I am about to drown. There’s a tidal wave. I am in someone’s house or apartment and the ocean is rushing through windows and walls. There’s water rising. The fear is imminent. I am about to die.
I wake up. Sometimes I am soaked from sweating in my sleep and sometimes I am upright in my bed as if I’d never even laid down to begin with a few hours prior, as if I simply sat in bed with closed eyes and let the water come charging at me. As if I said I don’t need to lie down to drown.
Sometimes I wake shivering. When you sweat in your sleep you wake up freezing. A wet dog.
Maybe the water wasn’t actually my sweat. Maybe my dreams are so powerful that they sneak through whatever dream-barrier exits and enter my body like a thief. I taste it to double check. It’s salty. Sea water? Sweat? Who’s to say?
I wake up before I die each time. I remember those old myths I would hear as a kid. You can’t die in your dreams. I don’t know. Who’s to say? I am mostly drowning in them.
The cliché gets to me. How can I have such an uninteresting clichéd recurring nightmare? I am ashamed of my mind’s lack of creativity when it comes to this.
I’ve had this dream, or a version of this dream for as long as I can remember. I’m drowning.
I don’t understand where all this water is coming from or how I can stop it from swallowing me. I don’t understand the sky or the sea or which is which in these dreams. I look up and down but there are no clues as to which is the sky and which is not. It doesn’t matter. It’s after me.
Last night, as my husband kissed me, I started to have a panic attack. Babe! I snapped, are you trying to suffocate me? My heart started beating and I felt the water rising. I was dying and he wouldn’t stop until I pushed him away. I felt horrible immediately but the drowning was real I am not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t pushed him away.
His best friend and cousin died last week, the same day as Ronan. Ronan was 2 and a half and Amir was in his fifties. Ronan had been suffering and his parents had been watching him die for 2 years. Amir was driving a tow truck and had had a heart attack. He died before he crashed it into a parked car, his wife, in St. Louis, sat waiting for him to text him back.
I wasn’t there for my husband (or for Ronan’s mother Emily Rapp) as I was leading my retreat in Maui but I know it was incredibly hard for him. The wife flew out and wailed in his arms as he drove them around the city and to the coroner’s office and to eat Persian sandwiches in Westwood.
So last night, when he was kissing me, I got that he was expressing his relief that I was still a person in the world. That I had not gone and he would prove it by smothering me. I felt bad for saying that to him and he said Well, I was smothering you a bit.
The thing is, I always have a problem with kissing. I used to think it was an intimacy thing but it’s not. I don’t know what I believe in when it comes to past lives but I feel like I can’t breathe when someone’s mouth is on mine. I am dying. Water is rushing at me and I am falling into a pillow or there is a pillow on my face and finally Oh My God! I can’t breathe!
Don’t read into it too much. I wasn’t sexually abused or anything like that. I have to be kissed in just the right most perfect way so that I don’t feel like I am drowning.
Hugging makes me feel safe and kissing makes me feel like dying most of the time.
I woke up feeling so guilty this morning. Apologizing over coffee. Hugging my husband. Kissing his face. My husband understands me and hopefully didn’t take it personally but it was a pure unadulterated panic attack last night. The sea water was in my throat. My lungs collapsed. I was gone.
Why do we take on so much all the time? So many things that don’t belong to us. So many oceans.
That ocean rushing at me business, that’s my life. I think it’s going to eat me sometimes. Or sometimes I think I am trying to swallow it all at once and you absolutely cannot do that. It’s too much. You have to pause and breathe.
So maybe there is no past life drowning and no claustrophobia. Maybe there is just I am not breathing because if I breathe this will all go away or if I breathe this will all come so fast and I won’t be able to control it.
You cannot control the ocean.
I save myself in my tidal waves dream but oftentimes I can’t save my sister or my mom. My dad is never in them. I don’t know if it means I have forgotten him or that he doesn’t need saving. Regardless, he is absent. I save myself but I cannot save my family from the ocean.
You cannot control the ocean or the life or the family.
You cannot save anyone.
I shoot up in my bed and feel my arms and they are there and my husband’s body and he is awake because I am awake. I’ve had a nightmare. Everyone is drowning. I can’t save anyone.
The magic words: I love you. You are not drowning. You are safe. Do not worry about anything. You are safe he says.
Yesterday I sent out a newsletter which wasn’t really a newsletter but rather my essay I had written on the plane Friday night called What Will Never Go Up In Smoke. It went viral on Facebook and I thought I would share with my mailing list. I got some heartfelt and beautiful responses. One woman said that my writing always made her want to do better. (Wow!) Then, I got an email from someone in the spiritual community that simply said one word. Unsubscribe. (Wow!)
And there it is. I am about to drown. There’s a tidal wave. I am in someone’s house or apartment and the ocean is rushing through windows and walls. There’s water rising. The fear is imminent. I am about to die. I can’t wake up because I am awake.
I am awake.
I breathe. I breathe and after a while the fear is gone. The hurt is there but the fear is gone. It didn’t kill me, that one little word. It felt mean and hurtful but I didn’t die. I sat staring at my phone feeling embarrassed but I didn’t die. I pinched myself a little and it was as it always was: I was human. I was still there on my bed, my messy blankets and pillows and books and I was still human. I hadn’t been turned to stone by that word nor had it suffocated me.
The fear must have gotten trapped in my body as it was looking for a way out. Last night when my husband was kissing me and I felt like I was drowning, it was because the fear had nowhere to go.
My body was afraid it would always know that fear.
But then he is saying You are safe.
And I was. I was in my bed, safe. And the word unsubscribe was just a word and the ocean was 9 blocks away and anyone I love has to save themselves and fear is a goddamned bastard.
The imminent fear. Of drowning. Of people not surviving. Of what others think. Of breathing. Of living. Of dying. It’s everywhere, really. If you look.
It’s as big as the ocean and beyond and it will get you if you stop paying attention.
Listen: that is your breath. Listen: that is my breath. Listen: that is the wind.
Listen. This is your life.