on being naked

Posted: November 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

As a child, I had 3 recurring dreams that plagued my nights.  They followed me across days and years.  Each time my family changed addresses, the dreams went with me.  They were just awful dreams, and I had one or more (sometimes all three) more nights than I didn’t have them, if memory serves me correctly (who knows – memory is a tricky thing!)

In the first, I was at a large family gathering, and there were lots of people in every room of the house.  I was doing the stuff one does at family gatherings, when I suddenly realized:  I’m naked.  No one around me has been acknowledging this fact, but I am.  I’m naked.  And everyone is seeing me naked.  Each time I dreamed this dream, there was the horror of the dawning realization, the awful pit in my stomach as I tried to figure out how to gracefully retreat to where I might put on clothes, the feeling of violation of having been naked before a crowd.  I never found the way to gracefully retreat in that dream.  I always woke up amidst that moment of horror.  Waking up never left me relieved or glad to be free of the dream – I was just wrapped in horror.

In the second, I was falling from a high, high place.  Falling and falling, through a dark night, down to a lit football field.  I was falling on a trajectory to go through the goal posts.  There was never a “beginning” to the falling – the dream always started mid-fall.  I couldn’t stop the falling.  It was slow, but it was terrifying.  I always woke before I hit the ground.  I’ve heard people say that you always wake in this sort of dream, because you’ll die if you don’t wake before impact.  That seems unlikely to me, but I have no idea if it’s true, since I always woke sometime around the point of passing through the goal posts.  Again, waking didn’t relieve the terror.  I would like in the darkness, working to calm my pounding heart, and it would feel like forever before I got back to sleep.

In the third, I was being approached by a vampire.  Strangely, he looked like Count Chocula (from the cereal box), so he shouldn’t have been scary to me.  But he was SO scary, and for sure his intentions were evil.  I was paralyzed with fear, wanting to run but my feet stuck to the ground, and he was advancing toward me menacingly, one caped arm extended to the side, and I knew he was going to fold me into that cape and do his evil deed.  I always woke up before he reached me.  But I dreamed that dream constantly, and waking didn’t relieve the fear.  In fact, often after that dream I would have some sort of visual hallucination or something while I laid there awake in my bed, seeing some sort of bee hive up in the corner of my ceiling, with a little line of marching (not flying, MARCHING) bees making their way down toward me.  Often they even advanced all the way to my bed and seemed to be marching along the covers toward my face.  When I first started having that one, I can remember yelling for my mom, and her coming in to tell me that it wasn’t really there, it was just imaginary.  This did not stop me from seeing the hive or the bees, but after that, when I saw it, I would lay there trembling and saying over and over in my mind, struggling to believe, that it wasn’t real  Only imaginary.  Only imaginary.  Before they reached my face, I would squeeze my eyes shut and then nothing else would happen.  This never did enough in my mind to make the hallucination stop haunting me, though.

I “outgrew” those dreams somewhere around junior high age, but add the dreams together with my intense fear of heights and my general social phobia and it’s easy to see, looking back, that I was a child filled with tremendous fear.  I imagine I’m not “special” in this respect, to some extent – the concept of the recurring dream is not real or original to me.  These 3 dreams were just Karen’s iteration of the pain, I guess.  I don’t spend time trying to figure out what was up with me that brought those particular nightmares.

But I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of suddenly discovering you’re “naked.”  I don’t mean physically without clothes, in this case, but more a matter of the dawning realization that people could see what was up with you all along.

I became quite the liar as a teen.  This started with a series of events related to a boy, in a situation I hadn’t gone looking for, hadn’t wished for, but suddenly found myself in.  For reasons I didn’t even BEGIN to understand until the last year or two, I went along with what happened to me, and thus began the lying.  I lied to go along with what the boy wanted, to avoid the scrutiny of parents and other adults.  I lied in an attempt to avoid the shame of what was going on.  I lied because I couldn’t see my way clear to a life of NOT lying, after awhile.

Lying is a thing that builds on itself.  It develops a life of its own.  You use it as a tool, and the next thing you know, the lying is in charge and you are not – or at least that was my experience.  I lied for reasons, but then later I found myself telling lies that weren’t even “necessary,” weren’t even “helpful,” didn’t even serve a purpose.  I found myself lying when I hadn’t expected to lie, hadn’t planned to lie, and couldn’t benefit from the lie.

To lie well enough to pull it off, you have to buy into the lies yourself to some extent.  The long-term effect of this fact is that even now, I’m pretty muddy in my memory about what actually happened some of those times – I can’t find the line that divides the truth of what was up from the lies I was working to use with others.

The biggest motivation for my lying went away once I got pregnant not long after my 18th birthday and was thus able to get what I thought I wanted at the time and be married.  No more need to work around the parents, so no more need to lie.  I still struggled for some years after that to move past using the lie as a “useful tool” in my arsenal, though.  Lying sinks its claws in you and it sometimes seems like you’re never going to get free of it.  Or at least that was my experience.

Part of the reason I had so much trouble getting past lying was that I was working to do it under my own strength, and not leaning into God for real change in my heart and mind.  I climbed out of it, but it was gruesome, ugly, bloody work.  While walking with God doesn’t make everything (or sometimes, it seems, ANYTHING) “easy,” I do know at this later point that it’s a substantially less horrifying thing, cleaning up, when we do it by His power and might than when we do it by our own.

Somewhere along the line I got to the point of not using lies as tools anymore, and this grew me to a sudden and horrifying understanding:  I hadn’t been fooling everyone, all that time.  I mean, I don’t know, maybe there were folks who bought my lies along the way.  But plenty had not.  I was able to look back and suddenly see that with clarity.

I had thought that because people didn’t argue with my lies, they believed me.

I had thought that because people still treated me decently, they believed me.

I had really thought I was pulling it off.

But suddenly in retrospect, I could look back and recognize so many places and instances where people KNEW, and let it go.

Where they just adjusted their understanding of who I was, and dealt with me accordingly.

Where they let me get away with it, because basically they didn’t bother hoping for better for me or from me.

I realized, with that same dawning horror as the “naked dream,” that people saw me for what I was, in all the ugliness that implied.

Part of what helped me realize this was my own dealings with others who were stuck in the place of using lies as a tool.  I realized how often I just listened to the lie, acknowledged within myself its absolute lack of veracity, and just remeasured the person so that I wouldn’t be foolish enough to believe other things they told me.

Ugh.  That was an excruciating realization.  I had been naked all along, and while others had not acknowledged it, they had seen me naked.  There was no retreating to anywhere to make it look better.

Too late.  The damage had been done.

All of this is huge in why I don’t lie at this point in my journey.  When I say that, I don’t mean I NEVER lie…I mean that on those rare occasions when I lose my mind for a moment and let a useful lie cross my lips, I am nearly overcome with urgent horror by it and I stop IMMEDIATELY to bring a course correction.  I can’t let it go.  I can’t hope no harm was done.  I have to fix it, and I have to fix it now.

It has been literally years now – more than 5, maybe? – since that happened.  Still, I don’t tell myself that I wouldn’t, couldn’t lie.  I’ve lived it.  I know it’s power.  I lean into God, and He continually makes my heart more true.  And in the moments of not leaning hard into Him, at this point I know enough to at least just shut my mouth when tempted to use a lie to make a situation easier.

Are you naked and don’t know it?  I was.  The childhood dream wasn’t true, but I was for sure naked, for YEARS, while others looked on.  Today I’m praying for anyone who reads this and needs the moment of dawning horror – the awfulness of knowing you’ve been naked all along.  It can be a gift, if you’ll let God use it to propel you into Him.

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