Wolves and witches haunted my dreams as a child. Not just fierce creatures, but brutal and violent. And all in very vivid, real color. Coming from a family that truly was centered in love and peaceful things (my parents had been hippies, for goodness' sake), I'm not sure how the images could even be inside of me. But they were, and sleep was rough, and nighttime was faced with stomachaches and tears. I had a prayer that I repeated over and over inside my head, like a mantra: "Please, dear Lord, PLEASE give me good dreams and not bad dreams. Thank you. Amen." I was probably around four when I came up with that. It never seemed to work, but I clung to it. Maybe, with those words, I was being shielded from something even worse.
My earliest memory took place when I was a little over two years old. I remember standing on the couch and looking through the living room window. It was dark, and my mom was pointing out the stars and moon and telling me what lovely things were a part of the night. I was cozy in that moment, in that darkness with my mother, but it wasn't enough. The dark was not a safe place for me, not in my head.
During the daylight, wolves and witches were but a fleeting memory. Instead, it was the frantic wail of a firetruck's siren that would bring me to tears. Fear wasn't the whole factor in this case; the sirens made my insides so sad, my feelings would just leak over. My mom made me a picture chart, hand-drawn, with a firetruck and a dark sky, and every time I heard a siren without falling to pieces, I got a star sticker to press against the rich velvety blue color. It was lovely. But it didn't work, either. I still tear up at the sound. And though it was fun to be in charge of the stars coming out, nighttime did not become easier.
By the time I hit high school, the dreams involved guns, knives, all sorts of violent attacks on me or those around me ... and still the wolves and witches. One night, my dream was particularly gruesome and disturbing, but I felt a switch in my brain. The images panned away from the scene and became a control room with a big screen. On the screen: my prior dream. In front of the screen: two men and a woman in high-backed swivel chairs. The woman turned to her companions and said, with a fierceness in her voice, "These have got to stop." And they did. From that point on, I manned the material of my dreams. If something felt like it was becoming more than I wanted, I could switch it to a movie screen, and leave it behind me.
When I grew up, got married, and had kids, I began to have what I think of as "stress dreams." Dreams where I'm swimming above huge amounts of dark water, unable to see the bottom, knowing something is down there waiting for me. Or where I'm driving and need to brake, but no matter how hard I press the pedal, nothing happens. Or where one of my children is running recklessly towards a road, and no matter how much I holler for them to stop, to turn around, to come back, they keep running to their inevitable fate. Dreams that are not the horrors of my younger years, but aren't exactly comfortable to experience. I've always assumed these types of dreams have to do with my personality and how I like to have control over my life. Sometimes, life just happens in its own way, regardless of what you're trying to plan.
Within the past year, there has been a change. Now, when I'm swimming in deep water or walking over an open precipice, I am strong; I can feel it in my limbs, coursing throughout my body. I am not fearful. I do not panic. In fact, in my dreams, I have begun to save people. I can catch my children, I can stop my car from careening over the edge of a cliff. Nothing can hold me back against my will. And I carry that feeling with me throughout the daylight hours.
I know why this change has happened: I am physically stronger today than I was a year ago.
I can run faster and farther. I can lift weights. I can flip tractor tires, do strict pull-ups, and hold one-legged planks balanced on a Bosu ball. Instead of a three-person crew inside my head showing me how to control my nighttime images, I have an external crew-of-one, my trainer at the YMCA, building my strength. With this strength comes confidence and a different capacity of control. One that is aimed at myself and my choices, rather than trying to direct everything that goes on around me. Exercising and running are my outlets, my "building-on-me" times, allowing my brain to relax and rejuvenate. Because I walk stronger during the day, my nights are filled with a security I've never been able to experience before. I can curl up at the end of the day, restful in the dark, peaceful in my head, and look forward to sweet dreams. Ones where witches bring healing and wolves sing in harmony with the moon; where the waters run clear, and loved ones never die.