Death and Dying in Addiction Dreams

When addicts are in the final stages of active addiction, drinking themselves into oblivion, or using some other drugs to accelerate their demise, they face the choice of continuing towards death, or choosing the harder task of getting sober and choosing life.  Choosing life can mean finally addressing the anxiety and depression that addiction concealed; it can mean facing the problems that were created and exacerbated by addiction–broken relationships, financial ruin and professional fallout.  It isn’t difficult to see why addicts commit suicide rather than getting sober and looking at all of the messes they have created.  Addiction memoirs read like confessionals–they recount the gory details of staring down death, of hitting bottom, of disappointing people around them, of acting selfish and behaving abominably.  They use particular language when recounting the weeks and days just before getting sober–they speak of it as a “death” and their sobriety as rebirth.  I find that fascinating, because dreams use similar metaphors of death and rebirth when they display the dreamer transforming from one stage of life to another, or from one way of being in the world, to another.

Jeremy Taylor claims that “in dreams, no matter how it appears, death is always associated with the growth and development of personality and character.” He goes on to say, “a dream ‘death’ is the necessary precursor of rebirth into ‘new life’– . . . a richer, deeper, and more satisfying spiritual life” (from The Wisdom of Your Dreams, p. 164).  I’m not sure that death in dreams is ALWAYS associated with growth and development, as Taylor says, but even if the principle is sometimes true, it has important implications for addicts who dream of death.  Sober addicts often have dreams with death in them, connected to their previous behavior of using drugs excessively.  They might be warning dreams, indicating a possibility for the addict should he or she choose to return to drug use.  But they might also be dreams displaying the death of active addiction, and the rebirth into the arduous task of rebuilding one’s life, one day at a time.  Dreaming of death might lead to questions for the dreamer:  what patterns in my life need to die?  What transformation am I attempting, and what am I trying to let go of in the process.  Dreaming of death in a dream is usually scary, initially.   The dreamer doesn’t think of death as metaphor when she’s/he’s watching someone die, or witnessing violence.  A friend of mine recently dreamed about death, and she was eager to share the dream because it was so disturbing to her:

I’m in a primitive place, a jungle.  I’m riding down a mining shaft in a jungle with some people.  It reminds me of the scene in one of the Indiana Jones’ movies; we seem to be in a little cart that goes down into the mines, just like in the movie.  I can see jungle all around; plants and the thick growth of trees and undergrowth.  Off to the left I see some scaffolding, rusted, among the trees.  It looks like it has been left there and is slowly being taken over by the jungle.  All of a sudden, I see a guy dangling from the scaffolding.  He’s clearly going to fall.  I yell, “Help him” to no one in particular.  He falls and as he falls to his death, I feel the fall.  I experience the loss of control as he loses his grip on the scaffolding, the fall, the thud as he/I hit the ground.  He’s dead and I awaken, really upset.

Anna reported to me that several people have died at her work on the docks recently, falling from cranes and other platforms.  Anna feels certain that many of the accidents have occurred because of drug use on the job.  Prior to her dream, she was already spooked by the deaths she has witnessed or heard about at work.  Then she had a dream with death in it, increasing her anxiety.  “Should I quit my job?” she asked.  And later, “Should I be worried?  Maybe I’m not safe.”  Of course, I don’t know the answer to her questions.  But I’m inclined to view death in a dream metaphorically rather than literally as a prophecy of her immediate future. Read more »

