Podcast 143: A Case Study: Herbs and Nightmares

Dreaming matters: it’s a critical part of our identity-building and experience-processing work, and vital to our ability to regulate our emotions. But not all dreams are good. When nightmares happen, especially if they happen chronically, they can make dreaming itself feel unsafe. But never fear: when we need help we can always turn to herbs, and nightmares are no exception.

In this episode we present a very personal case study about working with herbs and nightmares to improve one’s relationship with dreaming.
This is katja’s story, and it’s a story involving trauma from assault, which led to nightmares for more than a decade. It was exacerbated by an abusive living situation – as Katja puts it, “like microdosing the original traumatic experience”. The work she engaged in, with the help of plants, was about building agency in dreams. This effort paralleled work she did in waking life, building healthier boundaries and developing her own empowerment. These efforts supported each other – each one helped the other proceed.

Of course, nightmares and poor sleep are connected – nightmares lead to dread of sleep, poor sleep worsens nightmares. So the approach is to combine herbs for dream work – cultivating feelings of safety, lessening fear of dreaming & dread of sleep – together with a comprehensive sleep protocol, plus herbs that helping her build agency in her waking life.

Herbs discussed include: mugwort, motherwort, ghost pipe, yarrow, blue vervain, ginger, chamomile, skullcap, passionflower, linden, hawthorn, tulsi, wood betony, rose, nettle, elecampane, st john’s wort, sage, elderflower, calamus.

Interested in deepening your dreaming? Want to explore herbs who can help you dream more vividly, or achieve lucidity in your dreams? Our mini-course on Herbs and Dreaming is for you! Learn key herbs from across the world (and probably in your backyard!) with oneirogenic activity.

mugwort flowers mini course

As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:15):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:00:19):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. All right. Well, here we are again, back with another episode of the Holistic Herbalism podcast for you, our good friends and our brand new listeners. This one’s exciting. We’re going to do a case study this time, and it’s going to be about nightmares and how to work your way out of nightmares.

Katja (00:00:42):
Like a pattern of nightmares and recurring nightmares. Yeah.

Ryn (00:00:46):
Yeah. So that’s what we’re going to talk about. But before we get to that, let’s give you our reclaimer where we remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educator.

Katja (00:00:57):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States, so these discussions are for educational purposes only. Also everybody’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (00:01:20):
And we want to remind you that good health is your right, and it’s your own personal responsibility. And this means that the final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it was discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours. Yeah. All right. So, let’s get into it. Let’s talk about nightmares, about chronic nightmares, about the way that that manifests both in the waking life and then the dream world and how those two parallel each other. And how the work that you do in one can support the change that happens in the other. And that does go both ways.

Katja (00:01:54):
Yeah. That’s a big part of this.

Ryn (00:01:56):
So let’s start with this. Dreamwork is important. And not just because we recently completed a mini course all about herbs and dreaming, but because dreaming is important. It matters, you know. It’s not just kind of a fun story that happens while you sleep, something for your brain to do while it’s otherwise turned off. In fact, it’s about as far away from getting turned off as is waking life, actually.

Katja (00:02:19):
Right. We think that when you’re asleep your brain is shut down, but it’s not. It’s doing tons of work.

Ryn (00:02:25):
Yeah. So while you’re dreaming, actually, that’s helping to maintain your emotional and your mental health in large part by giving you opportunities to process the experiences that you’ve had in that day or in your recent life. Also it’s a place where you can play out alternative options, evaluate ways to adapt in stressful situations. There can be a lot of freedom in dreams. Nightmares are often dreams where that freedom is curtailed. And it’s as if the basic or the normal function of what’s going on here has been interfered with, or in some manner. It’s like another kind of dysfunction in the body, you know? So anyway, dreaming allows the brain to make different kinds of connections than you make when you’re doing wakeful thinking. And then that can result in bursts of creativity or in solutions to problems that have stagnated or been with you for a long time. So, that all sounds pretty good, right? But again, right, if you experience a nightmare this function isn’t working so well, right? When you experience nightmares, especially recurring ones, you’re not getting those benefits necessarily. And the whole process of dreaming itself can feel unsafe, and then that can make you be less inclined to sleep. And then the less you sleep the more likely you are to have troubling dreams. And now you’re in a vicious cycle, you know? So, especially because we do have this brand new shining herbs and dreams, herbs and dreaming mini course. Because of that, working through nightmares and working in dreams has been on both of our minds a lot lately as we’ve been developing that material. So we wanted to share with you a case study to kind of illustrate how herbs and holistic strategies can help us to work through the pattern of nightmare, and get to a healthier relationship with dreaming.

Katja’s Case Study

Katja (00:04:15):
So, this is actually my case study by which, I mean, me. I am the case study here. Yes.

Ryn (00:04:21):
You are the case. We will study you.

Katja (00:04:22):
Partially, because it’s my own details. So it’s perfectly legitimate for me to share that on the internet. But also, honestly, I think that I had one of the most recalcitrant cases of nightmares that I have ever worked with. Among all of my clients, I feel like I took aspects of the work that I did with my own nightmares and brought that into my work with every client that I had who struggled with nightmares.

Ryn (00:04:55):
Yeah, even as the process was unfolding and developing.

Katja (00:04:57):
Yeah, absolutely. And this was a process that had many, many rounds of work over many years, literally more than 15 years of work. So I feel like the complexity here will cover a lot of different situations, or kind of in other words, there’s something for everyone. And hopefully you will find, if you are a person working with nightmares or a person who you love someone maybe who is working through nightmares, there will be something in this body of work that will spark some ideas for you about how to help with situations that you know about.

Ryn (00:05:39):
Yeah, for sure. So do you want to start by giving some back story?

Katja (00:05:43):
Yeah, I was thinking just to describe the case a little bit. So I had recurring nightmares that originated from an assault when I was 16. And those nightmares lasted really into my late thirties, like that specific set of recurring nightmares from that original assault. So like I said, this is a really long body of work. A central theme in the nightmare, and honestly I think this maybe central to most nightmares, was being powerless to make choices that would protect me from what happened. Like reliving the situation and seeing, like knowing what was coming, and not being able to do something to protect myself. So when I think about dreaming and its ability to help us work through and process our experiences, and then I contrast that with the way the brain works, especially in a moment of trauma, in that moment of trauma, the human brain actually creates different types of memories and processes information differently than sort of in your just normal everyday life. Yeah.

Ryn (00:07:00):
People talk about the flashbulb memory, like those old fashioned cameras with the little thing. And they’re under the curtain and it goes poof, right?

Katja (00:07:09):
Right, and that’s all you can see.

Ryn (00:07:09):
Flash bulb, right? Just like one strobe light flashing into the darkness. And now you see that image and it’s just seared there and stuck. And stuck is the word. Like it doesn’t move, it doesn’t change. It’s the same, even if it’s not like one still painting, you know, but like that same sequence, that same experience over and over again.

Katja (00:07:27):
Right. All you are is just stuck in that place, in that sort of burst type of memory.

Ryn (00:07:33):
And it’s protective, you know, your body’s trying to say this was super serious. We better remember it in great detail in case anything is ever even remotely like this again.

