Midlife Dreams

Over the last few months, I’ve started to sleep more consistently than I have in years. I’m not sure whether this is because of the changes I’ve made professionally and personally, because I’m writing again, or — most likely — because my hormones are shifting again. But I’ll take it, because sleeping well is pretty amazing.

If you take my dreams as a whole over my adult life, most of them have been anxiety dreams. When I was in therapy for PTSD and a few other things, a lot of them were focused on feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness in that context. Right after Emily died, I had constant where’s-the-baby dreams, dreams that I felt at the time came right from the soul of primate evolution, telling the mommy monkey not to drop the baby, But my baby had dropped, dropped from birth to NICU to grave. And then on the heels of that, another pregnancy, and then all the ways that sleep is disrupted when you are raising young children. And finally, failure dreams; my subconscious’s policing of my fitness as a worker, mother, partner, and human being.

I think there’s a reason so many mythologies have the gods coming to us in dreams.

But last night, I had a powerful dream of reconciliation. I dreamt I was in Sackville, NB, where I went to school at Mt. Allison University. The Sackville of my dreams only lightly maps to the real Sackville; I’ve had many, many dreams of failure and getting lost and being late and being somehow inadequate there in my dream-town. But the topology of my dream Sackville includes the ocean, and areas of the town that are, frankly, more majestic than what’s there, although it certainly has its corners. It’s also been remarkably consistent over the years, with a wharfside market and two “downtowns” and a second university campus near an exit to the Trans-Canada Highway.

Sackville has a history that includes shipbuilding, but Sackville’s location was on a meander of the Tantramar river, and, as Wikipedia so nicely supplies, “The wharf and the end of Landing Road was on a meander of the Tantramar River, but in the 1920s the meander was cut off due to erosion and silting, leaving the site without access to the sea.” I know this is flighty new-age thinking, but I feel like when I was there, you could feel that under the ground, the inescapable reality of change and loss, when nature literally changes course. And this story has stuck with me as it has some analogy in my experience there.

But last night, in my dream, Carl and I were visiting Sackville as ambassadors of a kind of reconciliation movement around medical error at the Sackville hospital. My dream didn’t provide any reason for this but the feeling was that it related to losing Emily. In the dream, I was constantly astonished at the beauty — oceanside beauty — of Sackville, like all the times I’d visited it in my anxiety dreams, I’d missed that it actually is a very nice place. We were meeting with families who had lost people at that hospital in the late 80s and giving them information and compensation, and in general, being real with them. I was making a lot of tea, in the dream, despite being in a kind of gastropub.

But then the dream shifted to me going over an uncomfortable — okay, traumatic — episode from my time there, although again it was all blown up, dream-style. Somehow, all the key people from that time in my life were present, along with other classmates, and they all agreed with me that this incident had occurred. Except for one person who packed up and left the pub. And they were also there to reconcile with me. And…I felt good about it. Not changed or anything new, not like an ABC Afterschool Special. But glad to be having the conversation, and pleasantly surprised that we all agreed on what had happened.

Throughout the dream, my own feeling inside was a little braced, like I was ready to handle whatever the trip threw at me…but I would need to handle something. But instead, what I kept coming up against was that things were better than I thought they would be.

If this is the kind of dreams that hormones produce as I get closer — really really close now! — to my 50s, bring it on. Maybe this is why so many crones laugh so much. And maybe after the river shifts and you can’t build ships any more, well, you build your university.

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