Sexuality and Addiction – Using and Being Used

Addicts have notoriously bad boundaries.  They use drugs indiscriminately; and they use other activities to boost their self-esteem, including sex.  Often the pattern of using in order to feel good began in childhood–usually an adult using a child (and future addict) sexually.  Then in order to block the pain of having been used through sexual abuse, future addicts begin to use alcohol and marijuana, sometimes moving on to hard street drugs.  The connection between having been used, and using, is rarely made, although plenty of addicts’ dreams show the connection clearly.  Unfortunately, many times after an addict becomes sober, the boundary violations have not healed,  and the addict remains unaware of the strong connection between childhood sexual trauma, addiction and promiscuity.  Without awareness of the pattern that may have begun in childhood, the addict will continue to use sexuality in attempts to boost self-confidence.  It’s a vicious cycle that inevitably leads addicts to feel used, again and again, when they attempt to “use” sex in a similar way to how  they used drugs, obsessively, mindlessly, yet with hope that this guy/girl will be the one to love and make the addict feel better.  Sober addicts sometimes have using dreams when they are attempting to boost self esteem in bad relationships.  They tell me quite adamantly, “I’m not using.”  While it is true that they aren’t using drugs, they are using relationships in the same way that they used drugs–to feel better.  And the dreams make it quite clear that it doesn’t work.  Let’s look at a few dreams that make the connection between idealizing drugs and sexual relationships.

“Melissa” had the following dream while she was still using methamphetamine:

I am lying in my bed at home.  I’ve been awakened by something tickling my face.  It is a rose petal that has fallen from my canopy onto my face.  The roses have come from Alex.  It is too early to get up and too late to go back to sleep.  Outside the sky has its first hint of light.  Above me 500 perfect roses hang upside down to dry.  I smile when I look at them.  As the sun rises, I can see the roses more clearly.  I thought they were all red–I hung them just the night before.  Last night they were flawless and full of life–but as the sun comes up I see them for what they really are.  They are black, not red, and they are infested with maggots.  When I realize this, I shriek and a handful of maggots falls onto my head.  I leap out of bed and shake my head violently to get rid of them but they stick to me.  There are six of them and they attach themselves to my scalp.  I fall to the floor with agony.  It feels like my head will split open at any moment and I pray that moment is soon so the pain will stop.  I vomit and then the pain begins to ease.  After a few minutes the agony in my head subsides to an afterthought, a minor headache.  The roses disappear and in their place on my bed frame I see a puzzle piece.  I recognize it as a puzzle at my grandma’s house.  I don’t touch the piece.  I stand at my window and stare out.  I am waiting for the sun to rise completely with my hands behind my back.

Melissa dreams of roses, the symbol of romantic love.  The dream reveals the false expectations that drug use had engendered in Melissa.  She lies in bed imagining “500 perfect roses,” images suggestive of love; but the images change from red roses to black, and from black roses to maggots.  The dream thus suggests that something (drugs) she loved as much as she would love receiving roses from a beloved, has changed into something sinister and disgusting–maggots.  Then the dream shifts, the plot sequence showing a cause and effect relationship, as it displays actual physical effects of drug use–a splitting headache, terrible pain and vomiting.  The thing she loves, methamphetamine, is not the equivalent of benign red roses, or even ugly, but still benign black roses.  They are maggots, attaching themselves to her, attacking her head and giving her terrible pain.  Once the pain subsides, she forgets about it, just as she minimized the hangover effects she experienced from drug use.  The theme of violence done to her, originating from “roses” that come from a boyfriend accurately reflects in a metaphorical way her relationships with Alex, for Alex supplied her with drugs, not roses.  Something she loves (meth), as much as she would love receiving roses from a boyfriend, has a black, frightening, disgusting quality to it–the equivalent of having maggots drop on one’s head.  Interestingly, the dream records the effects of methamphetamine, when she reports that “it feels like my head will split open at any moment” and later when she falls to the floor “with agony.”  By showing her the moment after the high, when she has a headache and feels terrible, the dream in no way romanticizes her relationship to meth or her relationship to Alex. Read more »

How Long Will a Sober Addict Have Using Dreams?

I encourage people to record their dreams, partly to see patterns, and to see how things change.  The sober addict will have many using dreams the first few years of sobriety, and then those types of dreams become less frequent.  However, it is important for addicts to know that dreams with drug use images, or dreams about addiction (with or without drugs in them) continue to appear, intermittently, throughout their lifetimes.  This is because the central life task of the sober addict is to stay sober, and to replace “spirits” in a bottle (or a crack pipe, or a bong, or a pill bottle) with genuine spiritual experiences, on a regular basis.  This takes place more easily in a “religious atmosphere,” a container for spirit, either in a 12-step program or through another spiritual practice.  The dreams can be utilized to “take stock,” to look in the mirror and assess how one is doing emotionally, socially, spiritually and intellectually.  If one’s dreams are recorded, contemplated, shared with a friend and heeded, a using dream need not be a source of dismay.  They may serve the purpose of “shoulder shaking,” awakening one to patterns that need correcting, or they may provide solace because they show that other things besides drugs and alcohol have become more important and dominant in the sober addict’s life.

