Friday, April 2, 2010

Drunk Dreams

People in recovery have 'em. They can really mess with your mind.

Last night I had a chase-the-clock dream, you know, one in which you're desperately trying to get somewhere before time runs out? I can't remember what I was chasing after, but at one point I found myself in a crowded, bustling place. People were shouting all around me. Somebody was with me, but it wasn't a person I knew well. We paused for a moment to catch our breath and I was very thirsty.

My buddy handed me a cup and I gulped greedily. Then I was distracted by a loud noise and looked over to see what it was, noticed our time was running out, and started pulling at my friend to get going. He looked at me crossly, as if to say, "Give me a minute." And then he took a swallow of his own drink.

It was then I realized he was drinking from a yellow beer cup, like the ones we used to haul around campus to keg parties when I was in college. Horrified, I looked down at my drink and realized I had unknowingly chugged half a beer.

A sick feeling washed over me. I sank down onto a bench and held my head in my hands. "I blew it!" I was silently wailing. "All that sobriety down the toilet!" And I was scared shitless. I sat there, waiting. Waiting for the buzz to come. And praying. Praying that I hadn't taken in enough that I would feel it. I started clicking back through what I'd eaten that day. Had I eaten enough to stave off the effects of half a beer? God, please, please, please don't let me feel this beer.

Then I got angry. Furious, even. Furious that this person would hand me a beer. And I woke up.

Whew. Relief. It was only a dream.

The question becomes, what does it mean? Does the dream mean I secretly want to drink? That seems unlikely because I clearly did NOT enjoy it and did NOT want to feel the effects of alcohol. So I don't think it's the harbinger of a slip or relapse. Does it mean I blame others for my drinking? I examine my conscience and the answer is no. Nobody made me drink; I chose to do that. But what the "acquaintance" could be is a metaphor for alcohol itself. I have no power over it. In a sense it's true that alcoholism sneaked up on me in that insidious way it has. It has you before you're aware that it has you (so, I consumed half the drink before realizing what it was.)

And then maybe the dream was also about triggers and protecting myself from them. I was in a hurry, totally occupied with something else, and anxious. So my guard was dropped. I wasn't being attentive to what was in my hand, what I was bringing to my own mouth.

The dream was also about fear. Fear of booze. Fear of its effects on me. I know damn well if I drink, I'll find that buzzed feeling irresistible. When I feel that feeling, I have to have more of it. I can't let it get away. I have to keep feeding it or it will be painful. I don't know how else to describe that desperate drive, that pull, that push, that unquenchable desire to get more, and how uncomfortable and anxious I get when the source is cut off.

So you know, the dream partly pleases me as well. I responded to the beer with revulsion. I immediately began praying for help. It seems pretty clear the nature of my addiction has sunk into my subconscious mind.

Early in sobriety there were other drunk dreams. I mean vivid ones, in which I'd sneak away to a bar and drink and get tanked in my dream. I could feel it, the dreams were so real. I got trashed in my own dreams. I would wake up and groan and roll over... and blink, confused; then reality would dawn, and I'd breathe a sigh of relief because I wasn't hungover! Others would have them too in rehab, and we'd hash them out in group work. It's normal to have a drunk or using dream. We're still processing things. Our counselors would tell us they mean nothing more than "pay attention." Go to a meeting. Do a self-check. Feelings, dreams, impulses, aren't facts. One person cleverly suggested, "Maybe your brain is prepping you for the inevitable temptation and challenging you to make a strategy for dealing with it." I liked that interpretation.

I'm guessing I also had last night's dream because today is my 7th month sobriety birthday. Seven months is significant because that's the longest I've ever been sober the entire time I've been drinking (since age 18). Sometime this month (I wasn't really counting actual days that one time I quit long ago, so all I can say is 'sometime' between 7 and 8 months), I will silently pass that milestone. So the dream can be a warning, too. Don't get too complacent in your sobriety. You never know what might happen.

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