeking help from apathetic people has been a common theme in my dreams for about the last 10 years. I often ring 911 in my dreams and can’t get through or find that the dispatcher or police don’t think my problem is worth responding to. Usually it’s in those horrible dreams where hordes of maddened people are trying to break down my flimsy front door and I am in absolute terror.
I thought it was amusing that, aside from 911, the only number I could think of was J’s. That’s because I can’t remember my parents’ phone number when I’m awake, much less when I’m asleep! Aside from my parents, J and A are my default emergency contact number. So I was still trying to go thru “official” channels.
After both official channels failed, I reached out to random people in the hopes of getting help based on our common humanity. But once again this venture failed.
And all the while my blood drained from my voice, my song, my ability to be heard and express my song of Gaia. My power-from-within diminishing like a light dimming.
Waking up is one of my least favorite experiences. The emptiness of my tiny bed stretches out like a Russian steppe. It echoes the emptiness inside. The loneliness is like a sea with no end, and I am in a tiny coracle, at any moment to be dashed to my doom. It’s the worst after a nightmare, when I crave the very human need to be held and told everything’s all right.
I thought it was interesting that, upon waking, I didn’t want to cry in terror or sadness but that I wanted to mourn. I wanted to sink into this sea of grief and let it flow through every part of my being. Grieving is something I’m very afraid of. I fear that if I start I will never stop. It is one of my fears that, when my parents die, I will not be able to grieve properly and I will become even more of an emotional cripple.
The brightest spot in this grim dream experience is my conscious mind’s compassionate ending of the dream. “C’mon,” it said. Just gently leading me by the hand away from the nightmare. Like Anubis leading the newly deceased through the Land of the Dead. At least some part of me is an adult, capable of administering to my fundamental needs. I long for the day when I am fully capable. I long for the day when it’s more than I—when there’s at least one other person willing to hold my hand or embrace me in comfort and love.