I had a dream that alerted me to a pattern that needed correcting.  After over 20 years of sobriety, I dreamed I was drinking in front of my 11 year old son.  I was indignant.  I would NEVER do that, I thought to myself.  Then I thought, is there any way that I am doing the equivalent of drinking in front of him?  That question made me realize that ways that I was “checking out” in front of the computer, or on the telephone, when he was asking for help with his homework, or asking for something to eat.  In not being emotionally present for him, I was metaphorically “drinking in front of him.”  Addictive patterns of wanting to run away, if only by watching television, reading a book or playing computer games, will continue long after an addict takes his or her last drink.  A dream brought me back to myself, allowed me to assess my behavior and do a course correction. Read more »

Knowing Your Relapse Triggers – Dreams Can Help

Addicts relapse and sometimes they don’t know why.  The details surrounding the relapse don’t make any sense to them.  Clients will tell me they want to stay sober.  They have every intention of doing so.  They like how they feel; sobriety is so much clearer; the shame dissipates; they like their behavior.  But . . . . the drug called to them once more.  The drug is stronger than their good intentions.  Sometimes the relapse has behavioral patterns (baggage) attached, and that’s where dreams can come in handy.  The dreams will highlight the behavior that goes with the relapse, and act as warnings so that the addict can be on the alert.  Here’s a dream from Anna, a friend of mine:

I’m with my parents and some of their friends.  We’re going to a convention, a workshop event on recovery.  When we get inside the stadium, I’m asked to leave with two gentlemen because one of the guys has been causing trouble.  We go out of the stadium and sit on a hillside.  They both take an interest in me.  One is clean-cut, blond, good looking, and looks like a Ken doll.  I’m not attracted to him, but I fall in love with him anyway.  The other looks scruffy, derelict-like.  The scruffy guy has been causing trouble and had to leave the stadium.  I go out with him.  I’m kissing and hugging the good-looking guy, Mike.  Scene switch.  I’m in a hallway, near Mike’s apartment.  I’m watching him as another guy comes out of the apartment.  Mike begins kissing this guy.  Is he gay or is he just kissing him to appease him?  Does he still want me? I’m confused.

In a recent relapse scenario, Anna’s old drinking buddy, Roger, called after he returned home from a vacation.  Anna and Roger got together and initially had a nice time.  Then Roger asked Anna to buy him some cocaine from someone she knows.  Anna reasoned, “Well, that will be okay because cocaine isn’t really my drug.”  She bought some for Roger, gave it to him and stayed away from it.  Roger asked again for cocaine, and the second time, Anna bought cocaine for Roger.  This time, she held some in reserve for herself, used it, and then drank (alcohol is her drug of choice).  Over a two-week period, Anna spent time with an addict who is still using; he was abusive to her after his cocaine use; he used her to get cocaine; and she in turn used.

The dream shows how Anna moved from being an addict in recovery to an addict who has relapsed and must start over:  it begins with Anna in a good place, with her parents, who are not addicts, and their friends, whom Ann describes as “people who are healthy and take care of themselves.”  The event has something to do with recovery.  It is always a good idea to see who shares dream space with you.  As an addict, when you dream of people who take care of themselves, who may serve as role models of self-care, they are internal supports for sobriety, self-care, self-confidence and peace of mind.  Anna’s parents and their friends represent all of those qualities. Read more »

