Several months back, sometime last fall, I began to have this recurring dream.

In this dream, I was alone inside a mansion. The mansion was massive and oddly shaped with so many passages and stairwells that I got lost at every turn. Stranger still was the passage that led to a separate section of the house that looked more like an unfinished warehouse than anything.

Inside this structure were malevolent spirits. They followed me, showing themselves so sporadically that each time they appeared, it scared the hell out of me. One that stood out was a small, ethereal child. She was the most evil of all.

I ran and ran, trying to find my way out. When I couldn’t find my way out, I would hide and pray they couldn’t find me–but they always did. I avoided the unfinished warehouse as much as I could, because when I did end up there, I became desperately lost on the exposed beams, high in the air and in fear of falling.

This dream happened so many times over the fall and winter that it felt REAL. I would wake up in terror, absolutely certain it was real.

***

Last night.

Well over a month since the last time I had this dream.

The dream began, and I knew I was back inside that stupid mansion and for a brief moment, I was petrified.

But something had changed.

Light came through the windows, illuminating all the rooms. The rooms weren’t empty. There were people there–actual people, not spirits. People I knew and liked, who greeted me like familiar friends.

The ghosts were still there, but they were different, too. I was no longer afraid of them. I no longer wanted to run from them. Instead, I sought each and every spirit out and spoke to them. I told them that I loved this house and I wanted to live there, but that I knew it was their house, too. So I told them I wanted to live harmoniously with them, sharing the house. Each spirit, even the creepy girl child, agreed. Suddenly they weren’t so scary anymore.

I didn’t get lost this time. I walked the halls and stairwells and rooms as if I had been doing it for years. I took the passage to the unfinished warehouse portion of the mansion, AND IT WAS NO LONGER UNFINISHED. There were workers there, welding and building in their hard hats. They were finishing the warehouse. It was full of light and movement and laughter.

I woke up.

***

I’m a very spiritual person. I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in fate, and astrology, and that there is a set path we are meant to walk. I believe in dreams as a path to the subconscious, and our subconscious is the omnipotent, all-knowing portion of our soul that tries to tell us where we’re going wrong and when we’re going right.

Last night’s dream sent a very, very clear message to me. For years now, I’ve attempted to be the person society tells me I should be. Have a good job with benefits. Be respected in your field and work hard and long to rise in that career so you can make lots of money and be comfortable. Get married, have 2.1 screaming children in a suburban neighborhood with a fucking white picket fence and a minivan. This is what you’re supposed to do: sacrifice your life and happiness to rise in the world. Work a job that destroys your soul so that you can be “successful.”

Fuck that. That’s not life. That’s not living. That’s surviving. If success is being a zombie, waking up to the same 9-5 soul-crushing career for thirty years, and finding no fulfillment or happiness in life, then that’s not success I want.

You wanna know why I had this dream?

***

The last time I had the nightmare version was not long before I left my full time job working for Louisville Metro Animal Services. That place was the worst leech in my life. It destroyed me. By the end of my year there, I’d been:

  • denied a promotion even though I was publicly called “the most qualified candidate.” The assistant director told me he couldn’t let me go because I was his best employee. I was TOLD I couldn’t have this better paying position, only to find out he lied to the other adoption coordinators and told them I “chose” to stay. Great leadership.
  • We were constantly short-staffed because people left all the time, so we were drafted to work hours outside of our already scheduled forty, in a high-stress position dealing with animal cruelty complaints AND running the radio AND taking calls from the police ALONE IN DISPATCH.
  • I was screamed at, cursed at, and insulted daily by the public, yet given not a kind word by the leadership positions.
  • I busted my ass to get the paperwork caught up that was three years behind, and I did, only to be treated like crap and denied the promotion mentioned above.
  • As a foster for them, I was ignored. The vet staff treated me as if I were an idiot for asking questions, even though I was brand new at it, and were often rude in their emails and face to face.
  • I was repeatedly lied to by the command staff. I took an injured foster dog home last fall, was promised help by the command staff, and neglected over and over again. Now, they’re lying on open records requests regarding this foster dog, telling the requester they had no idea of the dog’s condition. I took part in two dozen emails stating otherwise. I was even threatened with termination in March for bringing “bad press” on them regarding the foster dog THEY NEGLECTED.
  • I watched, and tried myself, as coworkers tried to save kittens by taking them as fosters, only to be denied taking them in lieu of having them euthanized.
  • I had to go on antidepressants, gained twenty pounds, and honestly had started to think dying was preferable to remaining.

That shelter is in a state of chaos and ruin. Good people get hired on because they want to make a difference with the animals, but the lack of leadership, professionalism, and compassion causes them leave within a year. Those who remain are so callous to the processes because they’ve been forced to handle the hard shit, the tough shit, by themselves over and over because no one else can or will. Until a new regime is put into place, the current regime will continue to lie and be corrupt. I will never again support that shelter or anything it stands for as long as the leadership remains unchanged.

Karma is a bitch, and she’s one of my best friends.

***

I quit that job. Since then, the past month and a half has been one of blinding realizations. The realization that I can only be me, and nobody else. I am the kind of girl who is happy in an alternative lifestyle.

I work part time for Starbucks, and I love it. I love my coworkers, I love the job, and I’m proud to say I work for a great company who cares tremendously for their people. In my first month, I’ve had several coworkers post on my Facebook page or tell me in person how glad they are I work with them, and what a great job I do. Sad that I had to leave a so-called “good government job” and go make coffee part time just to find appreciation and respect. If that’s standard for government employment, we’d be better off letting Howard Schultz (founder of Starbucks) take over.

I took this part time job with a company I’d worked for before (and loved then, still love now) so that I could focus on writing. Since wiping my life of the negativity of the shelter, I’ve finished three books and written more in one month than I did in a year. I’m HAPPY again. My optimism has returned. My faith in the divine and in the world has returned. I am absolutely doing what I love with people I love. I’ve made new friends in both the writing world and on my Starbucks team.

As a result of all these changes, my marriage is renewed.  My husband told me a few days ago that I’m the girl he met and fell in love with five years ago. That girl was gone for a long time, and our relationship suffered for it. NO JOB is worth ruining the best thing to ever happen to me.

***

So, about that dream.

Funny isn’t it, that suddenly the dark, scary mansion full of spirits but empty of humans has suddenly turned light and become full of companions. Funny that the spirits that haunted me and terrified me suddenly aren’t so scary, and I’ve discovered we can live together. Funny, too, that unfinished part of the mansion is full of workers building a new tomorrow.

My subconscious let me know I’m on the right path. When people who know me and love me the best tell me I’m a completely different person–and in a good way–I know I’m doing the right thing. When I wake up in the morning, happy to be alive, happy to have a blinking cursor on a blank document and the promise of a fun shift at work that night with people who make me laugh and make me feel like a vital part of the team, I know I’ve found my way.

I am absolutely empowered by the turn my life has taken. I was lost for so long, stuck on a path that led nowhere and slowly destroyed me breath by breath. I have found vision and truth and perfection in the place I am in now.

THIS is what life–MY life– is about: writing and coffee.