Dreams and Recovery from Addiction
Help from the unconscious.
Posted Jul 17, 2012
After more than thirty—five years of working with my own and other people’s dreams I am convinced that all dreams come in the service of health and wholeness. Even the worst recurring nightmares come to help the dreamer move forward more consciously in the direction of his/her health and wholeness. If a dream is remembered at all, it is a very reliable indication that there is a crucially important role for the dreamer's waking mind to play in the unfolding of all the issues and possibilities the dream presents, whether or not these multiple layers of meaning and implication are clear to the dreamer upon awakening. Dreams are like breathing, or the heart beating — no matter what problems there be with these autonomic respiratory and pulmonary systems, they are the basic supports of my life.
This same principle applies to the dreams of addicts, both in and out of recovery. Dreams always have important levels of symbolic meaning and implication even when they appear to “merely” repeat actual experiences of waking life. For instance, take the “classic” dream of suddenly being back fully in the grips addiction, years into solid recovery. I heard a wonderful example of such a dream the other day. The dreamer told me that when he awakened, “…it was only the fact I wasn't hung over that made me realize it had to have been a dream!”
My experience with this kind of dream, (and only the original dreamer can say for sure what the meanings and implications of his or her dreams may be), is that it comes precisely because the recovery is so solid. Usually it indicates that dreamer's the recovery is so integrated into waking life that he/she is in danger of forgetting just how bad it actually was! It makes sense — who wants to remember the terrible times? But if I forget, then I am also losing conscious touch with just how bad the deepest addiction was, and I am also forgetting just what an amazing, wonderful feat it is to have broken free of the grip of the addictive behavior.
There is always the implication that the vulnerability to relapse is still with me, even years and decades later, but the primary service to health and wholeness that this type of nightmare provides is to keep the conscious emotional and intellectual awareness vividly alive of the wholeness of my life. There is an unbroken continuity of breaths and heartbeats that links my recovery to the worst moments of my addictive behavior. I will always be someone who was once an addict, and I need to keep aware of just how much effort it took to overcome it. It is a crucially important passage of my life that I cannot afford to forget.
Another “classic” dream that often comes in the earlier stages of recovery is the dream of “suicide”. In my experience, when this archetypal dream pattern appears, it is crucially important to remember that “death” — particularly “death by suicide” — is symbolically an archetypal metaphor of profound psycho—spiritual growth and change in the dreamer's waking life. The only one who can stop being an addict is the addict him/herself. All the other sub-personalities “in the peanut gallery” who have always been opposed to the addictive behavior are incapable of ending the behavior — only the addict—self can stop, and symbolically, when the addict actually gathers the energy and the will to stop, it is a symbolic “act of suicide.”
If recovering addicts who have “the suicide dream” don't realize that one of the meanings of the dream, (and unbidden waking fantasies of “self-destruction” that often accompany the dream), is an affirmation that this time, the effort is actually working, they may fall into the trap of mistaken literalism, and, in their depression and despair, may actually try to kill themselves. In fact, “the suicide dream” is one of the most reliable spontaneous indicators that the effort to re—form the addictive habits and the addictive personality are working.
As the great Jungian writer and therapist, Robert Johnson, has said on many occasions: “You should do what your dreams and spontaneous waking fantasies are telling you to do. If they are telling you to kill yourself, then by all means kill yourself, but do not harm your body.”
In addition to these “classic”, archetypal dreams associated with recovery, ALL the dreams remembered, even those occurring in the depths of the addictive behavior, will contain invaluable symbolic information about the unconscious root influences that have manifested in the addiction, together with symbolic hints about how best to deal effectively with those unconscious patterns. Every remembered dream is an indicator that there is a creative, useful, effective health and wholeness promoting role for the dreamer's waking mind to play in the further unfolding of all the issues in the dreamer's life that are given shape in the remembered dream.
And just a reminder to those who are not addicted in the traditional ways: we’re all addicted to something, whether it disrupts our lives or not. Dreams will always help unravel what motivates us to feel powerless before repetitive behaviors