Kathleen Adams, LPC, RPT
The Dark Men in my dreams
would populate a psychopathic colony. There are hundreds
of them, varying only in the degree of their
malevolence. They all have one intent - to harm me - and
they are endlessly creative. They are torturers,
terrorists, hijackers, kidnappers, rapists, pirates and
thieves. They are muggers, marauders, murderers,
outlaws, gangsters, con artists and crooks. They
threaten. They menace. They stalk. Whether they travel
alone or in packs, they tear out my phone lines, unlock
my deadbolts, power through my barriers, kick down my
doors and paralyze my nerve endings. -- from
The Dark Man and Other Dreams, a short story by Kathleen
Once upon a time, in another
decade, I loved a man who lied. Although our lives
intersected in the most charming of ways -- he wrote me
a letter when my first book, Journal to the Self, was
published -- and although our friendship unfolded
slowly, stuffed in hundreds of envelopes over seasons
and years, still he deceived me through a web of
intricately plotted and increasingly complex lies.
In Writing for Your Life, Deena
Metzger says, "To write is, above all else, to
construct a self." This man constructed a self that
had no foundation in three-dimensional reality. He
created himself as fictional character, protagonist in a
parallel universe, star of the life he should have been
Meanwhile, my three-dimensional
reality seemingly had no relationship to my self. I was
struggling with a reality warp of my own. In a
complicated inverse, my life was feeling like a novel.
Everything I had ever dreamed of was happening to me,
including a well-hailed first book and a brilliant,
charming penfriend who was beginning to hint that I
might be the woman he had been waiting for all his life.
Is this a story, or what?
Romance, passion, paradox; destiny; weavings and
layerings and inevitabilities. One waits a lifetime for
such a story. I happily tumbled headfirst into it, and
stayed there for a while.
You can discern the rest: It
ended badly. The Glamour failed one day, and he was
revealed as who he really was, or at least exposed as
who he wasn't. Thus began a waking nightmare that lasted
for most of the next year.
I have a shelf full of journals
from that year. I wrote vociferously about my horror,
rage, shock, self-recrimination, devastation, grief. For
three seasons, my journal was a lifeline. It held my
days together, giving me cause both to get out of bed in
the morning and into bed at night.
Woody Allen said, "After
25 years of psychoanalysis, I have a brilliant
understanding of my neurosis." After three seasons,
I was developing a brilliant understanding of the ways
in which my journal was sounding more and more like an
endless loop tape. I had processed all I could possibly
process. I understood what I could, and the rest was
I began to sense that there was
something else that needed and wanted to happen. As odd
as it may sound, the story became its own living,
breathing thing. It was a palpable presence, this story
- this story that was not treatise nor analysis nor
catharsis nor endless "now" moment, but
instead was mythic, archetypal, terribly real fiction.
It lived in the dreamworld, the place that Dana Reynolds
calls "sacred imagination." Through the mythic
ages it has been told and enacted as the story of Psyche
and Eros, or the story of Persephone's descent into the
Underworld, or the story of Rapunzel in her tower, or
Inanna's nine gates of hell, or the Dark Man. Especially
the Dark Man.
The Dark Man is one of the 17
most prominent archetypes in women's dreams, according
to Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Nearly every
woman I know has bolted upright from nightmares in which
she experienced the terror and helplessness of being
chased, raped or trapped by a thug, monster, ex, con
artist or other devilish shapeshifter. Sometimes these
dreams hold the psyche's imprint of trauma, or our own
individual or collective shadow. Clarissa says they
represent a creative part of the dreamer's psyche that
is screaming to get out. Whatever it meant, I was living
in the middle of a Dark Man dream, and as story, it
begged to be written.
I had no idea how to write
fiction, but a friend was signed up for a writing class
with short story master Pam Houston, so I signed up too.
Over the next four months I produced three torturous,
arduous and ultimately thrilling drafts of a 30-page
story, The Dark Man and Other Dreams, that told the
story of a woman, a man, and deception.
In the course of the writing, I
underwent a tremendous transformation. The creative
process being what it is, of course, I will never truly
know what happened, but I know that something deep
within me became healed as I immersed myself in the
story, and the writing of the story. As I made up the
truth, the truth set me free.
What made the difference?
Mastery, craft, poetic truth and surrender.
Mastery. The first thing
I noticed was that as omniscient narrator, I had all the
information - something I completely lacked in the
relationship. The power of mastery over how the story
was told, what was revealed and what withheld, was
utterly exhilarating. For years I had lived in a cloud
of unknowing. Suddenly I knew everything. It was a
radically powerful experience.
Craft. Next I found that
the crafting of good sentences, the exquisite labor of
breathing in and breathing out, the devotional stepping
into language, the mindfulness of syllable and rhythm,
became a transcendent experience, fashioning art out of
horror. I took one of my life's most negative
experiences and crafted it into one of my life's best
pieces of writing.
Poetic truth. The
decision to write fiction freed me from my fundamental
journal ethic to tell the truth. Because it was fiction,
I could write anything at all. I could create myself and
my experience in the image of a character with a name (Julianna)
and a sister (Rosie) and a Dark Man (Joseph) all her
own. Through becoming absorbed in Julianna's reality,
which was similar to but not the same as historical
truth, I came to poetic truth.
Surrender. Lastly, I
surrendered to the undertow of the Story that wove its
way into every strand of words. Through mastery, craft
and poetic truth, I was scribing my own individualized
imprint of mythology. In my one small life, I was
healing myself from a painful break-up. In the vast
theatre of the sacred imagination, I was playing Psyche,
Persephone, Rapunzel, Inanna to a standing-room-only
Making up the truth healed me.
Perhaps it can heal you, too. If you want to try this,
here's a five-step process that I use with my writing
groups, adapted from a method I learned from Deena
1. Take a situation or
circumstance in your life that troubles you. It can be a
devastating event, or a chronic condition or problem.
Write about it for 15 minutes. Then boil your 15-minute
write into a one-sentence declaration of the situation.
2. Create a character
who has many of the same strengths, qualities,
characteristics, challenges and desires as you do, but
who is not necessarily hobbled by your restrictions,
limitations or obstacles. Write a Character Sketch of
3. Set a scene. Get a
picture in your mind of your character and the
situation. Have your character begin taking some sort of
action. Write a description.
4. From there, follow
your character. Let yourself be guided. It is normal to
not know what you're going to write next. Just let it
5. Don't worry too much
about writing in chronological order. In my writing
groups, we write "pieces" or
"squares" and then quilt them together later
© 2000 Kathleen
Adams. All rights reserved.
Kathleen Adams LPC, RPT is a
Registered Poetry/Journal Therapist and Director of The
Center for Journal Therapy in Lakewood, Colorado. She is
one of the leading voices on the power of writing to
heal and is the author of four books, including Journal
to the Self and The Write Way to Wellness.
Her upcoming seminars include the annual 5-day women’s
writing retreat in Colorado July 8-13, and a one-day
Journal to the Self workshop in Denver in late July. She
would love your feedback on this column; please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or stop by her website, www.journaltherapy.com.
Kathleen's "Scribing the Soul" Columns:
"Scribing the Soul" Column
2000 "Pockets of Joy"
2000 "Five Ways to Scribe Your Intuition"
Kathleen's Feature Article on Dream Journals:
in the Dark: Cracking the Soul's Code Through Dream