Dreams: your doorway to eating disorder healing and a meaningful life
- Category: Psychotherapy and Recovery Work
If you have an eating disorder you may not know who to listen to, who to trust, what to believe, what even to hope for. Yet you carry within you the source of your most effective guidance that comes from your authentic truth – your dreams.
Paying attention to your dreams, despite the disguises dreams use through the symbols your unconscious presents, is to pay attention to what is meaningful to you. Following what is truly meaningful to you is the path to your recovery and to a much more fulfilled and satisfying life.
Decades ago a dream pushed me into the world of recovery and healing.
My dream was a nightmare. I was at sea in a becalmed, small sailboat, sails lowered, with my husband and his best friend. The sky was clear blue. It was midday. I was lying back against the tiller when I saw in the distance a huge long wave. I thought it would roll itself back into the water, but it kept coming. It was miles long. Finally I sat up. While the wave was still at a great distance I told my companions to look.They did and were surprised.
Now the wave looked threatening. We had no way of surfing up the wave. It was more apparent every moment that this was a tsunami of gigantic proportions. Our only hope was to sail parallel to it and get beyond its length. We aised the sails and fled as quickly as possible.
But the wave was endless. We skimmed above the surface at high speed. Yet the wave got closer and closer until it was a mountainous wall of water an arm’s length from our boat. As it curled above our heads and was about to crash its immensity upon us I knew my life was over. As it crashed I woke up.
I woke up terrified with my heart pounding mixed with relief that I could wake up. These are all the signs of a true nightmare. At the time I didn’t know much about dreams or symbols or messages from the unconscious. But I knew enough to know this was an important event. I wrote it down.
This dream led me to ending a disastrous marriage, beginning my solid education at UCLA, developing a satisfying career, creating valuable friendships and having meaningful adventure in my life. Part of the journey was recovering from my bulimia.
Looking again at the dream with you you’ll see some clues in the language. I was “at sea”, adrift, not knowing where I was in life. Mid-day meant, as I know now, midlife and I was lolling against the tiller, not taking any control of my direction. I didn’t even have my sails up to catch opportunity or to explore possibilities. While I was still, dormant, barely even awake, something large and catastrophic was looming in the distance. It hurtled toward my construction, my situation, my irresponsible person who was waiting for a breeze to carry me along.
This wave was my personal sense of self, desperate to get my attention and ready to upset anything in its way to make its presence known. Even then I alerted my companions to take charge and get us away. I still did not act except to call attention to what was coming. I insisted on their taking action and telling me what to do. I did not take the tiller.
I believed we could escape the consequences of that Self of mine rearing its identity and bearing down on my life. But we could not escape. We could not flee. I could not flee the core urgings of my innermost self that came from the deeps of me. I knew we would die.
I woke up with full knowledge that the wave crashed on me and my companions destroying the boat and our lives.
In bed with my eyes open and heart pounding I knew I was alive. I didn’t die, but something did. The life I was leading ended.
It didn’t end all at once in a wave crushing tsunami. But the effects were similar. Nothing much remains of that unsatisfactory life now except memories and a child now grown to womanhood.
From here, decades later I see clearly how I had to develop awareness. And I had to develop respect for the authentic forces with me.
Most of all, I had to learn that I had strength and power to move obstacles and surge ahead into my true life. The force of a tsunami dwelled within me.
My change process took years, as you can imagine. But the force of that dream was the beginning of my healing and my new life of meaning and satisfaction.
I write to you now from my spacious studio while seated at my glass desk. Dogs lay on their pillows keeping me company on this chilly night December night while we are warm and safe. My bills are paid. I own my house. I’m not bulimic. I have loving family and friends. I have long and short-term plans for my coming days plus time to read, garden, think and write to you. I have a private psychotherapy practice that is rewarding for me. I work with patients I’ve grown to respect and love. I’m still learning. In a few hours I’ll be attending a Jungian workshop on the symbols of the Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life (maybe not your choice but certainly a golden event for me). And I’m starting a dream workshop in January. I love my life. It took a tsunami experience to crash my resistance to myself and set out to honor what is meaningful to me.
What is meaningful to you? Do you know? What messages from your unconscious are available to you? The core of your eating disorder is based on your personal suffering. You are removed from what you genuinely care about. You cling to your disorder as a way to ease your suffering. Yet, suffering pushes you to find help. That’s why you found this essay and are reading it now.
You are looking for something. Doesn’t it make sense that your suffering holds the key to your recovery and is pushing you to explore possibilities?
Your suffering has meaning. Your eating disorder behavior and eating disorder ways of thinking block your awareness of yourself. You may not even know that more to you exists besides what your life shows you now.
But your unconscious knows. The Self within you knows. And the symbols and experiences within your dreams can point the way if you pay attention.
Coming into your own awareness of your true condition, your true nature and identity involves pain. It’s not discovering your true nature that hurts. What hurts is experiencing fear over losing your built-up defenses against knowing who you are. You may even believe that you are your eating disorder.
Resolving the mystery that empowers your eating disorder is a journey to awareness and freedom.
Unearthing the meaning of your suffering, understanding the meaning of your symptoms is your task. It’s not an intellectual exercise. You know the meaning when you have realizations and revelations. It’s like having a blindfold suddenly removed when you didn’t know you were wearing one.
Then the work on your path is to learn how to live in this new world you’ve discovered you’ve been in all along but couldn’t see.
There is no formulaic way to recover. There’s only your way. Your way relies on what honors your true self and gives your life meaning. Dreams can help you find your path.
Learning the language of your unconscious is crucial. Paying attention to your dreams is a way to start.