Katja (00:07:42):
Right. That’s why the brain does that. Like, it is actually an adaptive, like protective mechanism. But it’s also super uncomfortable. So in the dream state, our brains are trying to process our experiences into something resolvable, right? Something that can be put away into like long-term storage. But in this kind of a situation where you only have that burst memory, that flash of traumatic experience, that’s not really reconcilable. That is data that kind of does not compute. You’re trying to take that data and put it into this dream process that the brain wants to do to help process all of the experiences. And the dream state is like, this is not actually material that I can work with. So then you just end up kind of replaying it over and over again as the brain kind of says how do I work with this material? So in other words, what I’m saying here is that the trauma itself and the dream are very tied together. So, in order to move past one of them, we need to move past both of them. But in order to move past either of them, we need the brain to be able to do this work. In order to move past the trauma, your brain has to be able to process it. But in order to be able to process it, we need to like shift it down out of that kind of a flashbulb memory situation. So you’re sort of like trapped in like a catch. You get so far and it glitches and then shoots you back to the beginning. So, I think a particular part, like, you know, very simple situation. Oh my goodness, as if there is ever a simple situation. But if we want to distill this down, then we would say, oh, okay, then we are just going to do a lot of therapy around that trauma. And then we’ll be able to shift the type of memory we have, and then we’ll be able to process it and move on. And I think for some people that does certainly happen. In my particular case, and I think in many cases, the nightmare itself represented a very acute version of a situation that was still present in my life. So in that one traumatic moment, I was powerless. But in that point in my life, and extending through various times of my life, I was also in one or more inescapable, abusive relationships. And there were also plenty of places in my daily life where I felt very powerless regularly.

Katja (00:10:26):
Whether that was in the context of these abusive relationships that I couldn’t actually get out of it at that time, or in the context of being a woman in the engineering world. Because for a lot of this process, that’s what I was. And that was not an easy work environment to be in. So just different…or being a woman on the street. There are many places where being a woman in this society means that your agency is being taken away from you. And I have the privilege of at least being a white woman. So that’s not as bad as it could be. But the reality is still that on a daily basis, it was almost like I was micro-dosing that larger traumatic event, that like very traumatic event of being completely powerless. And then going through my day and having these bursts of varying degrees of severity of powerlessness. And so that meant that every night I was not only needing to process that original traumatic event. Even after it was years old, I was still working on getting through that. But I also needed to process all the places in that day itself where my agency was taken from me. So that my life was in this recurrent pattern that paralleled the trauma. And I wasn’t to escape from those nightmares. But I also wasn’t able to escape from, you know, several relationships that were very, very abusive in nature in a way that kept me powerless.

Katja (00:12:11):
So, I don’t think that’s necessarily always true for all people in all nightmares, but in my case, it was. And to be honest I think that it’s not necessarily uncommon. Other people that I’ve worked with who have had recurring patterns of nightmares, there has been that sort of pattern of like this terrible thing happened, but also a very minor recurrence of the terrible thing was regularly happening in some other kind of forms. So that your brain is trying to chew on these experiences, and you can’t get past them because they’re still happening. So for me I needed to recognize the places that the traumatic event and the nightmare was actually a stand in for these smaller traumas that were happening in daily life. And in order to escape the big awful nightmare, I also needed to do some work around what was happening in my daily life, and where I could reclaim agency and power, or build for myself agency and power that never had been present. Either take it back that had been taken from me or claim it in places where I had never been given it to begin with.

Ryn (00:13:27):

From Vicious Cycle to Healthy Feedback Loop

Katja (00:13:29):
You were talking earlier about this sort of feedback loop, and we’re going to try to move ourselves out of that vicious cycle, and move it into a healthy feedback loop where the more that I can acknowledge and ultimately address the powerlessness in my daily life, in my daytime waking life, the more that I can make progress with the nightmare itself. But then also the more that I was able to make progress on the nightmare, increased my feelings of agency to make changes in my actual daytime waking life. Almost like, you know, I mean it’s scary. It’s scary to reclaim your agency. It’s scary to get out of an abusive relationship. It’s scary to stand up for your own power and to stand in your own power. And so you take like little baby steps in your daytime life. And even before you can take the baby step, you think about it for a really long time before you’re like, no, no, I’m really going to do it.

Ryn (00:14:30):
Yeah. Trying to find, find the feeling of safety, at least in your inner world, before you go and make that real in your outer world.

Katja (00:14:39):
But then also just like so many dream states, when we go to sleep and we dream, we’re playing out different scenarios. And our brain is like percolating information. And it’s like a very creative problem solving time. So, the more that we see reclaiming agency as a possibility in our day life, in our waking life, the more that our brain starts to think, huh, could I do that in my brain, in my night, like in my dreaming life and my sleeping life. And then as you start to play that out in your dream life, when you have a little bit more success, these two things are just going to keep feeding each other. So that’s the cycle that we want to get ourselves into. Taking these small steps, having some small successes and letting them build so that we have that feeling of agency. Whether it is the agency to reclaim what was taken from us or what was never given to us, or agency in whatever the situation is.

Ryn (00:15:48):
Yeah, a little flash forward here. You don’t still have the nightmares anymore.

Katja (00:15:55):
Not those nightmares.

Ryn (00:15:55):
At least those same specific recurring nightmares with the same story, the same theme all the time.

Katja (00:16:01):
Right. But nightmares are still a part of my life. Nightmares are a way that my brain works to process things that are going on. I think that this is probably true for most people who have lived lives that have incorporated a lot of violence or trauma. And so, you know, it’s like just not always going to be perky and happy in my dream world. And I think that there’s a spectrum of normal that can incorporate that. But they shift and they change. And so I definitely don’t have night terrors anymore. I have bad dreams. And occasionally I have something that I will identify as a nightmare. I feel like it’s kind of like people who have experienced real extreme cramping and pain through menstruation, maybe because they have endometriosis or whatever, that for them a level of reduction in that pain gets them to a place that maybe for somebody who had never experienced that would be unacceptable cramping, discomfort. But for a person who had come from a place of just complete, like debilitative, menstrual cramping, they’re like, this is fantastic. Are you kidding me?

Ryn (00:17:30):
It’s so much better than where I started.

Katja (00:17:31):
Yeah. So I kind of feel like my relationship with nightmares is like that. And that, you know, it sort of doesn’t qualify as a nightmare if I don’t wake up screaming and like wake the whole house up. So, I still have bad dreams sometimes. I still have dreams in which I experience powerlessness. These days a very common theme for me is where I can’t talk. So I’m in a dream and I’m trying to stand up to people in my life who have hurt me. And suddenly these giant balls of phlegm rise up in my throat and they just totally choke me so that I literally cannot speak. And already I see a lot of progression here, like a lot of healing. Because these days might nightmares include an inherent aspect of trying to stand up for myself. Like an inherent aspect of claiming agency for myself and holding my own boundaries, even if I’m not actually able to fully make that happen. Because suddenly now I’m not able to talk. That is my starting point in my bad dream now. And that’s huge for me.