Recurring Dream Themes Among Addicts

A former student of mine, fresh out of a year-long stint in a drug rehab center, was sitting in class one day when I happened to mention that cocaine addicts tend to have horrific nightmares once they become sober; I don’t recall now the context for the comment, only her response.  The nightmares are often of being stalked, slaughtered, raped, or attacked in some way.  After the class ended, she came up to me and explained that she had had such nightmares, and told her drug counselors in the drug rehab center about the nightmares, but they never once re-assured her that the dream  images and themes she was having were quite common among cocaine addicts; nor did the counselors attempt to explain the dreams in the context of what the dreamer was dealing with, as a newly-sober addict.  Instead, they offered her some medication so that she wouldn’t remember her dreams.  The student said, “I kind of wanted to know why I was having the dreams.  You’re the first person to tell me that they are a normal occurrence.”  Unfortunately, newly-sober cocaine and methamphetamine addicts in particular tend to have nightmares so horrific that they often do need medication as a way to “turn down the noise” in their psyches; but all addicts are prone to have nightmares once they become sober.   At a very basic, physical level, such dreams seem to be saying that the addict’s life has become a nightmare;  that the addict has been attacking his or her body with dangerous drugs explains in part the numerous attack/rape/violence dream themes.  It seems important that recurring dream themes be addressed, as a way first to re-assure addicts that they are having normal responses to sobriety, and second to help them understand why the dreams occur.  Having some sense of what the dreams mean may help addicts remain sober.

Before turning to some common dream themes, it may be helpful to provide some understanding of recurring dreams.  Jeremy Taylor claims that

The ritually “frozen” quality of a repetitive dream experience suggests strongly that something of overriding importance in the dreamer’s life is essentially the same as it was the last time the dream occurred, despite whatever changes the dreamer has made.  A recurrent dream draws the dreamer’s attention to the aspect(s) of his/her life and character that remain unchanged in the midst of all the other, more obvious developments (from The Wisdom of Your Dreams, 153). Read more »

Does Addiction End? Wishful Thinking and Drug Use Dreams

Years ago, a friend of mine became addicted to heroin after a devastating miscarriage.  She later described to me how she got herself off of the drug; it was not through drug rehab, and not through a 12-step program.  She ran out of heroin just before a scheduled vacation to a city where she knew no one, and had no way of replenishing her drug supply.  She got on the plane needing a fix, and without the drug.  On the long flight across the country, she was very sick.  The flight attendant thought she had motion sickness, but my friend knew she was detoxing.  The “vacation” itself was miserable.  She was very sick the entire two weeks, which she spent mostly locked up in a hotel room, close to a bathroom.  She was even sick on her return flight.  But she managed to stay away from the drug long enough that the cravings were manageable when she was home again, and she never returned to heroin use.  My friend had a successful career, a nice home and a new husband who didn’t know about the heroin use.  She didn’t want to lose any of those things, and her desire to be drug free won out over her body’s strong cravings.  Her method for becoming drug free isn’t one I would recommend, but it worked.  Stanton Peele has similar stories in his book, 7 Tools to Beat Addiction, his premise being that 12-step programs and life-long immersion in such programs are not necessary for everyone. He objects to the “disease model” of addiction, countering it with stories like the one above.

Not surprisingly, there is debate among people who study and write about addiction as to whether or not addiction is a chronic disease like diabetes, without a cure, which requires continual vigilance and maintenance, or an obsession than one can be “talked out of,” and taught to give up because it doesn’t serve the person’s best interests.   To be sure, there are varying degrees of addiction and some people have an easier time than other people in giving up their drugs of choice.  People with a “high bottom” seem to notice the problems that their drinking/smoking/gambling (pick your habit) are causing rather quickly and give them up before their lives go to hell.  An addict friend of mine started having black outs when he drank and began going to AA before losing his business, his friends and his wife.  He admits to having a high bottom, but doesn’t make the mistake of saying he is therefore not an addict at all.  He recognized that once he began drinking, he couldn’t stop.  Social drinking was out of the question.  He had to quit completely.  Other people wait until they have lost their jobs, their homes, their families and their possessions to admit that they have a problem.  Their are steps in between those two extremes.  When we are talking about addicts, there is a wide range, a continuum of obsessive behavior.  Stanton Peele writes that “when people turn to an experience, any experience, for solace to the exclusion of meaningful involvements in the rest of their lives, they are engaged in an addiction.”  Rather than label a person an “addict,” he prefers to ask the question, “How many problems is the involvement [in obsessive behavior] causing you?” (from 7 Tools to Beat Addiction, 16, 17).

