This week I had one of those ultra vivid, soul penetrating dreams. Not the at-work-but-forgot-my-clothes, can’t-get-locker-open, new-car-winning, teeth-falling-out kind of dream. No, this is the kind of dream that wiggles its way into my mind over and over again at strange times throughout the week. Flashes of it showing up in ways that feel intrusive and out of context.
In the dream, I’m with a good friend and he keeps saying, “I don’t want to hurt you. You can be close to me and be safe. I care about you”. I’m just standing there trembling, terrified, immobile. He’s looking right at me, but tenderly. I can sense the depth of his sincerity, but I am dizzy with dread.
Then, I notice there is a huge bubble around me. A thick, stretchy, gray, force field encompassing me and all the feelings and images of my past. It’s a huge, inescapable thought-bubble.
Slowly rolling around me in the gray ooze are depictions of the abuse from when I was young. Like thousands of YouTube videos that loop again and again with no pause button to be found. I can see the objects and faces and textures as they churn around me. The sights, scents, sensations, and sentiments of the past are present. …everything frozen hearts are made of.
Through the panic and pictures, I can see my friend still standing there. He wants to help. He wants me to feel safe, but he cannot see what I see, feel what I feel within the gray bubble that envelops me.
He can’t see that when he thoughtfully says, “I’m not going to hurt you” a retro video of a perpetrator saying those exact words comes into full view. He can’t see that when he innocently smiles that affectionate smile, it dials up the memory of an abuser who used the same smile as he disrobed in my room. I can’t seem to see my friend without the messages of the past between us.
The dream is a wildly accurate description of how adults who were abused as children often see the world. We see friend as foe and pleasure as pain, because the layers through which we view life are severely tarnished by shame and wounds of betrayal.
I do understand not every adult who was abused as a child sees life this way. It is, however, the case for many. And, for these individuals, they are left feeling torn. Torn between a deep desire to be seen, known, pursued, and loved, and feelings of bottomless fear, shame, anger, and pain.
The feelings and photos in the gray bubble feel irreconcilable with the longing to share connection.
In the dream, he asks me to come closer. He asks me to trust him. With a look of compassion he says, “I know you’ve been afraid for so long, but it’s safe now”. The awareness of emotional exposure felt like more than I could bear. He says, “My friendship is safe for you rather you embrace it or not”.
In an instant, I’m extricated from the force field of gray trauma and am being embraced by my friend. In the same instant, the fear, pain, and shame that held me for so many years released me. It was still there, but behind me. No longer haunting my every thought.
I woke from the dream with a most profound and complete sense of peace.
Friendships help clear our paths. Paths that were made dangerous long before that friend arrived on the scene. Friends can walk beside, share our burdens, and penetrate the gray bubble of shame and fear. No small feat.
I am not always that friend to others, but I want to be.
I cannot fully understand the pain of what swirls around others I meet; what muck they see life through. When someone’s life seems off center and I can’t make sense of choices and patterns, I want to remember I may not fully know what’s in their bubble.
I desire to reach out with compassion when they are ready to take a hand as they walk out of the gray. It’s what saved my life. Friends who pursued, challenged, encouraged, believed. Friends who still do.
P.S. To all of my friends, you fighters of gray bubbles, who have embraced what I once believed to be unembraceable…. Thank You!