Ryn (00:18:44):
Yeah. Right, right. You know, it’s still a bad dream. The bad part is where you can’t actually get the words out, you know. There’s something in the way. So…

Katja (00:18:53):
And it sort of, it really has become like kind of a satire on a horror movie. Like, I’m just thinking about the matrix, that scene in the matrix where his mouth grows over. And it’s like scary and whatever, but also kind of a little bit comical or a little bit satirical in that scene. And even in my dreams, there is a lucidity around that, where I’m able to watch it happening and say, oh right, isn’t this funny how that phlegm is coming up and now you can’t speak up for yourself. And now you can’t say the things that are your truth, you know? And I retain that aspect of being able to monitor the dream with a little bit of semi consciousness, and say, oh, I see what’s going on here. Yes. Very funny. Like you’re feeling powerless lately. Maybe we should do some work around that. But overall, the foundational part of how I got into this mess is that I was asserting my agency. And so I see that as a great deal of progress. So, when that happens these days, I wake up and I can approach that much more calmly, right? I don’t wake up out of breath and horrified and like spend the first three hours of the day just like in that very traumatized kind of state. Instead, I can see that oh, okay. I’m thinking about things in my life where I feel powerless. I’m thinking about the hurt that I want to resolve, but feel like I can’t. I’m thinking about the places where I have not had justice. And sometimes those things catch me by surprise. Like I don’t realize that that’s percolating in the back of my mind. And sometimes I’m not at all surprised. Like maybe I had to have a conversation with a person who played a role in that. And therefore kind of I even expected that that was going to come up for me in my dreams sometime soon.

Ryn (00:20:56):
Hmm. You know, this attentiveness or this recognition of the parallels between what you are emotionally processing in short or long scales, and then what you’re experiencing in dreams. That’s something that you were only able to become aware of when you started being able to approach dreaming at all. Because when I met you, you were not doing any dreamwork.

Katja (00:21:20):

Avoiding Dreaming/Finding Space

Ryn (00:21:20):
You were avoiding dreams in a number of different ways intentionally. And, you know, giving yourself the sort of bedtime intention setting work. Yours was, I’m not going to dream at all. And maybe not pronounced that way, but that was the effort you were making. And it was a defense mechanism.

Katja (00:21:40):
And definitely not as calmly as you just said that.

Ryn (00:21:42):
Yeah. You know, so it was a defense mechanism, but it was also inhibiting your ability to progress forward.

Katja (00:21:49):
Yeah. And that’s where I needed to be because in order to progress forward, I needed, um, some more safety. And so I like, it’s okay to inhibit your ability to progress if that’s what you have to do to get through your day.

Ryn (00:22:07):
And that is really what happened. I mean, I don’t take credit for this, but we started spending more time together, and we started to cultivate a healthier relationship than you’d had in the past.

Katja (00:22:19):

Ryn (00:22:21):
And continued to improve the health of our relationship over the following bunch of years, and still working on it now, you know. But that was like part of the reflection of finding a healthier relationship, and the two of us improving that. and me becoming a nicer human and a better man for you and all of that. That was reflected in your ability to confront dreams and to be willing to do some work there.

Katja (00:22:44):
Yeah. So, first off, just finding a little bit of space. And if you need to shut dreaming down completely until you have that, do it. Like there is nothing wrong with that. But once I was able to acknowledge that the dreams were my brain trying to reconcile what was going on in my life, that acknowledgement actually did take away a lot of the fear and a lot of the potency of the nightmares. It brought it down from night terrors to just nightmares. And then ultimately eventually brought it down from nightmares to a really bad dream. And that progression happened over time. But as I was able to become more comfortable with dreaming in general, just the concept of dreaming, and become more comfortable with doing the work of dreams. And even just understand what dreaming is and that this work is happening. Like this is just my brain trying to process data. I was like, okay, well that feels a little bit more approachable. And as I was able to be a little more comfortable with that, that really helped me to make space to start to do the work.

Ryn (00:24:05):
Yeah. And to be able to perceive what’s what’s going on. It’s the same as like becoming aware of what your emotions are, you know? Which is, you know, not always the simplest thing. But yeah, like you were being able to say like, yeah, this is a dream about being powerless. This is me thinking about hurt that I’ve experienced and I want to resolve and feel like I can’t. And that’s what these images and these symbols are showing to me. Or about places where there hasn’t been justice and where there’s anger and frustration about that. And that’s showing up in the dream in this way. You know, so that recognition that allows you to, I mean, to pick herbs that are more appropriate for the problem.

Katja (00:24:43):
Right, yeah, even that.

Ryn (00:24:43):
To match those mental and emotional patterns. But even before that, just to say, all right, this is the realm of work that I need to get doing. Yeah.

Katja (00:24:52):
So to sort of wrap that part up about my current experience with dreams is that when I have these less severe nightmares now. And I’m able to wake up and say, huh, okay. I’m thinking about powerlessness. I’m thinking about pain. I’m thinking about these things. First off, I’m able to just acknowledge, oh, I see what’s going on here. And then I also have tools now to help me get back to sleep in a way that’s more comfortable. So, either I’ll listen to an audio book. Incidentally, I listened to an audio book in a different language, which does help a lot. So, I do speak several different languages. But, I find that listening to an audio book in a different language helps me to shift my brain into a completely different space than that dream occurred in. So, if you have more than one language and you tend to dream in one language, then choose maybe an audio book in a different language as an intentional way to shift yourself away from that. So you’re not gonna fall asleep and get back into that dream, because you’re in a completely different language in a completely different liminal space.

Ryn (00:26:09):
Yeah. And if you’re not bilingual, then think about language in maybe a different way. If you have dreams that are always about your work environment and you often go to bed, you know, after you check your email one more time for the night. And, you know, plant that little seed of like I’m going to go to the office tomorrow morning, first thing. Maybe you need some bedtime reading that is as far away from your office as you can get, right? Read about somebody…I think about that book Hatchet, you know. I read that when I was a kid and it’s about this young person, I don’t know, teenage boy, I guess. And his plane crashes. And it’s like a two person plane and it crashes into a lake. And he survives for a period of several months with just his hatchet and some wood land skills that he’d picked up in Boy Scouts or something like that. And just like, yeah, you’re outside. You’re thinking about trees. You’re thinking about how to cut wood, cut logs and make a bow out of a sapling. And like that’s pretty far away from, you know, spreadsheets.

Katja (00:27:10):
Okay. But also that’s very empowering.

Ryn (00:27:12):
Yeah. Right.

Katja (00:27:12):
Right? That’s like, Oh, I have skills that will sustain me.

Being Selective About Your Stories & Finding a Better Head Space

Ryn (00:27:15):
Yeah. I think being selective about your stories is important here. You know, if you’re prone to nightmares, it’s probably not a great idea to check out a lot of horror movies unless you can like really identify with the last act where you survive and you win. And you get away like, maybe.

Katja (00:27:31):
Oh yeah, no, I do not watch any of that. No Law and Order. No, nothing like that at all. I have lived enough of that in my life that I do not need to watch it in media. And I don’t need to put those images in my mind.

Ryn (00:27:47):
Yeah. Stories of overcoming adversity are good. But you don’t need to have one that also include your triggers.