I’ve read Peele’s books, and I’ve read The Big Book,  and I worry more about addicts talking themselves into a casual, no-need-to-worry attitude towards their addiction, which can lead to more self destruction, than about a mislabeling.  A friend of mind stopped drinking and was involved in AA for a number of years.  He remained sober for over 15 years, but gradually began to believe that his addiction was truly “cured.”  He resumed drinking socially, which eventually lead to alcoholic drinking once again.  Eventually his wife left him and his daughter found him dead, an empty bottle by his side.  Since most addicts are notorious risk-takers, encouraging more risk-taking doesn’t seem to be in their best interests.  Addicts tend towards faulty thinking about their ability to control their behavior.

How do dreams weigh in on the varying theories of addiction?  Would a dream tell me that it’s okay to start drinking again, that all these years I’ve been mistaken in thinking I had to give up drinking entirely?  I’ve examined thousands of dreams over the years from addicts, and I’ve never heard one that seemed to recommend a return to the addictive behavior that has caused so much heartache in the past. In fact, dreams of addicts often have the purpose of showing a dreamer how addiction continues to manifest in his or her life, after active drug use has disappeared.  Dreams therefore lean more towards the notion in AA, “once an addict, always an addict.”

Here’s a dream from an addict who was at Betty Ford last October (2o1o) and has had one relapse period in June, 2011.  Just before her relapse, she was telling herself that she’s really just a recreational drinker.  The following dream occurred after four and a half months of sobriety:

I’m sitting back in a school room setting.  It is in an outpatient rehab center and I’m sitting next to a friend who seems to be a combination (in the dream) of two friends, Marin and Irene.  I’m sitting in front of a chalkboard, the old-fashioned kind that is green (not a whiteboard).  Someone is lecturing, talking about using, drinking and relapses.  I walk up to the person lecturing and say, “I’m a recreational user.”  No teacher seems to be there, just a chalkboard with writing on it.  Then the board comes down on me.  I hear a voice say, “See how the thinking that you’re a recreational user led to your relapse?”  Then the dream shifts and I’m in a taxicab.  Have I been drinking?  Usually when I’m in a cab I’ve been drinking because I always take a cab after I drink so that I don’t drive home drunk.  I’m in East LA, passing places that I recognize.  We pass a club/restaurant where I went with Alan, an old boyfriend with whom I drank alcoholically.  I realize I’m in Alan’s neck of the woods.  The cab driver when I get in is a man.  He drops off my friend, Marin/Irene, who now seems more like Irene than Marin.  Irene goes into a liquor store to get something to drink.  Then the cab driver morphs into a large woman with bleached blond hair, short and spikey-looking.  She whips around the parking lot and leaves Irene.  She’s got me hostage and I’m scared, truly scared that she is going to hurt me or try to do something sexual.  I wake up with my heart pounding. 

The dream seeks to “school” Lisa in her propensity to relapse; that’s why she’s sitting in a classroom.  She’s going to be a student and learn from her past behavior.  The dreamer, Lisa, told me a few things about her two friends:  Marin is a woman whom she used to sponsor in AA, and Isabel is a “normie,” not an addict, who only drinks occasionally.  Lisa has had long periods of sobriety in her life (15 plus years) followed by relapses when boyfriends convinced her that she really wasn’t an alcoholic.  Prior to last October, she drank alcoholically and used cocaine for over a year.  She tried to quit on her own by attending AA, but finally needed to be in an in-patient rehab, Betty Ford, to get completely clean.  She admitted that prior to relapses, her self talk always includes the notion that she only drinks casually.  Lisa’s two friends in the dream represent two separate views the dreamer has of herself:  as Marin, she’s an addict, working the steps in AA, taking one day at a time, trying to stay sober.  But she longs to be an Irene, a “recreational user” who is not an addict, but could go out drinking with friends occasionally.  Every time she has tried to be an “Irene,” a normie, her behavior has convinced her that she is really more like Marin, a self-described addict who does not drink at all. Read more »

More Uses for “Using Dreams”

My continual astonishment as I work with addicts and other clients is the complete dismissal of their dreams–all of them.  They sometimes seem especially reluctant to consider the notion that their dreams with drug use images have something important to tell them about their lives right now.  Using dreams and the attitudes towards them are important predictors of  staying sober or of relapsing.  They may also show how the sober addict is moving from the thought pattern of “get drugs, get drugs, get drugs,” to something more expansive, attitudes that indicate desires to stay sober.

