Dreaming in Recovery

While working as a trauma therapist at a non-profit agency for substance abuse recovery, I meet all kinds of women. The clientele are highly diverse, yet they come together in their recovery journey. Whether in an individual or a group therapy session, the topic of dreaming often emerges even though I do not advertise my experience as a dreamworker or dream researcher. Dreams in early and mid-stages of recovery surface and are shared. The question often asked is “why now?” and “what does this mean?”

“Dreams belong to the dreamer,” I state, “so you are the one to determine that.” My offer to share some prominent theories, in order to generate ideas, is met with approval. One perspective of dreaming is that dreams come in service of evolution. They act as a protective evolutionary factor. In this case, if a woman is striving to stay clean (and recover from long-term drug abuse), a drug-of-choice dream might remind her of her purpose and this most pressing issue.

In the dream, sometimes the dreamer simply looks at, or holds, a bag containing the drug-of-choice; other times she prepares to consume the illicit drug, but awakens before doing so. And even other times, dreamers use the drug while in the dream state .Perhaps these three examples represent levels or stages of recovery integration. Or, perhaps they exist simply to encourage the dreamer to progress in some way.

In the first example, some of these dreamers have spoken about a feeling of mastery or pride in that they could be so close to such a dangerously tempting substance, yet not act impulsively or have any desire to do so. In the second example, dreamers have reported feeling worried about their dream activities (e.g. chopping a line; preparing a syringe), only to become increasingly vigilant in their recovery work. The third and final example can leave the dreamer with much confusion and fear. One woman reported smoking crack cocaine in a dream, and while slowing waking up (aka hypnopompic state), she touched her face, perceiving it as thinner and sunken in. This perception led her heart to race and body to jolt out of bed in fear. The dream, she said, upon reflection, supported her recovery by scaring her out of thoughts of using. The cravings dissipated for some time and she made several statements about her commitment to her recovery.

Substance abuse is like a slow death. It is, essentially, self-harm and the illicit drug is the weapon. For those living with addiction, the drug-of-choice is extremely powerful – powerful enough to hijack, sabotage, and rob a person of their own life. If dreams do serve evolution, then a dream centered around the relationship and power dynamic between the drug and the dreamer, may support relapse prevention or prepare the dreamer for what could come.

Addiction is a chronic disease. It can cause disability and premature death, but it can be managed and people do recover. The resources listed below can offer help and provide information, however, they are just a starting place.

http://www.asam.org

http://www.na.org

http://www.smartrecovery.org

http://www.womenforsobriety.org/beta2/

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