Katja (00:27:52):
Right. No, I’m also thinking like a different language can be like, especially if you are a woman or have been raised as a woman, to choose stories about female empowerment and maybe even young adult stories. So I’m thinking about Tamara Pierce, the books that she has authored, or the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer.

Ryn (00:28:19):
Yeah. Those are good.

Katja (00:28:20):
Where there are strong female leads in stories that aren’t too complicated. They’re like reasonably G-rated or like PG 13 rated. And so it’s a story about women or girls who are exerting their power, like standing in their power and asserting their agency. So whatever the definition of a different language than the language that you were dreaming in, an audio book like that it can be very helpful. Alternately a meditation app. The key here is that I don’t want to go back into the place that I just woke up from. I want to be in a completely different place. So something audio that will shift your mental state into a very intentionally different place is a tool that I have found super, super helpful.

Ryn (00:29:20):
Yeah. Meditation apps can be helpful there. You know, we’ve worked with Headspace a bunch, and that has things that are right in there. Like if you’re having a moment of fear, of anxiety, of panic, you know, here’s a three minute meditation you can listen to. Or they also, I mean there’s lots of apps now that have like, listen to this calming slightly boring story as you drift off to sleep.

Katja (00:29:42):
Yeah, and the story incorporates elements of the meditation, so like you’re in a positive mental space while you’re kind of a little bit bored. Yeah.

Ryn (00:29:51):
Yeah. Drifting off, you know. So, yeah. Tools like that can be really helpful.

Katja (00:29:54):
Right. And then it’s also great to have some tinctures right there next to you so that you wake up, you take some tinctures. Like get up and pee if you need to, to complete that break from that space you were in. Take some tinctures. Listen to the thing that’s going to put you in a different headspace. And I just use earbuds to do that. Like that way I don’t disrupt his sleep. And I can just have it in my ear and it falls out through the night. So I don’t really worry about it. I thought it would be uncomfortable to have something sleeping like that, but actually it turns out it’s not uncomfortable at all. And it falls out when I roll over, and it’s fine. So that, and then I also have tools in my daytime life that I’m building to work with the hurt and the feelings of violation and betrayal, to reclaim my agency. And to do those things with intention in my life so that when these dreams come up, I’m like, oh, it’s time to work on that again.

Ryn (00:31:03):
Yeah. You know, when we…I think about this a lot in the course of our relationship. And like I remember the apartment that I first got together with you. And, you know, you really had a lot of nightmares and bad dreams and didn’t want to dream there and everything. But I think in this moment about how, when we started to build our herb school and we started to teach people and get the message out. And you were able to become a full-time herbalist and devote all your energy to this, then that was around the same time that this was starting to turn around. And the more that we’ve been able to develop projects like the accessible herbalism project we did a little while back – check our previous episodes of the podcast for pieces of that – and how that kind of thing, that always gives you a sense of peace.

Katja (00:31:44):
Right. It’s like, so, this work around reclaiming my personal agency, but then also expanding that work into the world. So working for the reconciliation and restoration of others in our society, especially in relation to systemic racism and systemic oppression.

Ryn (00:32:03):
And environmental justice.

Katja (00:32:03):
Right. Places where we as a society have removed agency from entire communities. So there are so many places like that. And so many places where you can get involved in that kind of work. And I, for myself, find that there’s this kind of kaleidoscope of experiences there. This interconnectivity between me personally and my personal experiences and my personal reactions to that and my personal traumas, and how those experiences connect me to the experiences of other people who had different experiences, but those experiences have had similar effects in their lives. And that makes a bridge for me to understand the suffering of others. I have not had their experiences, but I have had experiences that have caused me pain, and that have caused me anguish. And so I can use that as a language or as a translation to be able to work on behalf of others as well. And so, every time that I do that kind of work, maybe I in my own life feel like, oh, I can’t make any progress on my own work right now. Like, I don’t actually feel like I’m in a safe place to stand up to this particular person or resolve a particular issue here. But I do feel like I have power to work on behalf of someone else, to reconcile a situation on a larger community and societal scale. And that can not only empower other people, but also empower me, and give me more energy to come back and say, okay, now I can move this problem forward for myself. Yeah. So this way in which we truly, we are all connected, right? Like nobody’s free until everybody’s free kind of a situation. These are ways in which when we work to benefit one another, we also benefit ourselves. So, okay. So this is a lot of big work we’re talking.

Ryn (00:34:16):
Yeah, big picture stuff, right?

Katja (00:34:20):
Yeah, right. And whether you do your work that way, or whether you have other ways to do your work, I want to illustrate that this is a big part of the work. This investigation and intentional like meditation on what the nightmares mean. What we can learn from them, for ourselves individually in our lives. What maybe we need to learn from them about how we are creating the society that we live in. And learning to see our nightmares – or for me personally, learning to see my nightmares – as a part of that investigation or an invitation to that investigation, even though it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant, has really helped me to shift my relationship with my nightmares. Especially because in my particular life, I don’t think this is something that is ever going to go completely away. This is one of the ways that my brain processes information. And so the severity is greatly reduced. The disruption in my life is greatly reduced. But the reality is I still have bad dreams. And that is probably always going to be true. So, finding ways to have reduce it as far as possible, and then work comfortably or reasonably comfortably with what’s leftover has been my strategy.

Sleep Assists: Do What You’ve Got to Do

Ryn (00:35:44):
Yeah. All right. So let’s talk about some of the herbs that helped out here and, just to kind of lay the table a little bit for that. For you, there’s the nightmare itself, but then there’s also the response to the nightmare, especially when it was most acute and most persistent, which was the dread of sleep. The dread of dreaming, the like, yeah well, if I scrunch my sleep down a lot, then I’ll be super exhausted. I’ll fall right asleep right away. I won’t remember anything when I wake up, it was part of your strategy.

Katja (00:36:20):
It was.

Ryn (00:36:20):
You were quite sleep deprived.

Katja (00:36:22):
I had a lot of bad habits around sleep, or maybe I had a lot of habits around bad sleep, you know?

Ryn (00:36:30):
Yeah. You were also working several jobs and it was a really stressful time.

Katja (00:36:36):
Yeah. So the work that I did in my own life around sleep is basically the entire, whole, better sleep mini course. All of my strategies that I worked on to deal with my sleep issues are in that course. And the work of resolving my sleep issues took a lot of time. So during that time I was really rigid about my sleep environment, because that was what I had to do to be able to sleep at all. In other words, I could not compromise on the things that helped me to sleep. So, having it really dark helped me a lot. Having very specific music.

Ryn (00:37:22):
I should try to find our old bedtime playlist, because we literally listened to the same playlist every single night for like a couple of years.

Katja (00:37:32):
Yeah. I think a lot of years, actually. I think maybe like eight years.

Ryn (00:37:36):
It’s in line with something that we’ve talked about elsewhere in the dreaming course. That it’s important to have sensory cues when you want to do this kind of work. And music and sound is absolutely one of them.