A college student, Marcus, had the following dream:

I’m in a bare room, with a single card table covered with cocaine.  There are piles and piles of the stuff.  I’m sitting in front of it, anticipating the excitement of getting high.  It’s all mine.  Just looking at it excites me.  No one else is around, no one to tell me not to do it. 

When I quizzed the dreamer, he said, “I’m done with that shit.  It made my nose bleed all the time and I ended up sick.  No way am I doing that anymore.”  The dream begs to differ.  The dream offers no characters who resist the dreamer’s desires.  There is no one else in the dream and no self talk from the dream ego (the character the dreamer identifies as “I”) to talk himself out of using the cocaine in front of him.  When I suggested that the dream ought to be taken seriously, that maybe there was some part of him who still wanted to use, Marcus said, “No way.  I’m finally getting my act together.”  Marcus was a smart, motivated student.  He wrote excellent essays for the class I was teaching; he volunteered at the school’s service projects; he had lots of friends.  He had shared other dreams with me that were quite different from the one above; they had many characters, elaborate plots and settings.  They reflected his rich, complicated family history and were quite visual.  The cocaine dream, in contrast, was visually bare, plotless and uninteresting.  Based upon his behavior in the classroom, the many friendships and activities he participated in, I wasn’t sure I believed what the dream was suggesting either.  Yet it made me uneasy and worried.  One of my best students was a cocaine addict?  Oh dear.  Unfortunately, it didn’t worry Marcus.  A few months later, he dropped out of school and went on a cocaine binge for several months.  When he emailed me later, he said, “I should have taken that cocaine dream I told you more seriously.”  Read more »

Shifting from “Spirits” to Spirit in Dreams about Addiction

One of the founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous visited the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, in hopes of being “cured” of his alcoholism.  He finished the treatment, returned home and immediately began drinking again.  A return visit to Dr. Jung yielded the following assessment:  his case, in Dr. Jung’s opinion, was “utterly hopeless . . . unless he could have vital spiritual experiences” (Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book, 4th Ed., 26-27). Jung explained in  a letter later that spirits in a bottle needed to be replaced with genuine spirit in order for for the addict to have any chance at all of combating his or her addiction.  Developing spirituality, in other words, is THE essential, necessary weapon for staying sober.  Addicts try almost everything else in their attempts to stay sober–psychotherapy, change of scenery (known among addicts as a “geographic”), a job change, and other extreme measures.  Writes Linda Leonard:

Psychotherapists often make the mistake of thinking that addiction is due to . . . inadequate mothering or fathering, and that through . . . therapeutic intervention the [addict] should be able to overcome the affliction through insight, ego strength, adaptation and moral fortitude.  Unfortunately, such an attitude . . . gives the addict the illusion that he or she could “do it alone” . . . the spiritual transformation that is essential for its healing is not acknowledged (from Witness to the Fire:  Creativity and the Veil of Addiction 118-119).

The resistance to making changes of a spiritual nature stems from a mistrust of religion, a dislike of religious dogma or the religious community of one’s childhood.  Typically, even the words “spiritual” and  “God” have childhood baggage attached to them, negative associations that are not easily remedied and that make addicts suspicious of a spiritual remedy for their addiction.  An addict friend of mine grew up in a completely secular household.  Her mother didn’t want her ever talking about religion and especially about God.  She was never to use the word “God.”  Her struggle with AA has been in trying to even figure out what “spiritual” means.  Prayer is such a foreign concept, and in her attempts to pray, she sees the disapproving glance of her mother. She finds AA helpful, but the spiritual aspects of it something of a mystery.  “I just don’t get it” she says to me. (For a wonderful description of one addict’s shift from skepticism to begrudging belief to wholehearted embrace of prayer, see Mary Karr’s memoir, Lit. )

Paying attention to dreams poses a possible solution for addicts who find it difficult to define and understand spirituality.  How one comes to define the divine often comes from dream images.  Jeremy Taylor claims that EVERY dream has a spiritual dimension to it.  I’m not sure that all dreams do, but those dreams that seem particularly vivid, striking, and mysterious, as if they come from a source beyond the self, will often help the dreamer in his or her spiritual development.   Let’s look at a few dreams that the dreamers themselves eventually defined as “spiritual,” although they may not seem particularly spiritual on the surface.

