Dreams are a rare occurence for me. Going to sleep usually causes me to fall into complete emptiness, or hover just between alert and unconscious as I struggle not to wake myself up. When I do dream though, it’s because something is wrong. When I’m feeling scared, or guilty, or anxious, these feelings manifest themselves in vividly internalized strangeness that often cause me to wake suddenly in a sweat, and then just as quickly slip away as I attempt to recall what happened.
Dreams are not fun excursions into my imagination the way they seem to be for many, but torturous self examinations without the constraints of logic and reality. I become my own worst enemy, helpless to suppress the ideas twisting themselves into things I can’t begin to describe even to myself as I wait and hope it will soon be over. My dreams have been this way for as long as I can remember, at some points during my childhood becoming so bad my religious family began to think I was possessed and mentally unstable.
It has been a long time since I’ve had anything quite so graphic as when I was a child, but that didn’t stop me revisiting these moments I had thought I’d forgotten as I journeyed through Dreaming Sarah and its protagonist’s equally bizarre and terrifying visions. Dreams are common fodder for media, but Dreaming Sarah is one of the first I’ve experienced that so perfectly illustrates the merging of reality and the surreal, and the petrifying helplessness within it that has been haunting me all these years. It exists at the point just between a dream and consciousness, where you can’t be sure of what is real and what isn’t; where your experiences and trauma come to life in ways you can’t control or understand, but are forced to make sense of or else allow them to swallow you whole.
Dreaming Sarah is excels at taking something conventional and warping it just enough to feel unusual yet still recognizable. Its artwork and soundtrack becomes continually more twisted as you travel deeper into Sarah’s subconscious, but always with a tinge of the familiar that only serves to put you more on edge. Gathering and using items feels traditional and expected, yet for what actual purpose I was collecting them I couldn’t say. Everything is so very ordinary but also alien, like you’ve been here before only now it’s changed and you aren’t sure how. Something is so clearly wrong, but you’re the only one that seems to notice.
I wouldn’t describe Dreaming Sarah as terrifying so much as it is haunting and unsettling. There is never any real danger and I knew this the whole time, but as is always the case in dreams what I knew became irrelevant. This was a world of my character’s own creation but which plays by its own rules, leaving me in a state of disarray as I attempt to rationalize the impossible. I wanted to get out, but the only way to do so was to find a way to understand this dream and trace it back to where it came from.
Looking at the dreams of someone else, whether they be but the creation of an artist or drawn from actual experiences, I was able to more easily see how they reflected some portion of reality. As I was helping to piece together Sarah’s psyche, it felt as if I was also in some way beginning to reconcile some of the inexplicable terrors I had conjured up over the years. It was clear that Sarah wasn’t insane, but that she had suffered and was hurting, and these dreams were the only way left for her to compartmentalize and begin to move past her trouble. Perhaps then my nightmares can similarly teach me something about myself, and help heal the subconscious wounds still eating away at me at night.
It seems likely to me that there will be people who don’t “get” Dreaming Sarah, who perhaps enjoy it on a mechanical and artistic level, but who see any deeper meaning as being fabricated or pretentious. Perhaps that is true to a point, but it also seems to say something about how we often view dreams as only that, rather than an extension of our real life experiences and potentially even a coping mechanism. I want to believe the horrors I’m inflicting upon myself are there for a reason, and that there is an ending in which I’m no longer tearing myself apart from deepest corners of my mind. At the very least, it would seem I’m not the only one.