Katja (00:37:48):
Yeah, there came a point where I was beginning to have success with better sleep. And there was a playlist that I started at that time. And the playlist allowed me to monitor my success with sleep, my growing success with sleep. And so the playlist really became incorporated in my ability to sleep. And it’s a good thing that you liked the songs on that list, because you heard them every night for a really long time. That was before I figured out the audio book and the earbud thing. That was when they had to play like on a speaker. But those were things that I really couldn’t compromise on, because they made it possible. Having all of the things that made me comfortable, like having a hot water bottle and having the window open.

Ryn (00:38:43):
And a lot of blankets, but gotta keep that breeze. Yeah.

Katja (00:38:47):
Yeah, I had to have the air moving so that I felt like I could breathe, but I didn’t want to be cold. And again, like not having to fight over hey, it’s too cold in here for me to sleep. Like that was not something I was open to discussing. Every time that I found something that worked for me, for a while, I was very, very rigid about it. Or in other words I was building boundaries with the things that were supporting me. And over time I’ve been able to become less rigid, and to find more ease and falling asleep, and more ease in dealing with waking through the night and getting back to sleep again.

Ryn (00:39:30):
Yeah, because there was a period where we were like, okay, I can fall asleep now by the fourth song in that playlist.

Katja (00:39:35):

Ryn (00:39:35):
That’s pretty regular. That’s pretty good. But then you would wake up at like two or three or something. And then just be awake for several hours.

Katja (00:39:42):
Yeah, for hours and hours.

Ryn (00:39:43):
Just getting frustrated.

Katja (00:39:44):
Yeah. So there were stages. And as I would have some success at some point I would be able to just relax into that success and then work on the next stage, you know, on the next challenge. And the more that I succeeded, the more flexibility that I was able to have. And so I share all this, because if right now you are in a place where you’re very, very rigid about what works for you to get to sleep, that is okay. Really just file it under, do what you gotta do. But also it might not always be that way. As you succeed more and more at sleep, you may actually be able to become more flexible around sleep. So, if right now you are using medication to sleep, if right now you are taking very strong sleep herbs.

Ryn (00:40:43):
Yeah. Take a big dose of hops, blackout. Wake up the next day. No memory of dreaming. It still happens, you know, your brain is doing it. But herbs like that, they can prevent you from remembering it. And sometimes that’s necessary or needful or helpful to get you through, get you to the next level.

Katja (00:41:01):
Right. So, kind of just free yourself from guilt or shame around that. Especially if you are taking medication to sleep, and you’re listening to those podcasts, so you’re interested in herbs. A lot of times when people really are interested in incorporating herbs more into their lives and they are taking medications, there can be a feeling of guilt like, oh, I guess I’m not a very good herbalist if I’m taking this medication. And just disconnect that completely from reality, from your life. Because really this is not about dogma. It’s not about like you’re good if you do it right. Like, no, you’re good. If you get through your day, or in this case if you get through your night. Like do what you’ve got to do. Allow yourself the space to do what you’ve got to do. And as you find success, then allow that space to become a little bit more flexible, a little bit more comfortable, a little more dependable, and work on the next part. But so all of the work that I’ve done around sleep in my own life, but also with our clients, we built all of that into that better sleep course. So, there’s tons of like very specific suggestions and strategies through there. Also lots and lots of specific herbs, like when to choose this one versus that one. So I won’t get into all of that here. Because what I really want to do is get into the herbs that I worked with for having a feeling of safety, for dealing with that fear of dreaming and that dread of sleep, for being able to start doing dreamwork. And then also I want to incorporate some of the herbs that were helping me to build agency in my waking life. Because those don’t just impact you when you’re awake. They’re definitely impacting the sleep time as well.

Ryn (00:42:57):
Yeah. It’s going to carry over, you know, cross that boundary. So where to begin?

Herbs When Approaching Sleep

Katja (00:43:02):
You know, I, I think that actually to begin with sleep in general, even though that wasn’t the one that I wrote first in the list here of what I wanted to talk about.

Ryn (00:43:11):
I think that makes sense.

Katja (00:43:12):
Yeah. So even though I said, all of that is in the sleep course, there are two things that I do want to mention that I worked with around sleep in general, because they were the two longest standing things, and because I do think that they also impacted the dream side of things. So the first, you’re going to laugh, are you ready? It was ginger and chamomile.

Ryn (00:43:42):
It’s at the top of the list of everyone’s set of herbs to help you sleep, right?

Katja (00:43:44):
Definitely top of the list of herbs for dreaming.

Ryn (00:43:49):
Yeah. Sure, sure. Maybe the chamomile sometimes gets on those lists, but yeah, not so often. You know, more often you see people leaping immediately to your hops and your valerian and your wild lettuce. And passionflower is a popular sleeping plant.

Katja (00:44:02):
Well, that one’s coming up.

Ryn (00:44:03):
Yeah. That was helpful. But for you, for your body, for your patterns, for your needs, ginger and chamomile are like soothing, enough warmth to release some tension and allow some flow, but not so much that it overstimulates you.

Katja (00:44:17):
Right. And also key here was in releasing that tension, and both ginger and chamomile are specifically antispasmodic. So, the patterns of fear that I had around sleeping, that sort of twitchy like, oh, I don’t want to get near that kind of a thing. Ginger and chamomile both were super effective at relaxing me down out of that.

Ryn (00:44:44):
Spasmodic type pattern.

Katja (00:44:45):
Right. And so I could start drinking that after dinner. I would make myself like a whole quart of it. And I’d start drinking it after dinner so that as I got closer and closer to bedtime, I was also relaxing more and more. And I wasn’t like, oh, dinner’s ready. It’s time for me to start being afraid of sleep. Instead I was able to just relax out of that and keep myself calm enough that I was able to approach the whole idea of sleep in a much healthier way. And that did not happen in one night. But it happened enough the first time I did it, that it made me try it again the second time. Plus there are so many other benefits of ginger and chamomile and it’s delicious. So…

Ryn (00:45:33):
Yeah. And it’s a really solid base pair that you can pile other herbs on too.

Katja (00:45:37):
Yes. Yes, absolutely. But I would say that in terms of being able to approach the concept of sleep as a person who dreads sleep because of nightmares, that pair as simple and ubiquitous as it is, did an enormous amount of the work.

Ryn (00:46:00):
Yeah. And again, this is a case study. This is particular to your constitution and your kind of patterns of balance and imbalance that you express with. You could see maybe somebody else working with kava for similar purposes, or, you know, the wide variety of other antispasmodic plants.

Katja (00:46:17):
Right. Or something like lemon balm if you’re a person who runs really hot, you know. It still is a very relaxing herb, but it’s on the cooling side instead.

Ryn (00:46:26):
Yeah. So, you know.

Katja (00:46:28):
So then the other thing that was pretty consistent over many, many years was an elixir that was based on skullcap and passionflower. And part of the reasoning there was that when I would wake up in the night, whether I was aware of the nightmare or whether I wasn’t, I would get into a pattern of rumination on trauma. Whether it was the original trauma or trauma that I was experiencing from abusive relationships, I would get very stuck in like being awake in the middle of the night reliving abuse scenarios from these situations. And I needed something that would help me not to do that. I needed something that would allow me to stop that spiraling. I mean, and it was. It was just like a loop on replay.

