If You Don’t Dream, You Die
I spent most of my life in a half-alive state. I was here and I wasn’t. Maybe you can resonate?
I used to think I couldn’t live my dreams.
I used to think dreams were just fantasies that would never come to fruition.
I was raised in a family that neither praised nor poo-pooed my dreams.
The summer of my senior year of college, my budding professional self suddenly envied my friends whose parents had expectations of them and sat them down for reality check conversations often — just to make sure their college funds were being put to good use.
That summer I befriended the daughter of the world goods store owners that I’d worked for my junior and senior year of college. My new Cancerian girlfriend and I bonded quickly. She filled the gaping hole my 18 months younger sister left when she passed away suddenly the year before.
During the days we chatted between customers at work, bonding over the gemstone jewels we polished together. At night we bonded over art events, swing dance classes and night clubs. We walked arm in arm around the city, sharing a latte. We had the same quirky sense of humor. We were both the oldest child and full of unhealed wounds that stemmed from being misunderstood by our mothers.
My new soul sister (that was what we called each other) also had a strong relationship with her family — which I envied and admired at the same time. Her parents and two sisters embraced me with open arms and I quickly became their “adopted daughter,” eating dinners in their cluttered dining room and spending late nights listening to her father give us both life advice.
My friend was a competitive, determined artist. She applied to study sculpture in Rome. Her parents were 100% supportive of her decision. I remember feeling a rush of immense fear move through me when she told me she applied to a graduate program and then started to talk about traveling with me around Italy and Greece during her school break. “But you don’t know if you’ll get in yet!” I said in a wavering voice.
At that moment I saw the strength of her willpower. Her intense dark brown eyes bore a hole into my soul.
“You’re so funny, Sarah. You can’t doubt your dreams or they’ll never manifest. You have to believe whatever you want to happen will happen if you work hard for it.”
Sometimes people make statements that plant a seed inside your psyche that can take time to germinate. You know it when those words pause time for a split second.
Your soul whispers softly,
There’s something vital here for you to process. You will live into these words someday. You will embrace their truth when you’re ready.
Her words shook me so hard I shuddered. If I’d have processed them at the moment I may have had a nervous breakdown. My whole system was so full of doubt, so full of insecurity, I couldn’t fathom living my dreams.
Her words reminded me that I was still afraid to dream.
I wasn’t that little girl dreaming of being anything and everything without the need for validation from the outside. Suddenly, those years of having little parental or mentor support or encouragement came flooding back to me. I felt as if my sense of self was floating in the vastness of space, groundless and without purpose.
The thought, I’m scared to dream, moved through me like a ghost. Her words somehow made me feel very small. I needed to get away from my insecurity and groundlessness, so I laughed (as I used to do often when I was uncomfortable), and changed the topic.
I went to visit my friend 3 months later in Florence. She was studying figure drawing and sculpture and creating art 10 plus hour a day. When I saw her she was exhausted but invigorated. I remember walking into the small school tucked behind a market, just beyond a large sculpture of David. I remember ogling after David’s large, muscular ass, my mouth still drooling as I walked into my friend’s art school. She stood there, poised and serious, studying the wet clay of her first nude sculpture. I was impressed. As she glanced towards me, her tired under eyes told me she needed a reprieve, and the glimmer of her irises told me I was it.
We backpacked through Greece for a week together, giggling like schoolgirls, eating fresh yogurt with honey and nuts every morning, and handwashing our underwear in hotel sinks.
On that trip, I felt both awe and terror towards my friend. She was living her dream.
I was feeding off of her like a leach, constantly feeling reminded of my lackluster, dreamless life. When we went back to Florence I started to feel depleted. When she went to school I wandered through art galleries and churches aimlessly. I started to grow sick at the sparkle of gold in church after church. I was dreamless and despondent.
Even pastries and gelato only offered a temporary sense of delight. When I parted ways with my friend, there was tension. Something felt off. We were in two very different places — so close, yet oh so far away from each other. Upon parting, she gave me a postcard from the Sistine Chapel, an image of two separate hands a few inches apart, almost touching. On the back of the postcard she wrote, “This is us.” As I read it, my heart sank.
That image stayed with me months and years after I left my friend in Italy. Our hands grew much farther apart. I never saw her again after that. My fears and insecurities still hung over me like a distant, dreamless cloud.
I didn’t know then that it would take years for the dream seed she planted to germinate. I didn’t know the depth of my fears. Their roots were deep and dark.
I didn’t know then that I’d have to wade through past trauma and experience more love and loss before I could have the courage to do the inner work necessary to believe in my dreams as my friend believed in hers.
We eventually parted ways. I didn’t predict that either. It was bittersweet but necessary. I needed my own soil — not hers or her family’s — to fully bloom.
Dreams make life worth living.
I suffered a major depression before I met my friend. I reached a dark inner cavern where there were no dreams. It was a suffocating place. It made my life unlivable for what seemed like forever. Somehow, like an enchanted tale, when I was at my lowest low, life magically sent me humans that loved me, despite my depression.
