By María Pía Allende
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes, 52 seconds
I am from Argentina, and my first encounter with hypnosis was watching Tusam, a stage hypnotist who swallowed glass and put a dog in trance.
I was the executive director of MRI when we added Ericksonian hypnosis to our international externship program. Dr. Eric Greenleaf became our teacher. Later, after leaving MRI, I consulted with his institute. I translated courses and trances, but I had never been in trance. Hypnosis scared me.
When I was working with Eric, I began having a strange reoccurring dream. I would go to sleep and then suddenly I’d open my eyes and see a glossy, jet black snake in front of me. She would float in front of my face, aloof, and then slowly move toward the door. She was not a big snake but seemed to have the purpose of going somewhere. The dream was so real that I’d often think that I was in my country back home in Argentina, seeing a poisonous snake. Then, I would close my eyes and think, “What a relief. The lady is gone.”
One night when I was having that dream, I yelled so loud my husband woke up. My heart was exploding, I couldn’t breathe. I had to remind myself that I was not 10 years old and not in Córdoba, Argentina. I was terrified. For the rest of the night, I didn’t sleep.
At first, I would have this dream about every three months, then every two months, then every month, and then more than that. I would always wake up sweaty, scared, and vulnerable, and think that I was in Argentina. Once, when I was having this dream, I jumped out of bed and I hit my wrist. Another time, I slapped my husband in the face. Something had to be done or someone would get seriously hurt! I was so afraid to sleep that I would stay awake for hours, waiting for “the lady” to appear; jet black and shiny.
One summer, when I was home in Argentina, I had the nightmare. I yelled so loud my parents came running. I told them that I had had this nightmare for two years and I was afraid to sleep. My father, a doctor, gave me a pill for anxiety. “Maybe that will help,” he said. Although I fell asleep faster, I kept having the reoccurring dream.
One afternoon in September 2015, when Eric and I were organizing an international training for the institute and I was exhausted, groggy, and irritated, we had a talk about the dream.
I remember we were sitting in Eric’s car and he asked if I were okay. I told him that I was having a reoccurring nightmare and was afraid to sleep. I told him that it was always the same snake in the dream, and she always floated from left to right, with a purpose. I had been taking the pills my father prescribed, and I was in therapy, but I kept having the nightmare. I felt like crying.
Eric was quiet as he listened to me. I told him that sometimes I thought I was in my home country, where we would often see snakes. There was the vivoras de la cruz, a majestic creature with what looks like a big cross on top of its head, and coral snakes, which are orange and black and quite poisonous.
I told Eric that my grandmother, Susana, was the official killer of the snakes in my family. She seemed to have no fear. Whenever anyone saw a snake, they would ring a huge dinner bell, and yelled, “Susanaaaaaaaa, snake!!!!!” Wearing an old yellow shirt, blue pants, and a crooked hat, my grandmother would come running with a shovel. She’d position herself, holding the shovel up with two hands, and strike the head of the snake, which made a loud, heartbreaking shriek! The snake would die instantly and the whole family would look on in fascination. I would get on my knees to get a better look at the snake, fascinated that it could still move, drawing symmetric curves on the grass.
Then, my grandpa would show up. He would pick up the head of the snake and place it in a container with a research label. He would write in beautiful calligraphy the type, origin, and age of the snake, and if it was poisonous or not. The container would go on a shelf in our garage. These snake events were the highlight of our summers.
Through tears, I told Eric how much I miss my grandmother, how much she means to me, and that I was unable to see her before she died.
“You love your grandmother very much?” he asked me, almost in a whisper. “Terribly,” I said. “She was so special, brave, and kind.”
“You miss her a lot?” he asked. “A lot,” I said sobbing.
We remained quiet for several minutes. The light outside had turned orange; fading colors and yellowing trees. I felt overwhelmed with sadness and memories.
Then Eric told me to close my eyes. I heard him saying that when I was having the dream, I should place my grandmother somewhere in the room. She would be there to kill the lady the moment the snake appears. “She protected you then…” Eric told me, “…and she will be there to protect you now.” I imagined my grandmother sitting on the right side of the bed with her straw hat and shovel. Then, unexpectedly, my grandpa showed up; and sat at the end of the bed with the container. Neither were looking at me, but their backs were like two walls, providing a small shelter, like they had when I was a kid. Eric softly told me to imagine this same thing when I got home that night.
That night I closed my eyes and imagined my two saviors in my room: my grandma with her shovel wearing her hat, and my grandpa wearing his bathing suit and holding his container. Their images were as vivid as my dream. I could touch them if I moved.
After that night in September 2015, the lady disappeared; my nightmares stopped. Somewhere between my conscious and unconscious, I know that these two people that meant so much to me and loved me with all their hearts are sitting on my bed – one on the side and the other at the end. They do not move or turn around, but they remain there, alert. I can feel their sweet and powerful presence embracing me. After that memorable night, I felt like I could breathe again.
By Eric Greenleaf, PhD
“Dreams,” Freud famously wrote, “are the royal road to the unconscious.” When Erickson-influenced therapists stroll that road with their patients, each collects interesting and useful images that can be utilized to continue the dream to a satisfactory conclusion. María Pía Allende describes the stroll we took together through the spacious grounds of her childhood family home, collecting the images she needed to sleep safely.
This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 39, Issue No. 2 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.
Tags: case study, Erickson Foundation, Family Therapy, Focus, hypnosis, Implication, LAMFT, LCSW, LMFT, MDIV, Meaning, Metaphor, Milton H. Erickson, Pain, phd, psychiatrist, Psychologist, psychology, psychotherapy, PsyD, story, Technique, therapy, Trance, Utilization