Ryn (00:47:32):
And that kind of mental pattern is really one of the key things that makes us want to work with skullcap and passionflower. To get you off of that merry-go-round of like repetitive circular thought, or to step off of the hamster wheel where you’re exerting a lot of mental energy, but not really changing the scenery at all.

Katja (00:47:50):
Yeah. Not getting anywhere with it. So into the skullcap and passionflower many other herbs came in and out. Those two were the base always, but then I would add things in every time I refilled the bottle, I would add things in that would address the pain that I was feeling. So, not just maybe anger or powerlessness or lack of agency or anger because of powerlessness and lack of agency, but also the hurt that went along with that. So often linden and hawthorn played a big part in those formulas.

Ryn (00:48:32):
Yeah. Really soothing to the heart. All of your hearts, right? Your physical heart, your emotional heart, your spiritual heart, all of that. Anything that associates with those, I don’t know, I want to say like the plural of nexus is actually just nexus. But like there’s that center in your body, right, and the emotional work that you do there. And the kind of connection you make from there to what’s around you, including people and plants. But yeah, linden and hawthorn really help to open that up. And I think some of that work, some of the time that you were working, especially with hawthorn there, was when you were really developing a lot more appreciation for the thorniness of the tree, and the way that it has that abundance, that giving, that offering, but also the protection.

Herbs to Protect

Katja (00:49:20):
Yeah. That’s going to have a recurring role there too. Plants who have the ability to protect themselves, work their way into every aspect of what I did. Rose is another one like that. Rose can protect itself and also protect you, you know. When you feel like a little furry creature who is being hunted by foxes and hawks, and you need a place to hide and be safe for a few minutes. That’s what wild rose brambles are for. That is one of the roles that they play in their ecosystems. And that work is work that rose knows how to do really well, right? And so when you are working with rose, what you’re doing is you’re taking in that knowledge, that like innate knowledge that the plant has for protecting those who are being hunted. And when your nightmares feel like that, feel like you’re being hunted, then that is really an amazing plant to work with. So that actually makes a pivot point between herbs that I was working with around my dread of sleep or around my inability to sleep, and herbs that I worked with when I was ready to face dreaming. And that went through a progression and I want to be clear here that there were many rounds of formulation. And you know, every time I refilled the bottle, it maybe was a little bit different. But I want to call out the key herbs that played a role every time. And so in the beginning there were herbs like yarrow and motherwort, and rose also played a big role here, where I was not ready to even consider being an active participant in my dream. All I was trying to do is go into sleep with some self-defense weapons. And so these are herbs that provide…

Ryn (00:51:36):
Loading up on thorns, a bit of like, I don’t know, emotional astringency.

Katja (00:51:43):
Yeah. Emotional armor. Yeah. Yarrow really plays the role of armor.

Ryn (00:51:49):
Yeah. Thicken the skin.

Katja (00:51:49):
Yeah, and it’s right there in the name of the plant. The whole mythology around the plant, not just the mythology but also the traditional ways of working with the plant. That’s battlefield medicine.

Ryn (00:52:01):
Yeah. Yarrow, you know, its botanical name is Achillea millefolium. And the first part there is about Achilles, invincible hero, unless you get the heel, but all right.

Katja (00:52:12):
But right up until that point, everything was invincible. My feeling is get your yarrow on, be invincible except for that one vulnerable point, and then cover that up with thorns.

Ryn (00:52:22):
There you go.

Katja (00:52:23):
You’re going to be all set. Yeah.

Ryn (00:52:26):
Yeah, that’s how it works.

Katja (00:52:26):
So metaphorically that’s what those plants are working on.

Ryn (00:52:32):
Yeah, protection blends essentially.

Katja (00:52:33):
Yeah. Motherwort, I was going to say it doesn’t have thorns and it…

Ryn (00:52:39):
Oh, it totally does. Come on.

Katja (00:52:41):
It doesn’t in the traditional sense of a thorn, but…

Ryn (00:52:45):
No, but those little seed pods, they’re so spiney.

Katja (00:52:46):
Those seed pods will get you. They are spiky. And if you touch them, they’re sharp. They are really sharp.

Ryn (00:52:55):
Motherwort protects the babies.

Katja (00:52:57):
Yes. Exactly. And you know, when you look at it, so motherwort has a stalk. And the seed pods are little circle rings around the stalk, and they have spikes that go out in all directions. And so it’s not even just that motherwort is protecting the babies, right, the seeds themselves. But it’s also protecting its core, you know, it’s protecting the center of itself. And so when we talk about motherwort helping with boundaries and helping you to have healthy boundaries, that’s what’s going on there. That concept of the shield around your core, around your most central part of you.

Ryn (00:53:45):
Yeah. And there’s something about motherwort where it accomplishes this, you know, in your emotional state, in part through relaxing some physical tension in your body, especially in your heart. Relaxing some tension around your circulation and what’s allowing things to move through your system. You know, so we’ll turn to motherwort on the physical level for like angina or for like heart palpitations, an uneven or a too tense muscle of the heart kind of situation. But that impact physically leads to this emotional state where you both feel a little calmer, a little more settled. It is an herb that can just be taken as a nervine, you know, to relax you. But it also helps you to recognize when your boundaries are getting stepped over and to assert them. To say like, I’m actually not available for that right now. I’m not here to perform that service for you today. You know, I need to take time to care for myself in this way today. It’s an herb that we come to very often for helping people to assert those kinds of necessary boundaries for themselves. Yeah. And it’s one we turn too often when there are nightmares, when there are those, you know, those aspects of your psyche, or those kind of inhabitants of your dream world that are stepping over your boundaries, right? You can carry motherwort with you into that space and it’ll work in a similar way.

Herbs to Support Agency

Katja (00:55:15):
And then of course, mugwort.

Ryn (00:55:17):
Yeah, mugwort.

Katja (00:55:17):
Mugwort is a plant that I avoided working with for years and years, because mugwort does help you to dream more consciously, to have more lucidity in your dreams, to have more agency in your dreams. And that all also comes along with remembering your dreams more. And of course that was not something I wanted to get anything near.

Ryn (00:55:46):
Remembering them more and getting them in high definition, you know, Technicolor. I guess that’s out of date. What are we up to, 4k now? Is that the fanciest TV out there? I don’t know. Whatever. But yeah, you know, it does that. And so in your case, and often when people are dealing with nightmares, mugwort is not the first herb to work with. Not until you’ve established some good boundaries, you’ve established some heart protection, you know, you’ve got some resilience to you in that mode. Wait a little while before you go with mugwort or with the other like strong oneirogenic plants.

Katja (00:56:20):
So the whole purpose of working with mugwort here is that ultimately I needed to get to a place where I could make a different decision in the dream. It became very clear to me that I was just going to keep having this terrible dream until I could get to that point where I saw what was going to happen and could not protect myself. And where I could in fact, instead choose to protect myself. And it just wasn’t going to go away until that happened. So, you know, I did a lot of work with herbs that would protect me. And it wasn’t until I realized that I have to protect myself, that I was willing to start working with mugwort. And so that part was super not fun, I do have to say, because that also did not happen overnight. There was a period of time of trying and failing to make different choices. So, what I mean by this is be really ready to do that work. And don’t try to do it every night, because you may need a little break. It might take months. It did work. I was able to ultimately do that. And when I was able to successfully and reliably make different choices, the dream went away. I didn’t have that dream anymore.

