Common formula these days: Can’t sleep or bad dreams; go to the doctor; get a prescription to wipe out your dreams. A 2006 Dissertation by Kimberly-Anne Ford, Mefloquine dreams: Exploring the subjective experience of risk and safety and its role in the regulation of pharmaceutical drugs in Canada, explored the subjective experience in dreams of drug side effects. While that was only a part of the ethical considerations raised in the dreams, it is a step into the truism that something happens in our dreams when we are not taking psychotropic medicine, and something else happens with our dreams when those medicines are introduced.
I was talking recently with a friend who was riveted one weekend with the coverage of two horrific world news stories unfolding at once: The violence in the Gaza strip around mutual shelling from/to civilian areas, and the Russian Separatist activities including the militant shooting down of a civilian flight killing nearly 300 people. Whether it is Kosovo of ten years back, Beirut of three decades ago, vulnerability to terrorist attacks since 9/11, or other forms of consistent national violence, it becomes clearer that the world can be unsafe and unsettling.
Pair that with the trauma on a personal level that happens all over this country: One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. The “Ray Rice” situation is horrific for that family, as is every situation in which domestic violence occurs, and for them it is happening in public. The fact that this and other NFL stars such as Peterson, MacDonald, Dwyer, and Hardy, are all in the spotlight elevates the visibility of a previously invisible problem. One in every 240 Americans will be murdered – at present homicide rates. Aaron Hernandez, a former NFL star, is now awaiting trials on multiple murders.
Today, one in every 34 Americans is either incarcerated or under supervision – meaning there is a lot of crime out there – and a good deal of punishment. And on top of the nastiness that occurs among friends or in our homes, nearly all adults as of this writing watched the horror of 9/11 unfold in real time on live TV just thirteen years ago. There is not an illusion we are safe from THEM (Russians, Terrorists, Asians, Muslims, Drug Cartels) or from US (Excessive Government, Militia, Police, Swat Teams, Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Gangs, and Dodger Fans). So part of the question might be, “Why don’t we have more nightmares than we actually do?”
Nightmares operate on several levels. Even that statement, simple enough, operates on a lot of levels. There are night terrors, more prevalent in childhood, more present in trauma survivors (and onot always explained by trauma). These are not the nightmares of the nearly well: these are debilitating physiological and psychological events. Recently, I met a woman receiving treatment for PTSD, and one of her prescriptions is in place to take away her nightmares. Where, then, do they go? Should we not be disturbed? Are we paying attention enough? Are we doing enough?
Traumatic events bring about more horror than the mind can process. Imagined fears can bring about a similar effect to realized terrors. And these overwhelming urges arise in our sleep, some say so that they may be dealt with in a way and at a time that we are prepared to handle them. Wipe our our REM state of sleep, and what are the consequences? Where do those images go? Are we simply bandaging our wounded so they can return to the front lines of home, family, war, workplace, and not feel like the bad things that happen really occur? I am asking not because I have answers, nor because I want them; but more, as Rilke said, because I love the questions. Today, I live the questions.
Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is,to live everything. Live the questions now.
– Ranier Maria Rilke