When Hell Floods Over
Warning: graphic and violent content describing a nightmare below. I do not write this for the shock factor but to give an example of how we can gain insight into our suppressed thoughts and emotions from even the most disturbing of dreams. I will describe the nightmare first and then break down its interpretation.
The Dream: “I was on the roof of a small A-frame house because it was flooded to the point that only the top few inches of the house were exposed. It wasn’t flooded with water, though. It was like a thick greenish brown mud that you couldn’t see through. The sky was grey and ugly with no sun or clouds, almost like it was opaque. A tall and fat man with a torn shirt that exposed his firm beer belly, covered in grime, ran toward me from the other side of the roof with a long rusty knife raised over his head to stab me with. Before I had time to react, a small demon landed between us. It was skinny and probably only 4 feet tall. Facing the man, seemingly unaware of me, it took the knife and with one long slice deep into his fat belly, disemboweled the man. The man fell back, landing flat on his back in the muck, not sinking at all, as if the flood were a solid. The demon jumped on him and climbed inside the wide gash where his intestines, just as dirty on the inside as the man was on the outside, were spilling out.”
The Background: the dreamer admits she is struggling with anger, stress, and depression. She has not recently seen any horror movies or physical attacks. She has never experienced a flood.
The Analysis: if we were to say dreams are a vital sign of emotional health, this would be the cardiac arrest of dreams. Since the dreamer cannot recall any concrete triggers of these images, such as recently experiencing a flood or watching a scary movie about demons, I will interpret them in their most abstract terms. A house is a foundation—a home, the heart, a safe refuge. The dreamer has been forced out of this secure place and is on the outer edges of her foundation, the roof. A flood is a deluge—an overwhelming, destructive force filling her life. The man is an attack. The mud and grime all around her in the flood and spilling out of the man are something dirty and disgusting. The demon is an outside force that diverts the attack but is also not benevolent.
I imagine the dreamer feels so hurt by someone (and she confirms this theory) she has lost track of her own self-worth and values (the house, which she struggles to even hang onto) and is overwhelmed with negative emotions (the dirty flood) that cloud her clarity of thought until it’s all she can think about (the opaqueness and pervasiveness of the mud). Even the sky, which should contain renewing and refreshing oxygen (of clear, insightful reflection), has been blocked out. Someone who hurt her (the man) made her feel attacked and endangered (the knife) either physically, but more likely personally. This attacker holds power over her (he his larger and taller). She is disgusted not only at him (his griminess and physical exposure), but in general, fully surrounded by feelings of disgust (she is surrounded by dirty sky and a nasty flood that threatens to swallow her up if it rises any more). The person who betrayed her is no longer a threat (the attacker is dead in the mud), but the method in which she got rid of him is not much better (the demon). The demon represents the emotions like anger and hatred she feels at the betrayer in her life. These emotions make her feel safer, as the demon kills the attacker, but they are not noble emotions that promote healing, represented by the small and skinny demonic stature. As negative emotions take over, it appears she also sees the person who hurt her being destroyed by that same hatred and anger which could quite possibly turn around and kill her next as well. Hatred has no one’s best interests at heart, represented by the fact that even though the demon destroyed the attacker and in doing so protected her, he did not do it for the sake of the dreamer or even notice her. The dreamer may be realizing she has let those negative emotions, brought out to protect her, out of control to a destructive level. Hatred and anger may make her feel better in the short term, but without proper healing, the scars of betrayal will remain, just like the body doesn’t sink but remains floating on the surface of the mud only to rot in the future.
We tend to ignore nightmares, turn the lights on, think of something happy, and catch up on sleep later, maybe with the help of a drink or sleeping aid; but by that we are ignoring a warning sign of our emotional health that when strong enough, will not stay confined to our dreams forever. If suddenly your left arm starts to hurt, you feel dizzy, and your chest feels tight, you don’t take a shot of vodka to drown out those annoying discomforts. You go to the ER because you could be having a heart attack. I find it sad to learn how many people are in such a state of emotional distress they cannot fall asleep without the mentally-numbing distractions of TV, substances, or alcohol. When issues such as betrayal, anger, shame, and disgust are powerful enough to surface so shockingly and so disruptively in our dreams, they likely warrant a deliberate and thoughtful analysis in our waking hours to treat the cause rather than the symptoms.