Whale Dreams.

It’s not down on any map, true places never are
— Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Trauma affects everything. Even your dreams. In fact nightmares are a hallmark of PTSD and are often the symptom that troubles people the most. If you come to trauma in adulthood you will notice the biggest difference because you would have had happy dreams before you began experiencing nightmares. In many ways, I think it is much harder for traumatized adults because there is such a stark experience of the nightmares. If you grow up with trauma you don't know anything else. You think that nightmares and dreams are the same thing. You are entirely used to them.

The very first dream that I had that wasn't a nightmare was when I was 32. I dreamt that I was standing high on a cliff on the west coast and from this cliff I could see a whale. It had come up to the surface and I was so unbelievably happy to see it. It rolled and waved its big flipper and I was so happy I passed out and landed on the shore. In the dream when I woke up I was still happy. And when I woke up for real, I carried the feeling with me and the awe of this wild creature who had surfaced. I also carried with me the possibility that happiness could and would surface. For now, in moments, but the whale in the dream gave me hope.

 Over the years the image stayed with me. Healing stirs up longing. Longing for connection, longing to connect parts of yourself back together, longing to inhabit a different state of being. The image stayed with me long enough to write the following poem—what if Moby Dick were understood from the whale’s perspective? So much of healing is about a desire for connection and an ambivalence about safety in connection. You have to hang on to the hope. You have to sometimes grab the end of the line.

The Finder and the Found

The assumption is that he

didn’t want to get caught.

That the entire epic struggle

was one of escape. They assumed

that his desire was for freedom.


But perhaps the great white whale

was just ambivalent about closeness.

Was afraid that Ahab would

hurt him, as the others had before.


Unsure of whether to stay below

or surface, giving signals of

his whereabouts to those

who would wish to find him.


Perhaps, he was secretly hoping

to be pulled in on a great line.

Welcomed aboard with shouts

of homecoming and reunion.


Maybe Ahab’s longing

mirrored his own desire:

The finder and the found

joined by the ends of a line.


© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2015