This morning in a dream I excitedly arrived at the trail head for what would be a two-day hike. But as I started walking with my pack, I became anxious because while I paid the entry/permit fee at the gate, I didn’t receive any form of receipt, and hoped I wouldn’t need it. When I came to the first wood and rope bridge over a river, I was surprised that it was shaped in an odd zigzag pattern, and there were large gaps in the floor every three feet that I had to carefully step over lest I fall through. I made it over the first one, but felt very anxious and frustrated at the idea that I didn’t how to cross them correctly and would have to do so many more times. While walking through the forest a while later, I came across hikers on their way back from my destination. One of them told me that I wouldn’t reach the end for another ten-twelve hours, by which point it would be past 2am.
All my information said it was only a six hour hike in, and I wasn’t going to keep walking after nightfall, so this confused me. And then another person came along and told me that the overlook point wasn’t special and only of interest to biology students. Yet again this was contrary to what I knew, but I fell into exhaustion, depression, and hopelessness. I started to just find a place nearby to camp but ultimately wound up turning around and going home. The dream parallels what I’ve been going through in my waking life as of late.
To have people who don’t share my enthusiasm, interests, or any real knowledge of who I am define me is something I know very well. Just like those people on the trail who dissuaded and fed me cynical information, when I was growing up (and especially as a young adult) my mother was very fond of talking me out of things I wanted to do. Telling me I would never make it, that I wouldn’t like it, that what I wanted was pointless. My sister would go a step further, and constantly act as if every decision I made was so “extreme” and needed to be tempered down. But she didn’t know what my natural pace should be, or really understand that constantly shooting down my goals made sure I did nothing. I remember she once said in her defense, “I don’t want you to be disappointed.” But in fact I would much rather be disappointed by actually trying something and not making it at first then as a result of knowing that the people who claimed to care the most about me wouldn’t support me or a higher vision of my self-worth. In reality, she aimed to disappoint, to be that little voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough, to be a judgmental, cynical, and abusive presence in my life.
I know that I can judge things for myself as I go along, if someone told me that it took THEM ten-twelve hours to make a hike that should have been much shorter, that tells me something about them and their experience, it isn’t a surefire prediction of what will happen to me. And if it did take much longer then I expected, or was impassable, then that is ok too. It doesn’t mean I failed, just because conditions aren’t immediately what I want them to be. Right now I don’t know how long my healing process will take or how many very important additions to my story I will uncover. I don’t know if it will ever really be complete or if I will care about that notion in the future. But today I know it is fine, I can keep going. It is a worthwhile and valuable pursuit for me, even if it is long and difficult, and I can’t picture it. Even if others can’t see that value.
In the past, I would dissociate a lot and thereby play mind games with myself when it came to my eating disorder. I would believe that I had recovered forever after one week or two on a program, and then inevitably I would relapse and feel terrible. I would try to use willpower to stop, or focus on different dietary programs and tricks, which of course didn’t work. Today I’m not using willpower to desperately try and abstain, I’ve found a deep enough understanding of the childhood trauma that began that cycle to really lose the compulsion. My whole body is in agreement and the idea of binge eating or etc. hardly ever occurs to me now, and if it does it just dissolves on it’s own, without my having to ‘argue’ with it. But I’m still nervous about when that path truly reaches it’s end, after so many years of pain. I don’t want to be a “hypocrite,” saying that I’ve recovered from my eating disorder only to have a relapse at some point, and I don’t want to trick myself. Yet in the past four months even when I’m at my absolute lowest point and I backslide on other things, the eating disorder doesn’t come back. I’m sure I can afford the hope that it never will, and I didn’t get to this point by judging myself, but self-trust is something I’m still working on.
If I have to spend more time then I planned in some cycle or feeling, then that is ok, so long as it comes from my feelings, and my decision there is no shame in it. I know in the past shame was heaped upon me by my family for not having any confidence and stopping when they beat me down with their verbal abuse. They held that they were not responsible for the demeaning and abusive things they said to other people, and that they had nothing to do with my being “too sensitive,” having no confidence and lacking a short memory. That is where the feeling in the dream came from, that no matter what it was my fault and someone would be around to tell me so, to belittle all of my decisions and tell me “I would have done ___.” As I’m discovering new empathy for myself throughout my life, those ridiculous explanations they created whereby everything was my fault because I was ‘defective’ and incompetent are falling away, one wall at a time.
In the dream I was afraid of being caught without the permit that I had paid for, because in my childhood, there was no understanding given to simple mistakes or confusion, it was all viewed as the same. Today, I don’t perpetuate that. Right now it is taking me a while to regain some equilibrium as things keep coming up adding weight to the fact that I was a victim of child pornography. My parents didn’t own the video cameras and other equipment, they had people come over to help them with it. One person in particular, a young man with dark hair appears in many of my flashbacks, and it seems there was some element of prostitution there as well, because my parents let him abuse me all the time, even without cameras present (since I’m sure he wouldn’t let himself be recorded like that, he only wanted to do it to innocent kids.) It’s not remotely easy to process and integrate and believe all of this new information. But that’s ok, I can take that time and do what I can meanwhile towards self-care and maintaining the equilibrium I want. This dream has shown me that.