How I Use Nightmares to Make Dreams Come True

I’ve experienced vivid nightmares throughout my life. As a child, my mother taught me lucid dreaming. I began changing my dreams before they fully woke me, before I popped up in bed, heart pounding, sweat-soaked and choking back a scream.

As an adult, I forgot how to alter my dreams. For a time I felt safe in myself and the dreams eased. This summer, the nightmares returned. I no longer felt safe. For three months I struggled to sleep. The fourth month, I began to pay attention.

My dreams spoke of my deepest pains.

Of those fears I held day to day. Ultimately, I heard the inner voice I’d grown out of contact with. I began to pay attention. When I woke, I would sift through the dreams to look at the pieces my conscious mind most wanted to avoid. I held onto those threads, parsing their metaphors and tracking patterns. The most difficult aspect of paying attention was that I did not like my inner truth. I wanted it to be anything other than what it was.

Because I was denying my personal truth, I shook for days when I was awake. My heart raced when I slept. I sweated the toxins out in the night. I woke up soaked, oily and odorous for weeks. Every minute of it hurt.

Image description: A sleeping girl leaning against a wall with overlaying text. “A dream is a wish your heart makes. Tap into your dreams and make your life your fantasy.”

I put a lot of stock in the power of dreams.

TW: mention of rape

Which is why I stopped talking over my dream messages and began to heed my subconscious.When my dreams made clear what was my only path to health and safety, I constructed a safer way to exist, made clearer requests for my needs to be met; I closed down the portals to my heart that wept like infected wounds. I stepped away from active blogging, social media, news and more. The exposed, live wires were capped. 

Immediately, my dreams became more mundane. The nightmares shifted back to routine concerns and adaptations of what I’ve watched or read. Sometimes they would show me fears around money, my children, our dog, next steps. So I began to take care of those concerns as I woke. I could do so because I had taken the necessary steps to bring my fears forward and process them in daylight.

I periodically test my boundaries. Those portals to my heart. I opened one with quiet consideration recently. Could I have access to this again and be safe? I asked myself. I closed it again when my nightmares turned to rape.

As I write this, I shake. 

It is always rape. Always the forced touch, the disregard for consent. The attention to personal desire over partnership. I wake up and press close to my husband because he is safe. He whispers, “It’s okay.” He knows the place on my forehead where I need pressure. He grounds me without fully waking. It is our routine. And perhaps because they are children seeking the comfort of parents, or perhaps because they feel my restlessness, at least one of my younger two arrives in the bed. On the rare occasion they do not, the dog arrives, paws me awake and lays his body over mine until my heart rate slows, then returns to his primary charge. 

These dreams are informed by history, friendship, family, politics and money. I acted on one at the beginning of the week. I called for someone I respect to honor an agreement they made. It hurt to do because there is always the chance that in taking care of yourself or your family, another will feel pain. In fact, I spent two weeks rolled in nightmares about the need to reach out before I spoke up. Before I woke up and realized again I can’t keep doing this to myself. I can’t take care of my family if I can’t sleep, and I can’t sleep if I do not clearly state my needs and have them finally met. Empathy can be a cruel mistress. 

Affirmation: I do not fear the night shadows because my inner vision is keen and my love for myself is bright enough to dispel any darkness.

What empathy sidelines in daylight, the night uncovers.

No matter how many blankets I layer myself with, the consciousness will be peeled away with sleep and my fears–the shadows of my true needs–will show themselves. 

It is for this reason that I feel gratitude for my nightmares. Even those which are harder to shake. They may cast gray over my day. I will still find my way to the light by uncovering the nested wish and working to make it reality. 

Nightmares may be frightening in the moment, but they can be a powerful tool for uncovering and meeting your needs. Choosing to make use of fears rather than avoid them is how we push the envelope.

It may seem I am in conflict with my own message. After all, I heeded my dreams by closing doors. The truth is that closing those doors showed me my path to a happiness. I still have very hard days, but most days are full of light, and I have the energy to pursue personal and family goals I was previously too sick with stress to consider. I am more joyful than I’ve felt in years.

Again, a nightmare is the shadow of a dream. It is a window into what you want most by way of what you fear. Next time you wake in terror, take time to listen to your inner wisdom. I hope you find your joy.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

3 Discussion to this post

  1. Charli Mills says:

    Thank you for writing this because it’s validation I needed for my own healing.

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    • Shawna Ayoub Ainslie says:

      I’m very glad this is helpful, Charli. It was very difficult to share because dreams are intimate, and nightmares can be more so, I think. I hope your good dreams come true. <3

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  2. Lucid dreaming is so important . As you know dreams are intuitive. Great essay!

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