This dream came a year after attending the funeral of the aunt I mentioned in the last post. She was my mother’s only sister and I was very close to her when I was young. At the time of my birth, my parents lived with my mother’s family and as Aunt was still living at home she became my second mother for the first 9 months of my life. When she married and had children of her own, our two families had a lot to do with each other. I also lived with her family for periods of time off and on until I was 13, due to Mum’s frequent hospitalisations. I loved her very much and remember wishing she was my mother, not because I didn’t love Mum but because Aunt was totally devoted to her family. She was the complete opposite of my mother, who loved kids in her own way but just wasn’t cut out to be a mother and was often overwhelmed by the task.
Unfortunately, the man Aunt married led a double life – devoted husband and father on one hand and serial paedophile on the other. I loved my uncle too when I was young and that made me a prime target for his exploitation. She stayed loyal to him to the very end of his life and even after his death never made any attempt to heal the rift that his abuse had caused in the family. I had stopped feeling angry at my uncle many years ago when I realised that he was clearly insane. My aunt wasn’t but she was totally identified with her role as a mother and she protected that role to the end. By the time of her death, I felt pretty much at peace regarding all that had gone on and had no conscious awareness of any residual blame or anger in me but this dream showed otherwise. As Jung often said, the unconscious really is unconscious. When trauma has been deeply buried, it works its way out of the system in its own time. Perhaps it is never completely erased but eventually becomes a part of the whole rich tapestry of life.
I am to meet Aunt and her family following my uncle’s death, apparently to try and come to some resolution over our long estrangement due to his abuse. When I get to the house, I drive down the left hand side, then make a 90 degree turn to go into the back yard. The entry is a rough track and is cluttered with rubbish and overhanging branches and hard to navigate. The yard is also messy. I go in through the back entrance. There is a woman present who is not part of the family and seems to be a mediator of some sort.
There is a discussion about my uncle’s paedophile activities but the family is in denial. We aren’t getting anywhere so I decide to leave and as I do Aunt suddenly throws her arms around me and hugs me very tightly, as though she doesn’t want to let me go. She kisses me all over the face in an exaggerated show of affection and seems desperate to show me how much she loves me but I am not impressed.
I ask in a frustrated tone of voice, ‘Aunt, why do you keep denying it? You know the truth.’ At first she goes into the same old routine of denial and demurring but then she says, ‘Yes. I did know.’
I feel an immense relief, as much for her as myself and go around telling the others about her admission. There is a mixed reception of belief and disbelief and my initial euphoria turns to a niggling anxiety that this isn’t the end of it.
I leave the same way I came, driving slowly and carefully because of the obstacles on the way out and the foliage scraping against the car. I do a right hand turn onto the street and a little way down I have to turn right onto the main road. As I brake to check the road, the woman who had been in the house appears near the driver’s side window and appears to want to speak to me but she is preventing me from turning and I am pissed! I wind the window down and say very testily ‘Excuse me, I want to turn there.’ I realise I am being rude but don’t care. She disappears and I make the turn, still feeling peeved. End.
When I woke from the dream I was in a foul mood and I couldn’t even begin to make sense of it so I just wrote it up and went out to do some gardening as a way of settling down. It was a perfect day for it but my bad mood persisted and was made worse by a pest control man spraying around the letterboxes not far away from me. He was decked out head to toe in protective gear but the spray was drifting towards me, so I abandoned the gardening, cursing to myself. My mind then started spinning stories of all the terrible things we are doing to the planet through our paranoia and ignorance. In the middle of this depressing inner rant, a light bulb went on and I realised with a start that my overreaction had absolutely nothing to do with the incident but was triggered by the dream hangover.
A few days later I told a friend about the dream and she asked me how I would have liked it to end. I said that I wanted to feel love and forgiveness for my aunt, that I didn’t want to feel so angry, I didn’t like the way it felt. In her pragmatic way she said that if that’s the way I feel I need to just accept it because fighting it is just going to make me feel worse. I knew she was right but I still didn’t feel happy about it because I couldn’t understand why I would still be angry with Aunt.
It was a full 3 months later that I finally understood what my anger was about and it wasn’t a happy discovery at the time. I had been doing a course in Applied Jungian Psychology and we were working on identifying our complexes. There had been a lot of discussion about the negative mother complex and the mother wound and I began to wonder about my own mothering history. I had long since resolved any anger I had towards my own mother for the fact that she didn’t protect me from my uncle but Aunt was the one I had felt most betrayed by. It wasn’t just because she knew what was going on at the time but also because of the way she vilified me in later years when I disclosed about the abuse and how she continued to be the enabler to her husband, thereby continuing to put other children at risk.
With these new insights, I was reflecting on my dream attitude and suddenly saw the situation as if it were a real event. Here was my aunt finally giving me what I had wanted for so long – a simple acknowledgement of the truth – and I wasn’t satisfied. What did I want then? I wanted her to suffer! The revelation that followed closely on this insight was that that meant I must also want myself to suffer. Anger, resentment and blame towards another, no matter how justified it appears to be, always hurts the so-called victim. There’s simply no escape from that fact. When I went deeper into my resentment I had to admit to myself that I was still feeling guilty over the fact that I had caused so much trouble in the family by my disclosure and the way I coped with it was to project it onto my aunt.
About a week later I was sitting with all that had transpired from the dream and got the distinct impression that it was at last the end of a long saga of trying to sort out the complex web of emotions that we had all been entangled in for so many years. With that, the floodgates opened and I found myself sobbing my heart out. I wasn’t crying just for myself, it was grief over everybody’s suffering, even that of my uncle who had been the primary cause of it, as well as for all who had been indirectly affected, especially the children of some of his victims who I knew suffered from the unhealed trauma of their mothers. My outburst of grief once again demonstrated to me that whenever anger is released, grief usually follows and it is the grief that is the hardest to be with. Anger is easier to deal with in a way, because at least it feels energising whereas grief feels so debilitating but it really doesn’t matter in the end. Holding onto any deeply charged emotion takes a lot of energy and there is always a price to pay for that.
At the time of the catharsis I had the feeling that I needed to write about this dream in order to complete the healing but I managed to keep deferring it until another dream recently prompted me to get on with it. In this dream I was talking to another family member who had also suffered at the hands of my uncle but who had never dealt with it. She was sitting in a car and I was on the outside and she was telling me about how depressed she felt. She started crying and at the same time desperately tried to control it. I told her it was good to cry and she said, ‘But it makes so much noise.’ At that moment a woman appeared walking down the middle of the road towards the car and I said, ‘When this woman is past, the road will be clear and you can make all the noise you want to.’ When I woke I immediately realised that this woman represented my aunt and the fear I still had of her disapproval of my speaking up. I realised that finishing this blog post was the way in which to lay that fear to rest and release both of us. It simply isn’t possible to love someone fully while at the same time fearing them and what I really want more than anything is to love my aunt as I did as a child and as I know she loved me.
I think this is what the mediator woman in the dream was trying to get me to see – that Aunt, by her admission, was really asking for my forgiveness and love and that by denying it to her, I was denying that same grace for myself. I now have a much deeper appreciation for the lines in the Lord’s Prayer; ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ As so many wise ones say, forgiveness really is for the one doing the forgiving.