Y'all, I had a dream two nights ago and I just can't stop thinking about it. This dream has radically changed how I think about my life. I woke up today thinking about it again and it's been three hours and I can't sleep or stop thinking about it so I think I'll share. Bear with me as dreams are weird and hazy and confusing, but hopefully you can follow along.
In my dream, I had a session with a famous therapist. Famous therapist's name was Sally or Susan or something like that. My brain isn't super original when it comes to names. Anyways, I was in her office with my husband and I was crying and telling her all about my life and talking about how nothing I'm doing seems to be working. She nodded gravely and told me it was because all I was doing was re-painting my porch. Stay with me, guys. This is where shit gets real. I was like, "This sounds like another mindfulness exercise that isn't going to help," and she told me that those exercises helped you recognize the chips in your porch paint and the other general wear and tear. What the heck, right? She gave me a workbook and told me I needed to do the homework before she saw me again the next day. In my dream, I went home and grumbled about having to do some more pointless analogy therapy that ultimately would do nothing for me. I then opened the workbook and what was in there was fascinating.
The Porch Theory is this idea that your life is built like a porch. (I need to add here that I am not a carpenter, have built stage set pieces, and am fully aware that what follows is not actually a good way to build a porch.) There is a poured foundation made of concrete. On top are four main support beams. Covering those are the long pieces of wood that make up the porch. Then comes the stain/paint and the decorations. Each part of the porch represents something different. The foundation is what your every action stems from. This is the root cause of everything you do. Then the foundation beams are the four main focuses your brain has. The long pieces of wood are your values that stem from those main focuses (which are influenced by the foundation). And then comes the paint/stain, which is the actions that you do and your outward symptoms, caused by the values which stem from the focuses that are influenced by the foundation.
In my dream, I did two written exercises. The first was to analyze my life starting from the paint and working my way back to the foundation. Then I labeled a diagram of my current "porch" with what I had written. This exercise took a long time, even in dream world. I ended up skipping around to the different parts of the "porch" as I tried to make sense of everything. The end result was me staring at this "porch," feeling as though I had been laid bare onto paper. My paint, the outward manifestation of my inward life, included like "people pleaser," "excessive apologizing," "panic and anxiety attacks," "sobbing," "anger towards my health," "shame over needing mobility devices, medications, etc," and "going to countless doctor appointments even though I know this doctor isn't the one for me." I could go on, but you get the point. The long pieces of wood, the values, were things like "religion," "putting family and friends above health," "getting the highest education possible," "being the best," "keeping a clean house at all costs," "forcing my body to stay healthy as much as possible," and "working a good job". The four main support beams were "Not wanting to be abandoned," "Not wanting anyone to regret being around me," "Not wanting to be a burden," and "Thinking everyone else deserves more/better than I do." My foundation was Fear and Worthlessness.
After I did this exercise, I found myself back in the dream therapist's office, sobbing and holding my husband's hands as I told her all about my porch. What could I do? This seemed like a horrible life I'd created for myself, and I felt hopeless about it.
She told me that yes, this is a terrible porch. It is, at its foundation, flawed. She told me that I couldn't expect a beautiful life when my thinking was all stemming from places of fear and worthlessness the same way that I shouldn't expect a porch with a nasty, cracked foundation and rotting wood to be an amazing place to have lemonade and iced tea during the summer with my husband. She told me it wasn't my fault that my porch is shit. She jokingly told me that with the life I've lived, she was surprised the whole damn house hadn't fallen apart. I couldn't stop crying. She got down on my level, looked me in the eyes and quietly asked me if I was ready for a new porch. I told her yes, but how the hell do I do that? She nodded solemnly and said, "Renovations."
She then had me do the second exercise in the workbook. The second exercise was, "Describe your dream porch (aka ideal life/values/etc.). My dream porch's outward appearance were things like "singing in the shower again," and "smiling," and "enjoying time with friends," and "happiness," and "baking" and "painting". My porch boards, my values, were made up of "Living in the moment," "Gratefulness," "Finding contentment," "Loving friends," "Relationship with husband," and others I can't remember right now. The four beams were "mental health," "healthy marriage," "physical health," and "hope." And the foundation? It was Self Love.
Sounds great, right? But how to get there? SallySusan the Dream Therapist was a little hazy on this one, but told me that every time I am having an outward symptom or thought that echoes the nasty porch, to think of the ideal porch and try to follow along with what I think that would look like. For example, if I find myself crying over how messy the house is, I should take a step back and realize that this comes from that gross foundation. I can then try to remind myself of how I want to be thinking. AKA, "Yes, the house is messy but it actually isn't hurting anyone and hey, isn't it great that husband and I have been resting and going places and having fun and yeah, we haven't had time to clean the house but look at all we've done this week!" or "Yes, the house is messy but it actually isn't hurting anyone and if it is, I can ask husband for help because I don't have to do it all by myself and it isn't horrible to ask him to help and we could play music and it could actually be fun!" or "Yes, the house is messy but no, you haven't 'done nothing' all week, you've taken all your pills on time and rested your joints and remember that one time you pet your dog? That was pretty awesome! And it's okay to focus on your health. Remember those beams on your dream porch? It's okay." She told me that I was going to need to go right down to the foundation and change it and then the other changes would follow.
My dream therapist told me that this was going to be nasty, messy work. She told me to think of it like any renovation. There will be setbacks. She told me that any time I experience a setback while working toward this "new porch" and feel like I'll never get there, to just think of it as a construction issue and forgive myself. There might be termites living in the wood of the porch, waiting to be exposed. The renovation crew might take unexpected holidays and leave me with a shattered mess to work around for weeks. Maybe there's some electrical wiring that needs to be replaced. Perhaps we'll get the porch built and realize that the foundation was never actually touched, the crew just said they did it and we have to tear the whole thing apart again. She told me that just as re-making a foundation for a house or porch is ridiculously hard and irritating, re-making a foundation for my life will be, too. And just like porches continually need weather-proofing, the occasional board replacement, re-painting, and other regular maintenance, keeping myself healthy will require constant work. But she told me to look forward to the days when I can sit out on a nice porch, sipping iced tea on a lounger next to my husband and watching the sunset.
Although it was a dream, I'm going to follow along with the Porch Theory and see if it works. Feel free to join me. If you'd like, you can share your own "Dream Porch" with me in the comments or on my Facebook page, Instagram, or Twitter.