It wasn’t a dream, I was journeying.
It was 5am and I woke up scared. The feeling was so familiar, at first I didn’t even acknowledge it. A jittering in my stomach and chest. My mind beginning to search for something to be afraid of.
Then I remembered. Jon and I had talked about it a few days ago. I knew for a while why I woke up scared in the night. But just knowing didn’t seem to matter. My brain and body overrode the fact that I was no longer in a place that I didn’t feel safe.
The fear I woke up to wasn’t rational, it was from a long time ago, when I was a kid.
My sister and I were still sharing a room. My father worked nights and came home from work early in the morning, 2 or 3am. I don’t remember how often it happened, but sometimes he would often come home angry.
It got to the point where I would hear his car pull into the driveway and lay in bed waiting for him to come in the house. Not knowing if he’d be angry, if one of us kids would be in trouble for leaving something out of place in the garage or not closing a door. Anything could set him off. I’d lay in bed every night waiting. Waiting for him to throw open my bedroom door and turn on the light and start yelling.
Feeling helpless and terrified, I’d lie still and quiet in bed afraid to move, trying to make myself small, trying to make myself invisible.
I don’t remember how often this happened or how long it went on. I only know that, even now, at the age of fifty-four, I still wake up scared in the middle of the night.
But yesterday morning, I decided to do something different. Instead of reading or trying to distract my mind and calm my body, I decided I’d journey back to myself as that little girl, laying scared in her bed and take her home with me where she would be safe.
This is something I learned to do in therapy. To go back and reassure or even rescue the “little girl who still lives inside of me.
I closed my eyes and in my mind, went back to the house I grew up in.
My mother and father were standing in the living room.
I told them I was taking Maria with me. They didn’t say anything they just stood there.
I was angry and hurt. And I think this was as much about me being able to make my feeling known as taking “little Maria” back with me. I told my mother that she hadn’t protected me. And I understood if she was afraid of my father too, but she never helped me. Growing up, I had no one to turn to.
Later I cried when I thought about how alone I was then. Not in a self-pitying way, but in finally seeing the truth of the situation and accepting it. It had always been too painful for me to believe that my mother wasn’t there for me in the way I needed her.
Because of where my parents were standing in the living room, I had to turn away from them to get “little Maria” from her room. I found I was afraid to turn my back on my father. I felt he would come after me if I wasn’t facing him. That he would physically try to stop me. I was still afraid of him.
So I did what I had never been able to do in life, I confronted him. I threatened him with violence if he tried to stop me. (I’m not going to go into details about what I told him I would do to him. On waking I could see that it was incredible violent, but in my vision it was the most natural thing in the world to threaten him with) It seemed to give me strength because after that I found myself growing like a spectral giant, hovering over him, looking down on him.
No longer afraid, I became myself again and went into my old bedroom.
“Little Maria” was sitting on her bed waiting for me. I told her that I was going to take her someplace safe. A place where I would take care of her. It’s in the country I said. I asked her if she ever met a donkey, there are animals where we’re going and paths through the woods, which are safe to walk in.
I took” little Maria’s” hand and we walked through the living room, past my parents, who were now, somehow less real. As we went made out way out of the house, I saw that a leopard was walking beside us. It was long and low to the ground and it shifted from a real leopard to a shadow leopard, more of a spirit, and back again.
It was a comfort to see my little blue car parked in front of the house. It meant we were closer to home. When I opened my car door I was even more happy to see Fate waiting there for me. Then the leopard jumped into the back seat with Fate. Fate ignored the leopard as if this was something that happened everyday.
I watched my car drive over the Whitestone Bridge, and north on the Taconic Parkway. We stopped to eat breakfast at the cafe in New Lebanon. “Little Maria” had so much french toast she couldn’t finish it all.
Finally home I told “little Maria” about Jon and said he wasn’t a scary man, but if she was ever afraid of him she should tell me.
Then I brought her up to the guest room and tucked her into bed. The leopard jumped onto the bed and curled up next to her.
This morning I looked up the symbolic meaning of the leopard. In the book, Animal-Speak by Ted Andrews, I found this passage:
“The panther (also known as a leopard) often signals a time of rebirth after a period of suffering or death on some level. This implies that an old issue may finally begin to be resolved, or even that old long-standing wounds will finally begin to heal, and with the healing will come a reclaiming of power that was lost at the time of wounding.”
“...we may have to face offending malignancies of our life…those aspects of our life that we have…glossed over…or pretended didn’t exist. Sometimes this means we must suffer the loss of what we think we love the most….The Panther is the promise that whatever is lost will be replaced by that which is greater, stronger and more beneficial.”
I fell asleep after my journey and when I woke up in the morning I was shaken by it and would be wrestling with the experience the rest of the day.
The anger I had felt towards my parents was still with me. But I also felt justified in my anger. It wasn’t about blaming them, I understand they both grew up in difficult, abusive circumstances. It was about me being able to be angry for what had happened to me. For what they had done.
But I also felt strong. Like I helped the little girl who was me. I had done for her what she always wished someone would do. Take her away and make her feel safe and known.
I’ve done this kind of journeying before to help me resolve old issues.
I don’t know if this one will stick. If it will help me not be afraid when I wake up in night. I’ve felt this way for so long, it may take me going back to see myself as a little girl more than once, or just take more time to embody this new reality.
However it progresses, I feel like I have a new ally in the leopard who walked besides me in the journey.
I also feel that, as Ted Andrews writes about in the symbolism of the Leopard, that I glossed over the fact in my life that I felt so alone. That my mother really wasn’t there for me and I was never known by my family. It’s not something I really wanted to believe and feel like it’s the “great loss’ that Andrews writes about.
But now I’m looking to the “Promise of the Panther”. That accepting the loss creates an opening for something stronger and more beneficial for me.
I’m hoping a part of that will be not waking up scared at night, anymore.