On July 4th I met a woman who has over twenty years sober. While we were chatting, she mentioned that she still has drinking dreams. We met at a party on my grandparent’s river island on the San Joaquin Delta. One of the other guests graciously plugged two of my published books. Afterward, people came up to me, including this woman with twenty years clean. She asked what I write about and I said, “Spirituality and Recovery.” That’s when I discovered she was a former alcoholic haunted by occasional drinking dreams and fleeing moments of the casual desire to drink. Like me, she sometimes catches herself romanticizing what it would be like to have a glass of wine with dinner… or a shot of tequila on a Saturday afternoon.
We didn’t actually talk about the shot of tequila on a Saturday afternoon. That’s my fleeing fantasy. In Fairfax (cool ass town in Central Marin) a few weeks back, there was live music at a patio bar where a really happy guy was taking Tequila shots along with his friends. It was appealing to me for about thirty seconds. It takes me about thirty seconds to play the preverbal alcoholic tape all the way through. (I would love to take a shot right now. I’m so jealous of that guy and his friends. I used to do that too. It was fun. If I did that today, I would take one shot and then I would want another. I would take another because… well, what the hell? The second shot would be amazing and the heat of the alcohol would kick right in. Here comes the buzz. Wow. I need another shot. Let’s just get this over with. I need another, and another. I can’t stop. Pretty soon, I’m smashed. I’m blacking out. I’m waking up in either a hospital, a bush in someone’s yard, or I’m in jail for something I don’t remember doing. Yeah… I don’t really want a drink. Ick. I’m a shitty drunk. I will never be able to drink like a normal person, so moving on… Babe, let’s go get some Thai food…).
A glass of wine with dinner sounds boring in comparison to my tequila fantasies, but I apparently this woman’s drinking dreams are as horrific as mine. We swapped stories of what it feels like to dream we’re drinking, now that we are sober. We both wake up feeling hung-over after many of the dreams, and the guilt involved is so intense and real.
People have different ideas of why these dreams occur, and question if there is some kind of cycle involved. Some people think these dreams occur during certain milestones of recovery. I’m sure that’s true, but I have a lot of friends in recovery, and it varies for all of us. Some of us have them more often than others. Because we are all uniquely psychologically, emotionally and mentally wired, and in different phases of our recovery, I doubt anyone could track and target when these dreams are going to occur for a recovering addict.
I can only speak for myself here. What I’ve noticed, is that drinking dreams occur most often when I am under stress or undergoing change. I don’t mean physical change like I’m having a penis added on or anything. I’m referring to life changes, like moving, promotions, changes in routine, relationships, etc. Stress happens naturally with change, so there’s a double whammy for me. I just got serious with my boyfriend, switched jobs, moved my daughter back into my life after 3 years, moved to another county, and changed up my whole routine. It’s a lot to take on for anyone. I wonder what “normies” have dreams about during life changes… Overeating, watching too much t.v. and hiding it???
Regardless of how others handle change, I know that it was probably too much for anyone to take on, so I’ve been going with the flow of all my emotions, instead of identifying with them. I’ve felt elated, exhausted, irritable, impatient, doubt, fear, excitement, confusion, peace, upheaval, numb, bored… you name it. I felt all of these things, yet I didn’t crave a drink, and I stayed aware that these mood swings were all very temporary. I knew the end result was that I was going to be really content. Back in the day, these emotions and fears would have provided several reasons to drink. I think that’s why I had a dream last night.
I was finally feeling a little bit settled; getting used to my new routine and loving my time with my daughter and my boyfriend. My job is kick-ass and my new home is like living in a summer cottage in the woods. At night, I hear CRICKETS. Outside I see STARS. Literally thousands of them. I even enjoy watching the garden spiders weaving webs in my yard. It’s just incredible to live so close to the earth away from concrete. Anyway, I went to bed feeling like the dense fog of emotion was lifting, yet I experienced a brutal drinking dream. In the dream I found myself fully self-destructing and starting all over again, back in the throes of my addiction. I was back in Detox, feeling hopeless and ashamed. I wanted to lie about my sobriety date, but too many people knew the truth. I was a failure. I drank and blacked out and tried to run away so no one knew, but everyone knew. It was a nightmare really.
We are always grateful these are merely dreams, and many of us feel like they keep us from drinking because the shame and hopelessness we feel, is so vivid. They temporarily help, but we still need to work a program. I shared this dream with my boyfriend this morning and he says it’s like I’m purging those old memories every time I have these dreams. I think he’s right. To add to it, I feel like I am psychologically and spiritually detoxing when I experience these dreams. I’ve made some huge leaps and bounds in my life this year, and I’ve had a lot of support. If this had been in the past, I would have found a way to destroy what I’ve created.
I think that’s what the dream was about – past fears and mistakes I’ve made when I’ve gotten new jobs, succeeded, or had good relationships. Emotions and fears need to arise in order for the healing to take place. Resisting these things is like deepening the wound. I look at my life as an overall picture instead of through the limited lens of detail. If I look at my life in the eyes of a recovering alcoholic, I need to be aware of every emotion and behavior I’m having so that I can fully recover. I don’t have to get caught up in a memory, a dream, an emotion, a fear or the stress I’m experiencing.
It’s like living life on a river, where I’m floating along and always headed downstream to the great big ocean. I will experience all the elements of the river, but overall, I’m still making my way downstream to the ocean of recovery.