I’m in a row of chairs, in an AA meeting with a woman I used to sponsor, Molly.  She says to me, “Here is someone who wants to meet you.”  I look at this guy, dark hair, dark face, beard, and I don’t want to meet him.  I walk away.  I decide to go to another meeting where my son, Brent, is.  It looks like I’m on a ship, similar to where I work on the docks.  I see some ladders going up to a flat part, on the deck, and over in the corner is an AA meeting. I start going up the stairs.  I turn and there is the man again that I don’t want to meet.  I decide that the only way to avoid him is to go to the bathroom and lock the door.  I start running towards the bathroom, with Molly following behind.  I can hear him following behind us.  We get to the bathroom and lock the doors.  We can see him through the glass.  I worry that even though we have locked the doors, he can get in.  I awaken before he gets in.

Stalking dreams are fairly common among sober addicts, particularly in the first year or two of sobriety.  Addiction, and the problems that accompany addiction, that are more obvious once an addict becomes sober, “stalk” addicts for quite some time.  The man in the dream who is stalking the dreamer, “Lisa,” reminded her in looks of an alcoholic boyfriend whom she no longer sees.  She identified the man in the dream as the alcoholic self, from whom she needed to protect herself with AA meetings and a spiritual program.  When Lisa described the man in the dream, she said he was “needy; and he wants to latch onto me.  He’ll want more of me than I’m willing to give.”  Once she said that, she could identify specific people in her life who wanted more than she was willing and able to give.  Part of Lisa’s spiritual development, then,  is finding appropriate ways to set boundaries, without feeling “stalked” with guilt (for not doing more) or resentment (when she does too much).  Although the stalking plot was most striking to Lisa, it would be wrong to focus only on that aspect. Read more »

Animal Guides in Dreams about Drug Use

I dreamed recently of two giant sea turtles in the back of a friend’s truck.  I was immediately drawn to them, and went over to feed and water them.  Dreams with animals tend to have a magnetic energy.  They are often dreams we remember, report to our friends and return to again and again.  For addicts, dreams with animals are especially important.  In the midst of active addiction, many addicts have lost sight of their animal instincts for self-care, loyalty to their friends and family, for their sense of confidence and self worth.  Animals in dreams will often contain all of those instincts, as well as spiritual yearnings as well.  These dream animals seek to guide the addict-dreamer back to the confidence and ability to take care of the self that he or she once had.  Our dream animals may guide the process for becoming and staying sober.  One particularly kind of dream that an addict may have to guide his or her recovery process contains animals that act as spiritual guides, nudging the addict dreamer towards self-care, self-awareness and spiritual renewal.  The animals that show up in dreams are sometimes “totem” animals, those the addict-dreamer feels a kinship, or close connection to in his or her life.  Let’s look at a few animal guides in dream.

A methamphetamine addict had the following dream a few weeks before entering drug rehab:

I am lying in bed.  The room has one bed, and a table with a reading lamp on it.  Across the room and to my right there is a large white sink.  Next to the sink there is a big window that is open.  The room must be on the second story because I can see wet eucalyptus branches slapping against the window frame.  It is stormy outside.  Eucalyptus leaves and rain water settle in the bottom of the large white sink.  There is a warm body sharing the bed with me.  It is a big dog that has its head resting on my leg.  I feel its hot, wet breath against my flannel pajamas.  I’m falling into the peaceful blankness between awake and sleep.  My awareness narrows.  Everything around me blurs; all I can feel is the hot breath of the big dog.  The dog starts to nudge my leg–trying to wake me.  I resist–sleep is so close . . . just let me sleep.  I feel exhausted.  The dog persists.  I lift my head and look at the dog.  It is Walter.  The moment I look up, Walter viciously attacks me.  His teeth sink into the muscles of my thigh and rip flesh from bone.  I have a moment of horror and confusion before I awake. 

