Whether you’re just a few days sober or many years in recovery, whether you’re currently in a treatment center or have been clean a long time, encountering a drinking or using dream (or nightmare) can come rattling into your sleeping-dreaming consciousness at any given time! And when it does, while it can be unsettling, it’s good to know how to handle it and remain free from any temptation to drink or use again or to doubt your resolve or ability to maintain your sobriety.
I know this to be true, because last night, after having been clean and sober many years, I awoke with a start, having had a sufficiently vivid run-in with both booze and drugs. Fortunately, I learned early in recovery that drinking or using dreams were a natural part of recovery, and nothing to worry about or over-analyze. (Such dreams are not, in and of themselves, an indication my recovery program is weak and I’m about to lose my sobriety!)
In my case, I was grateful to realize it was “just a dream,” but it also took me back to the basics I learned when I first came into recovery. Here are 3 simple steps I was suggested to follow whenever I experienced a drinking or using dream.
1) Recognize and affirm you have a choice about how to respond.
That is, in the past when we were actively drinking or using drugs, our entire lives—especially our thinking and our actions—were enslaved by our addiction. If an impulse arose to drink or use, we felt compelled to follow it unwaveringly, regardless of the consequences to ourselves or literally anyone else (i.e., our loved ones, employers and clients all took a back seat to the alcohol or drugs). But now that we’ve made a decision to live our lives in recovery, we have a choice. If we have a drinking or using dream, no matter how compelling or feverish it is, when we wake up from it, we can simply affirm we’re choosing not to drink or use today, and instead remain committed to the principles of recovery we’ve learned and our new lives in recovery.
2) Reach out to someone in recovery you trust and shine a light together with them on the experience.
In my case (and numerous times in the past when I’ve had a drinking or using dream), I called up a friend in my recovery network and told him about it. (Other options include your 12 Steps sponsor, or a therapist or counselor from your treatment center.) As I relayed the dream’s content to him and listened to what he had to say in reply, I felt the darkness and anxiety I’d experienced during the dream dissipate in the light of our discussing it. By sharing it out loud with someone you know who can relate with you, it can help you gain a sense of greater acceptance and strength to move beyond such dreams, as well as find reassurance, solidarity and possibly some tips to help you cope.
3) Get proactive and put some additional time into strengthening your recovery program.
Taking action steps like attending extra recovery meetings, checking in with your sponsor, counselor or therapist regarding your current state of mental and emotional health, or applying what you learned in rehab or 12 Steps meetings regarding relapse prevention… all of these can help strengthen you and reactivate your heartfelt desire to stay clean and sober, growing in freedom from active addiction. And being proactive now can save you from a relapse later.
In addition to the 3 action steps described above, be sure to reflect on your current habits and evaluate whether or not they may need adjusting: Are you getting enough sleep? (Or are you staying up late and not getting sufficient rest?) Have you been experiencing higher levels of stress or anxiety lately? If so, what measures can you take to effectively address that? (Change your diet, increase your level of exercise, talk with a counselor or therapist about the issues troubling you, etc.)
Hopefully, these tips will help smooth your way going forward and give you the tools you need for any future encounter you have with a drinking or using dream.