Did you ever have a dream as a kid that sent you scurrying to your parent’s room? You were convinced that the dream was real, but your parents reassured you it was not. They may have said, “Don’t worry. It was only a dream. It wasn’t real.” As you curled up between them and fell back asleep there was a whisper of safety tucked in next to you. The two people you trusted most had delivered a message that was designed to lull you back to sleep. And it did.
No wonder most people disregard their dreams. We’ve been conditioned to believe that they’re insignificant and unimportant—we discard them like the unread sections of the morning paper. We live in a culture that is focused on what is real. We want to know more about the things we can see and touch—like how to make a heart in the foam of a decaf latte or who makes the softest t-shirts. There is so much external stimulation drawing us out, we have forgotten how to look inside.
Most of us dream every night. Our dreams are filled with powerful images and colorful people. They are full of substance. They remind us of places we have been and take us to kingdoms we are visiting for the first time. We encounter the things that go bump in the night and surge through the planets with our arms extended like wings. We visit with mythical creatures and walk naked into final exams. We cannot find one of our shoes and know we will be late. We reunite with a friend who has passed away and get to hug her one more time. And when we wake up we remember our dream with clarity and precision. We can see the faces of our friends and ancestors still sifting all around us. But then they are gone. We let them vanish into the crowded streets of our mind as we walk towards the front door of logic. It was only a dream, we remember. It was only a dream.
But was it? There is a shared understanding among psychologists in my field that dreams are compensatory. This means that they are not arbitrary but have a distinct intention and purpose, which is to bring material from the unconscious into consciousness. When we sleep we hover in a realm that traverses these two states of being. The images in our dreams are meant to help us rebalance ourselves when psyche is damaged and fractured. This fracturing often takes place when a person suffers from addiction.
There is a wave of addictive behavior that is currently taking over the planet. 30 million Americans are presently struggling with substance abuse problems. This is nearly 10 percent of the US population. This is a national epidemic that has grown steadily for the past decade and is taking lives every day. Over 100 people die every day from overdoses. This does not count the many who also succumb to heart and organ failure due to prolonged use of alcohol. Addiction is here to stay and unless we drastically change the way we treat it there is no end in sight. There are so many drugs to choose from and unfortunately they are readily available in our high schools and colleges across the nation. Taking drugs and drinking alcohol is not considered a fringe activity in these institutions of higher education but rather a normal way to spend a Friday night with friends.
Treatment professionals are fighting hard to provide a new way of life to recovering addicts. At treatment facilities throughout the country there are new and innovative approaches to healing trauma and addiction. There is biofeedback – a remarkable way to understand and reprogram patterns in the brain. There is equine therapy which allows horses to read the positive and negative energy you are emitting. There are classes in yoga, acupuncture, meditation and nutrition. So, it would appear that there is a distinct place for dream analysis within this framework? Unfortunately this is not the case. In my experience it is evident that most treatment professionals do believe that dreams are relevant. Tell that to Carl Jung who analyzed over 20 thousand during his lifetime. He not only believed that this was an effective way to treat symptoms, he dedicated much of his life’s work to dream analysis. As a disciple of Jung, I work with dreams frequently to better understand the psychological state of the patient I am treating.
When an addict is abstaining from actually using drugs there is still an urge to play out the fantasy in the unconscious – this is where the dream comes in.Click to tweet
I believe the symbols in our dreams have a powerful significance. If you dream about traveling in a red car to a house with a blue door, mind the details. What do the colors red and blue mean to you? A door may symbolize making a transition in your life. Are you on your way to enter this new phase? Think about each element in the dream and see how it resonates. Are there any feelings attached with these objects? Are they real memories from your conscious life? If so, what do they represent? We call this process unpacking the dream images. Find how the images traverse the actual lines of your life. What do you remember? Often dream images will unlock memories from our childhood. Perhaps our earliest memories. What a blessing this is when it happens. Imagine that psyche is presenting you with something you forgot even existed. Maybe it was your old crusty sled or the wisp of a feather you held in your hand. Remember, it is appearing in your dream for a reason.
Although we all dream about different things, there are many patterns in our dreams that are universal. We dream about death, flying, losing our teeth, and strange creatures lurking in the shadows. Recovering addicts often dream about getting high again or being chased by some sort of scary demons. These images and events are not literal, of course, but represent certain aspects of their addictive nature. When an addict is abstaining from actually using drugs there is still an urge to play out the fantasy in the unconscious – this is where the dream comes in. Dreams about using drugs actually resonate a healthy attitude and therefore should not be seen as a desire to relapse. These dreams may evoke feelings of guilt or shame from the dreamer and often times an addict will wake up uncertain if the dream actually happened. I assure you that it did not. The recovering addict is exhausting the old archetypal pattern of addiction through the dream. This is a good thing.
Often addicts in early recovery have a dream that they are being chased by monsters. These demons may resemble something they know like a dragon from a fairytale but sometimes they are far more sinister and frightening. It is my belief that these unsettling images in our dreams represent certain aspects of our character. Usually they refer to those unwanted traits that we repress. So, a monster may represent our fear. A demon may be our addiction. A strange mythical creature could be our guilt. It is important to pay attention to these dark figures. If we pay close attention to them there are always clues to be uncovered. Don’t be afraid of them. They are parts of you.
Addiction continues to rage like an offshore storm that is rapidly heading towards your town. If it has not yet arrived you can expect it soon. It has gained strength and intends to destroy anything that stands in its way. It is a powerful force that can only be diffused by an adherence to precise psychological interventions. One of these methods is looking at our dreams. I urge you to give it a try.
Dreams have been a source of inspiration for me and many of my patients. I encourage you to keep a dream journal on your bedside table. As you wake up with dream images fresh in your mind, write them down. Just a few images will help you drop back into the dream when you revisit it at a later time. Dreams are important and happen to us for a reason: Listen to them with excitement and curiosity. They will help you to understand yourself in a deeper and more honest way. If you are a recovering addict your dreams will reveal vital information about they parts of you that still need attention.