Ryn (00:57:50):
No more need for it. you know?

Katja (00:57:52):
Right. No more need for that one. Don’t worry, there were others. But never anything at that degree of real terror. And that really was like the sort of straw that broke the camel’s back, except for like in a positive sense. The point at which the nightmares didn’t have control over me anymore. Even if I had them, I might wake up and be like, wow, that was awful. It might impact me, but it didn’t have the same power that it had previously had. So, that was difficult work to do, but it was worthwhile work. Yeah. All right. Oh, and also, I want to mention ghost pipe in here as well. And ghost pipe was – well, you know, motherwort and yarrow too – but it was a plant that I worked with both at night and during the day. Now, ghost pipe is a plant that is at risk and endangered depending on what state you’re in. And so we need to work very carefully with this plant. Also ghost pipe is a plant that is extremely effective in very tiny doses, by which I mean, like three drops. So you don’t need much. If you buy one ounce of ghost pipe tincture, that will last you for years and years, which is really exciting. It’s exciting when we have a plant that we need to carefully conserve, and yet working with it can be done with a very small amount of plant matter. Ghost pipe flower essence also is very effective. And you can make a flower essence without damaging the plant. So, it is possible to acquire ghost pipe from people who are carefully stewarding land to protect that plant. But just do the work to make sure that that’s where you’re getting it, so that we can have this plant for many years to come. And it can only be worked with as tincture or flower essence. This is not a plant that you can dry and make into tea. So only purchase it as tincture or flower essence. Do not try to purchase it as tea, because it doesn’t work, and also you’re using up way too much plant matter that way.

Ryn (01:00:21):
Yeah, for sure. You know, for the dream work the flower essence is completely sufficient. And there are ways to make a flower essence without even damaging or killing the plant that you make it from. So that’s great. We’re into that.

Katja (01:00:34):
So the work that ghost pipe helped me to do was to sort of regulate the like stream of images, to regulate the fire hose of like mental stimulation that was happening in the dream, but also in my waking life. So if you feel like everything is coming at you too intensely, if you feel like there’s just way too much sensory input, it isn’t that ghost pipe makes that input go away. It is that it gives you the tools to be able to process the input. To be able to retain who you are, so that instead of being overwhelmed or flooded by the input, you maintain your integrity as the input goes past you, you know, as you observe the input. So, when we’re talking about a very intense nightmare kind of a situation, then especially if you’re ready to go face that nightmare and try to like intentionally go into it to make different choices, ghost pipe is able to give you just a little bit of distance between the intense sensory input of the dream and your own self. Like to hold your self safe from that in a different way than thorns.

Ryn (01:02:22):
Nice, good description. Yeah.

Herbs in the Daytime

Katja (01:02:26):
All right. Well then there were herbs that I worked with in the daytime.

Ryn (01:02:29):
Lots of crossover.

Katja (01:02:34):
Yeah. Lots of crossover. And I was going to say for the full list of herbs that I worked with in the daytime, see all of them.

Ryn (01:02:42):
Yeah, that’s real.

Katja (01:02:45):
But there are some that, that played like a really, um, central role and one formula that I kept coming back to was tulsi, wood betony, and rose. And I might put in some ginger or some, you know, something to switch up the flavor a little bit. But those three were a formula that I worked with so that I could function, even if my sleep hadn’t been good. It helped me when I woke up from a nightmare to get myself into the present, to acknowledge that, oh, that was a dream. That was not real. And, I mean, using the word real around dream states is like a whole thing. But in this case having the space to say: that was just a dream. I didn’t just live through that in my physical body, was very important. So right off the bat in the morning, it helped me to start to make a break between that dream experience and my daytime experience. But also it helped me to go and be on stage in my life, like be present in my life. And be able to interact with the people around me as they really were, and not as if they were overlaid with characters from the nightmare. You know, sometimes when you wake up from a bad dream, it’s hard to know what was the dream and what was real. And then maybe you’re talking to someone and you’re not actually… Like you’re talking to somebody from the nightmare, because you can’t quite separate those experiences.

Ryn (01:04:37):
Yeah. I kind of half laughed a moment ago. There were at least a couple of days when you were really mad at me for quite a while. And it turned out that I had done some terrible things to you in the dream.

Katja (01:04:50):
In the dream. Yeah. Yeah. But not real. Yeah. Where there was like an overlay of past experiences. And like my brain kind of… my brain having a mashup of like past experiences and current life reality. And yeah, that’s not good, but that’s real. I mean, that happens. And I think that that happens so much less now, but that happened intensely a lot as I working through this.

Ryn (01:05:18):
Yeah. That did happen. And betony, in particular, is helpful to get out of an in-between foggy state like that. Not because it’s like a stimulant, you know. I mean sometimes you would work with a stimulant to kind of clear that fog, whether it’s caffeine or whether it’s rosemary to like cut through. But betony is a little different. It’s more like come to the present, come to this body, come to this room, come to this moment and realize that those other the things were images or memories or dreams or whatever.

Katja (01:05:48):
Yeah. Out of that cerebral space and into the physical space, the tangible reality. Yeah. So that was…I mean I leaned, and not metaphorically. I leaned so heavily on those three plants. That was important for me. And then, you know, motherwort and yarrow and the thorn plants definitely also carried through to the daytime to help with that armor. To help me to build healthy boundaries, both from a perspective of feeling safe to navigate my day, but also in order to help me build more agency for myself. So, holding onto what I was versus what I was not willing to do, until eventually I was able to get myself out of relationships that were abusive. Not with one big uprising. That’s not how it happened. But with many, many, many small decisions, small, tiny boundary pieces built over time until I was able to disconnect from relationships that had seemed inescapable in the past or that culturally, society tells you are inescapable. And building my escape from them slowly. So those plants played a big and important role.

Ryn (01:07:27):
Yeah. And I think you worked with vervain some then as well. And that’s interesting because, you know, a lot of that project is about gaining some agency or some control. And usually when we talk about vervain, it’s about releasing when you’re trying to hold onto too much. You’re trying to control too many things all at the same time. So, it was a little bit of an unusual application.

Katja (01:07:47):
Well, the thing is that, and vervain really showed up late in the work. I wasn’t able to work with vervain early in the work. This was in the end stages of the work. But you know, recently you were talking about vervain, and you said that it’s helpful for people who feel like everything falls on them, or that it falls on them to make things happen or to get things right. And I think that that aspect, it wasn’t just letting go of control, but letting go of that role that I had been put in to make sure that everything turned out right. Both like, as the role I played in an abusive relationship. Like, well it’s my job to make sure that nothing goes wrong here to protect myself. But then that played out in my life in many other cases, because I learned to inhabit that role. And so then in many other places in my life, I was the person who just took on everything and controlled everything so that everything would turn out right. And you can’t control that.

