My dreams have become nightmares lately — and I don’t know why.
Both of my dead parents showed up in dreams last night. My father was trying to manipulate me. My mother was abandoning me. It’s as though both were playing the ugly roles I expected from them.
It was as though something in me was using their departed images to taunt me — as though something was pointing an accusing finger and saying, “See? Nobody really loves you. You don’t deserve to be loved.”
There was even a basketball game later in the dream at which I was turning blue — and I felt shame at people seeing me like this when I had come to see a woman — but I’ll start with my parents.
My father always used money to manipulate his children. Back when he had a lot of money — before we knew he had embezzled it — he would sometimes buy lavish gifts for us, but those gifts came with implied price tags. As long as he did things for us, we were required to obey his whims.
He especially liked it when one of his children had a crisis. He could swoop in and “rescue” us while humiliating us with shame. I learned early on that it was in my best interests to just endure the shame and take his money. That’s why it was such a shock to him later when I wouldn’t take his money — because it came at too high a price.
In the first part of the dream that I remember, my father had called me. Even though he’s dead — and I knew in the dream he was dead — he had some way of bestowing money on me from the afterlife. He was telling me how pathetic I was and how much I needed his help.
I felt panicked to hear him saying those things. I found myself thinking that I didn’t really have a crisis and I didn’t need his help, but he still made me feel shame.
Later on the same night, there was a server in a restaurant — a place which I’ve never seen — who I apparently knew well from having come there a lot. She was an older woman, but didn’t seem elderly. I was feeling horribly low when I was sitting at a counter in the restaurant. I felt lonely. I felt as though nobody would never love me.
Then this server came over to me and handed me a thick envelope and told me to open it after she left.
As she walked out the front door, I opened the envelope to find a lot of money, along with a note saying that she was really my mother and that she had taken this job just so she could secretly watch over me. But she had to leave, the note said, to save her own sanity. So she left the money — maybe a few thousand dollars — and disappeared.
I cried when I realized who she had been. I wanted to tell her that I had wanted her love and her presence, not her money. But she had abandoned me.
And then there was a basketball game. It was a women’s basketball game at a small college gym. I don’t know where it was, but it was somewhere around here — maybe Samford University or something about that size.
I was there to find a woman who was one of the players, because I loved her and wanted to tell her so. The game was going on, but I was having trouble making my way through the crowd to get to the court. Then I realized — to my horror — that I was turning blue.
If you’re familiar with photography, you might know what it means to “white balance” a photo. To oversimplify a bit, it’s a process by which you adjust the color of the light in the picture to make it look more natural (or to give it a special effect). If you make an error in your white balance, a picture can easily look too yellow or too blue.
I noticed myself in a mirror and realized that my hair had a blue tint to it. In that moment, I realized that I had somehow “color corrected” myself incorrectly. I was slowly turning blue. It started with the tint of my hair and then my skin tone.
I felt deep shame. I knew that people would soon start noticing and making fun of me. I knew that I couldn’t face the woman I loved looking like this, especially as the blue tinting got worse, because she wouldn’t love me like this.
So even though I had come so close to my love, I felt ashamed that I looked this way. I felt she couldn’t love me. So I turned around — even though I was finally so close.
As I walked out of the gym, the blue was getting worse and I heard people talking and saw them pointing. I was humiliated and left.
I know my parents aren’t really playing mind games with me. Something in myself is playing mind games based on my greatest fears about them.
My father was still trying to buy my attention and obedience. My mother was still abandoning me without ever being able to give me what I needed from her. And I was once again getting painfully close to the love I needed — and then fleeing in shame because I didn’t think she could love me.
For me, this is all related. Even all these years after childhood ended, I’m still dealing with the trauma of childhood. (I’ve known for a long time that my sisters felt similar ways, but I’ve discovered in the last year that others in the extended family had suffered from some of the same dysfunction.)
It’s as though my parents unintentionally set up a mechanical ride through a horror house — the kind in which you glide along in a moving seat and scary things pop out when you least expect it — and I’m still getting onto that ride at times and moving through its horrors.
And the worst of its horrors is the climax which screams, “Nobody can love you!”
Do I have to keep going through the ride until I learn how to respond differently? Or can I learn not to get onto the ride? I have no idea.
I only know that I have to get over the shame he pushed on me and the unworthiness I felt because she left. Otherwise, I’ll keep turning myself blue and falling short of finding someone to love me.
I need someone to prove to me that the horrors of this old ride have been lying to me all along, but I don’t know how that can happen.