Some of them were professionals in the medical and mental health field, and others were employers, acquaintances, and even random strangers I’d had but one life-changing interaction with. Those kind humans shed light on my dark corners and reminded me that somewhere inside I still had dreams.
Being human means having desires.
Desires and dreams can be healthy. We can filter out the unhealthy from the healthy based on how they make us feel and how they affect those around us.
After I parted ways with my friend in Florence, I read through a journal she gave to me once as a birthday gift. In the first section of the long, blank journal, she’d written out email exchanges between us from when she first went to Italy, leaving space in the rest of the journal for me to fill with my own words.
Reading my own heartfelt responses made my whole being light up. Writing was always something that fed my spirit and gave me a sense of wholeness and connection to life. I felt large when I wrote as if I was a soul having a human experience. I remember crying as I read our loving exchanges, feeling grief over the loss of our friendship. That deep emotion inspired me to write. In a few months, I filled up the many blank pages with poetry and prose and journal entries.
We must keep dreaming. When we don’t dream, we die.
I think I spent a lot of my life in limbo, in a half-alive state. I wanted to savor the moments of my life, but I didn’t know how to. When I started writing again, I started dreaming again. My body started to come alive. My senses seemed heightened; colors were brighter, sounds were more lively; smells were more potent; my tastebuds were more finetuned.
When I started to write and share my writing, the world took on a new hue. My yoga students commented that my classes were better. I took that to mean I was emanating a stronger life force energy. I was feeling more embodied. I was more present, move lively, and it showed through in my presence in front of the class.
Dreams need support.
I got the courage to share more when one of my college English professors found my writing and sent me an email. I’d been submitting regularly to Elephant Journal and his yoga instructor had sent him my piece on why Yin Yoga is Sexy. We began to have a lovely email exchange in which he encouraged me to publish more of my writing.
Our email exchange was inspiring. For a while, he became my muse. Before he wrote to me, I was wavering in the realm of insecurity. Those old fear-based roots were taunting me. His praise shed light on my passion and rekindled my dream to keep sharing my story with others in hopes that it would inspire at least one person.
The support of my favorite undergraduate professor meant the world to me. He was the parental figure I didn’t have. He was the muse and the mentor I craved as a young writer. He was the pat on the back I wanted for my straight-A report cards and poetry contest wins. I needed his words just like my artist friend needed the encouragement and support of her teachers and parents throughout her journey.
Suddenly, I found what was lacking — at least one person I respected who believed in me.
In attachment theory, they say a child who is insecurely attached to their caregivers can learn secure attachment by having at least one healthy, secure caregiver. It could be another family member or professional like a teacher. Having a secure bond can increase a child’s self-esteem and ability to trust others, fostering healthy, secure relationships in the future. As a therapist, I’ve seen this same healing happen for adults; I experienced this healing myself.
My old college professor showed me that what I had been seeking was seeking me — and had been there all along.
When I was in his classes my senior year, I had just crawled out of a major depressive episode. My sister had just died. I was wounded and grieving. I had little faith in myself and had wavering faith in life. We had an unspoken connection. Just his presence made me feel seen and heard and understood. I would find out all these years later that my presence offered him that same gift.
Find that one person.
Really all you need is one person to high-five you on your dreams — and be that 110% supporter. Could my sculptor friend have lived her dream without her family’s financial support and her undergraduate professors cheering her on? With her willpower, yes, absolutely, but there would have been many more roadblocks to pummel through.
Dreams are livable no matter how insecure or fearful you are of your own success. Dreams can be manifested even if no one is standing behind you cheering you on. I know from my path, moving through my fears and insecurities by doing the inner work, helped me gain the courage to submit my first piece to a professional publication. I know that one person I respected cheering me on after I took the first leap and manifested my dream of becoming a published writer made all the difference in my mental outlook.
Tune out the doubt, tune into the heart.
When I started writing back when I was way more fearful and insecure, I clung tightly to what people thought of me and the what if insecurities (Would people even like my voice? Was I even worthy of being heard?). Somewhere along the way, I had to tune out the self-doubt. When I realized I could control the volume on which inner voice I chose to listen to, I found a sense of empowerment that fueled me to take risks.
I surrendered the fear up and tapped into my human vulnerability by sharing my truth the way my heart wanted to share it. When I started holding space for my own heart and my own voice, what others thought about me didn’t matter. Suddenly, being heard and received as a writer wasn’t what brought me the most joy. My joy came from my own faith in my dreams. It came from me being my top supporter.
I lost touch with my professor after I got comfortable enough to take more risks with my writing. I realized he wanted more from me than just my writing — he had his own needs, and they weren’t the kind just writing could satisfy. Perhaps I needed my mentor to fall off of the pedestal I put him on and show me his humanness so that I’d have more faith in mine. The day I told him I could not be a married man’s mistress was the day my faith myself grew 110%.
My dreams continue to manifest because I continue to honor myself.
My writing, counseling practice, and yoga classes all continue to blossom because I feed them with my whole self one breath, one action at a time.
I have complete and utter faith that you, dear reader can become your own biggest supporter too (or perhaps you already are), one breath, one step at a time.
We all deserve to live our dreams. It is only in the living of our dreams that we can discover what it feels like to be set free.