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 »