The dreamer explained to me that the dog in her dream was her real dog, whom she loves.  His name really is Walter and “he is WONDERFUL!”  She went on to explain, “He would never hurt anyone. He’s the best dog ever.”  This led me to wonder why she would dream that her gentle companion who would never hurt anyone (in her waking life) was viciously attacking her.  In the midst of her addiction, the dreamer has a dream in which she wants to sleep, metaphorically suggesting that she would like to remain unaware of her addiction.  The dream characterizes the drug high as a “blankness” between awake and asleep, a narrow “blur,” both apt descriptions of what it feels like physically to be high on methamphetamine.  She likes the state, and wishes to remain in it.  Richard Smart has described the drug high as a stark contrast to the dreams “thrust upon you”:

If you get it just right–if you achieve that perfect balance of cocaine, booze and tranquillizers–the night can pass in a sweet reverie with the mind posed delicately on the brink of sleep but still vaguely conscious of the awake world . . . done right, it is a time for the conscious spinning of the dreams you want which are far better than those dreams that are thrust upon you from some unknown, and often hostile black pit of deep and natural sleep (1985, 123) Read more »

Being in Two Places at Once in a “Using” Dream

Have you ever had a dream in which you are both doing something (acting) and watching yourself do it?  In dreams with drug use images, these dreams with two “dream egos,” characters that the dreamer identifies as him or her, are particularly important indicators of a dreamer-addict’s desires to increase self-awareness and decrease self-destructive tendencies.  Let’s look at a few.

A methamphetamine addict had the following dream two weeks before entering a drug rehab center:

I walk down the street that my house is on late at night.  It is warm out, but I am dressed in pants and a sweater–both black.  There is no moon and no street lights.  The windows of all the houses are dark.  I walk up my driveway and sneak into my house.  An odd red light is glowing from somewhere within.  I walk don the hall to my room where I am surprised to find someone sleeping in my bed.  I tiptoe into the room and take a closer look.  I nearly fall over when I see that it is me asleep in my bed.  I turn on the light and walk up to the me that is sleeping.  I crouch at my bedside and watch myself breathe for a moment.  I decide to wake me up to find out what’s going on.  I reach up and shake the sleeping me.  Nothing.  I try more forcefully but still nothing. I check my pulse – I am alive – I check sleeping me’s pulse – both alive.  All of a sudden it is urgent that I wake up sleeping me.  I tear off the covers, jump on he bed, scream and hit sleeping me – but do little more than stir.  I collapse on the floor.  I am overwhelmed by anxiety and emotion.  Something terrible is going to happen to both me and sleeping me if I don’t wake me up.

“Melissa” recognized that the dream was warning her of death if she didn’t stop her drug use.  What she appreciated when she recorded the dream was this other self who tries to “wake up” the sleeping, drug addict self.  The dream shows one character as more self-aware and self-preserving than the other, sleeping character who doesn’t even stir.  It was almost as if a guardian angel had appeared in her dream to shake her shoulders, metaphorically, to the self-destruction that was taking place.  That the guardian angel character turns out to be the dreamer herself was particularly poignant.  It meant that  a part of Melissa was trying to get her attention away from drug use.  This part of the self seemed to be inherently good; she was not identified with this drug addict character who wasn’t always lying to parents, cheating, stealing, hiding and sneaking around to do more damage to herself and her family.  This guardian angel part of the self wanted Melissa to wake up to the addiction that was taking over her life.  This dream, and several others, had the desired effect.  The dreamer went to her parents and told them she needed to be in an in-patient drug rehab center.  In”using” dreams with two “I” characters, one “I” character will often be in a battle with the other.  it is important to highlight the character who battles the addict self, as a way to wrest the addictive self away from completely identifying with his or her addiction.  There is always more to the addict than his or her addiction.

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