Ryn (01:09:03):
You can’t control everything, right? There are some things that you can. There are some things that you can’t. Being able to tell the difference is not always easy. And I think maybe in this case, vervain was helping to make those distinctions and bring some acceptance in that way. Yeah. Which doesn’t…acceptance doesn’t mean that you approve. We were just talking about this earlier today, but yeah. Acceptance is more like, I acknowledged the fact of that experience or the fact of this emotion. And now I can do something about it.

Katja (01:09:33):
You know also, it is scary to step out of a role that you inhabited as a way to protect yourself from abuse, even though playing the role was part of the abuse. And so that role of making sure that everything worked out right so that I would not be more abused because things had gone wrong. Like giving that role up, like that’s the role you played to protect yourself for so long. And allowing yourself to step out of that is really scary. So that was not work that I was ready to do by myself, but blue vervain helped with that a lot. And you know, also of course there were a million other nervines that helped me to redefine my image of myself. I’m thinking about elecampane that helped me to move into a healthier version of myself. I was able to see the kind of person I wanted to be. But like, you can see what you want, and then like inhabiting that is hard. It’s hard to jump that space. And so elecampane helped a lot there. St. John’s wort in terms of helping me to detoxify what I had learned to believe about my self-worth or my lack thereof. You know, that’s the role that St. John’s wort plays physiologically, but it also plays that role emotionally, right? Like improving your ability to detox is important. Sage really helped me to deal with the overwhelm of all the pain that I was carrying around, but I couldn’t figure out how to let go of it.

Ryn (01:11:27):
Yeah. There was a while where sage was like your number one nervine. Every day.

Katja (01:11:32):
Every day, all day. Yeah. Both of carrying around the weight of all of these experiences and not being able to put them down, but also the overwhelm of being that person who has to make sure everything goes right just to survive. Before I was able to work with blue vervain, working with sage for a really long time just to sort of bring that level of overwhelm down was important. And then elderflower, you know, along with blue vervain, although I, at the time, did not see them as connected. I took them independently of one another. And I didn’t realize until much later I was like, oh, look, they were actually helping one another. And elderflower played a big role in helping me to actually let go of a lot of what I was carrying around that I didn’t need to anymore. So blue vervain sort of helping me to let go of the roles that I had played to protect myself, but which weren’t healthy for me. And elderflower to help me let go of the pain that I carried from having inhabited those roles for so long. So those are just a few of the nervines that I worked with. But they really were central. Like others came in and out, but those were really central over time. And obviously of course this work is ongoing. Honestly I think that this is work that all of us are doing basically all of the time, right? Either we are carrying around the hurt that we have accumulated in our lives, or we are trying to find ways to be free of it. Like we all accumulate hurt in our lives. You don’t have to have had some big dramatic assault happened in your life to have accumulated a lot of hurt and pain that you’re carrying around.

Ryn (01:13:31):
Yeah. We’re doing both, you know. We’re always, like you say, a lot of times you’re remodeling the house while you live in it.

Katja (01:13:38):

Ryn (01:13:38):
And that’s what we’re up to.

Katja (01:13:42):
Yeah, and then I also want to mention here nettle and friends. So the friends of nettle and friends, if you google on our website, there’s a blog post. I mean if you search on our website, there’s a blog post about versions of a formula that we call nettle and friends.

Ryn (01:14:01):
Yeah, we had an episode along those lines as well.

Katja (01:14:03):
Oh yeah, we had a podcast episode about that too. Yeah. But basically it is nettle and herbs that work similarly to nettle. A lot of times it’s around a high mineral profile in terms of nourishment. And this played a big role, both in terms of replenishing just years of depletion from sleep deprivation, but also years of depletion from just the stress of living in fear and dread. And nettle doesn’t just replenish mineral stores. It also is like foundationally nourishing to endocrine function. So, that part is super important because living in fear and dread wrecks your endocrine system. Yes. And then also of course, don’t disregard nettle’s abilities as a boundary setter, right? Like this is, again, this is another herb that will protect itself. It will sting the heck out of you if you don’t respect it. So when you’re working with this plant, you’re not just getting the mineral content and the endocrine boosts and all that other stuff. You’re also getting that basic primal knowledge of self-defense and holding boundaries that nettle does in a really intense way. Like if you just grab a nettle plant kind of thoughtlessly, it isn’t just like a little prick from a thorn. It’s like a lasting welt that stays around. Like, you’re not going to forget it quick. So, that was something that I needed in my life too.

Ryn (01:15:41):
Yeah. We all need a little nettle sting now and again, whether we need to receive it or we need to give it.

Katja (01:15:46):

Ryn (01:15:48):

Katja (01:15:50):
So, All right. That’s a whole pile of plants there. Oh, you know, we didn’t mention, okay. There’s so many plants we didn’t mention. But one more. We didn’t mention calamus yet. And, you know, over time I spent so much time in that elevated threat perception place, that I really was very stuck there. And calamus is a plant that can help to resolve that. Like you have to be able to get into the parasympathetic state, that rest and digest state. You can’t relax if you don’t get out of the threat space and into the rest space. And that, like, you know, you stick your tongue out at your mom, or, you know, at some point your grandparent or whatever when you’re a little kid. And they say your face is going to freeze like that. Well, your stress state is going to freeze like that. If you spend a ton of time in that threat perception place, necessarily you’re doing it because you have to, to keep yourself safe in whatever the situation is. Still, you get stuck there. You get yourself frozen in that spot, and then you can’t come back out of it. And calamus is a plant that really helps us to make that shift and come back down out of that space. And so even if you’re like, hey, I’m alone for the next several hours. And even if I’m not in a place of general safety, because maybe I still am in this abusive relationship, or I still, whatever. I’m still living in this trauma event, whatever it is. But you have a few hours to yourself where you know you’re safe for a short period of time. Even if that’s all you can get, working with calamus in that moment to help you just relax for a minute and get a break is very, very helpful. Plus calamus has, of course, a million other amazing things it can do to help you. But, all right, well. Short of saying every herb under the sun, those were herbs that really carried me through this work. And so your nightmare patterns may be different. Your experiences may be different. But I hope that there are some ideas here that resonate for you, or at least get you thinking about what kinds of actions you can take to shift some of the patterns in your nightmare life and maybe also in your waking life, and some ideas around some herbs that can support you in that work.

Ryn (01:18:36):
Yeah. All right. Well, thanks for listening. And, I don’t know. I think that’s it for housekeeping. I mean, I guess we should say, if you’d like to explore some of this material in this realm a little further, then check out our Herbs and Dreaming mini course. It’s available now. It’s got a bunch of great content in there.

Katja (01:18:58):
Yeah, you can find that and all of our online courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. So check those out.

Ryn (01:19:07):
Yeah. Do it. All right. Well, that’s it for this week’s episode. We’ll be back next time with a little more Holistic Herbalism for you. Until then take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and drink some tea.

Katja (01:19:18):
Drink some tea. Yes.

Ryn (01:19:22):
All right. Bye.

Katja (01:19:22):

Ryn (01:19:22):
Sweet dreams.


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