Navigating the Flood

My dream self is defenseless.

I’m the sturdy chocolate exterior* (vulnerable to smashing or melting—but very skilled at pretending otherwise), and she’s my soft, gooey interior. She has no protection from the hard things. No carefully crafted delusions, no heart-protecting pretendings. She’s in danger every single slumbering second, from the moment sleep takes me, to the moment I claw my way back to wakefulness again.

She’s afraid of everything my rational self has chosen not to be afraid of.

Bits of dream-born carnage cling to my thoughts throughout the day—broken pieces of her that I try to scrub off my skin when no one’s looking. Because worse than being afraid all the time is LOOKING afraid all the time. My awake self is really good at trading fear for the pleasant monotony of the daily grind.

I don’t mind doing the dishes so much the day after a vivid nightmare.

Last night was another in a long series of dreams. I haven’t written a sequel in real life yet, so my brain writes them while I sleep. Downtown Vancouver flooded, but no one really noticed. Silver-grey waves caught the light filtering between the tall buildings and boomeranged it back at the sky, but everyone walked along the sidewalks as if the ocean weren’t trying to eat their kneecaps. They moved as quickly and unconcernedly as they would through air.

The water was there just for me.

Not exactly a scene out of a horror movie, but my dream self LOST it. Because she knew something she hadn’t been told. Something no one had said or even implied. She deep down KNEW that underneath the water he was trapped, and if she could only take hold of the sea and peel it away in careful strips, she’d be able to find him, save him. But this wasn’t a superpowers kind of dream, so she stood on the shore, helpless, feeling Dad die all over again.

My dad dies a lot in my dreams, and I’m not sure why. I mean, nightmares are a natural side effect of grief, but the way I lose him in my dreams is always a variation on a theme. Something is taking him away but I’m too weak to stop it from happening. Too weak to lift the waves. Too weak to see through the dark and find him. Too weak to move at all.

And as frustrating as that is, it’s comforting too. It feels like the dream is telling me I didn’t stand a chance. That I couldn’t have saved him without superpowers. That as the human, flawed, limited creature that I am, there was nothing I could have done.

Rationally I know that. Of course I know that. But maybe my dream self still needs convincing. After all, it keeps on happening. We keep losing people. First my sweet step-mother-in-law, then Dad, then my mother-in-law and father-in-law. Four parents lost within the space of a year. Is it any wonder if my dream self got it into her head that she—we—are the common thread here?

Grief is messed up stuff. I want to say the nightmares aren’t helping, but maybe they are. Maybe I need to make sense of all this from the inside out. Maybe nightmares are a natural side effect. Maybe they’re an important one.

But definitely, putting things in words help. Words are the closest thing I have to a real life superpower. Words are view-changers, sense-makers, and sometimes peace-bringers. Words help me see that being vulnerable and being strong don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Words help me not be scared to go to sleep at night.

*I use chocolate metaphors whenever I start losing weight. Three pounds and seven metaphors so far. I. Am. Awesome.


  1. I rarely dream, but I sometimes get in patterns of cyclical thoughts I can't control, especially before sleep. Like a bad daydream I can't stop, or something I heard in the day that upset me is just being played on loop. Sometimes it loops from different perspectives or with slight variations, like a "you should've said X" type of thing.

    Sometimes, sleep never comes, so I just start the next day early and hope that night will go better.

    Meanwhile, Leslie often has nightmares for days in a row. She's read that dreams can help you prepare for something. In a simple example, if you snowboarded all day, you might snowboard in your dreams. Some studies suggested these particular dreams can count as practice, ad your muscles relive the moments, and the dream can actually improve what you learned.

    There are many types of dreams; sometimes viewing my cyclical thoughts as my brain preparing me is comfort enough. When that doesn't work, there's sleeping aids.

  2. *Big Sigh* By now you may think I'm stalking you. Actually, I've found some free time and am reading through some blogs (yours included) that have been on my "want to do" list. When i get to do this I like to comment so as an author you kbow youve been read. Usually I dont say much, but this blog captures me. I read it about an hour ago and can't get it off my mind. Grief puzzles me. The saying is true, time is the ultimate healer. Still grief returns, in smaller doses but its never totally gone. I guess my point in posting a comment was just to say-I hear you and know the feeling. Thanks for being brave enough to share.