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Addiction, Healing and Transformation Through Recovery Dreamwork Part I
by Jim Baylis, LCSW Director of Reflections at FHMC, NY

I had my first remembered night terror at age 9 or 10. I almost ran out of my parent's apartment in Brooklyn before my father caught me. My second night terror came on my first honeymoon in Jamaica. It scared my first wife to death. I guess it was an omen, as we got divorced a few years later in 1992.

My interest in dreamwork was also reawakened in 1992 when I read Jeremy Taylor's essential dream book "Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill" (this book is being revised and republished later this year). That book summoned me to examine the relationships and meanings of dreams in my everyday life.

The dream world and the waking world seem inseparable and so interconnected. As fate would have it, my career in addiction counseling started in the early 1990's as well. Over the years, the interplay among addiction, dreams and recovery appears to be an untapped clinical resource. Dreams are so multilayered and full of twists and turns. Dreams have an inherent quality to open the unconscious of both groups and individuals. We all have fixed egos and defense mechanisms. These defenses may inhibit our ability to be intimate.

Developing the skill of processing dreams in a safe/supportive group environment is important for healing. People are able to "mirror" each other in exploring deeper feelings beyond the ego within this atmosphere. These feelings have been repressed over time. The feelings are usually "acted out" via a person's addictive and self-absorbed behaviors. The emotions include: fear, anger, self-hatred, grief/loss issues, etc. In addition, many people suffering from addiction usually come from an impaired family. They have a history of trauma or some kind of abuse, physical, sexual or emotional.

Addicts/alcoholics are well schooled in the art of compartmentalization. They may tend to "box" their feelings in order to protect themselves. Cultural conditioning, the need to survive and defend themselves have led the addicted to feed their egos. They become who they "think" they are or what others expect them to be.

Defense mechanisms include denial, rationalization, minimizing, repression and most important to dreams, projection. Projection is the placing of feelings, behaviors, and attitudes onto an individual or group. These projections are generally an unconscious part of the person sending out the projection. Active or just abstinent addicts tend to be more externally focused as they relate to the world. They may attempt to control those around them who are trying to assist them. This includes their family, friends, authorities, co-workers, the "system" and health care workers. Active addicts seem to live in a world ruled by projections. They may find it difficult or next to impossible to accept responsibility for their actions when confronted.

Addiction and alcoholism are not just the dependence on drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling etc. The origins and consequences are wide-ranging and insidious. The disease of addiction involves the whole person and their relations. This includes the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of being human. Dream processing, like recovery, addresses all of these qualities in order to pursue health and wellness. Both dreaming and recovery expand one's ability to pay attention to guideposts on the journey. A person can learn to better listen to themselves, others, and the universe or a sense of spirituality as they define it.

The disease of addiction seems to push people to seek material solutions to what I consider a spiritual dilemma. The spiritual peace/piece may be the central element for avoiding relapse, maintaining sobriety and sustaining hope each day. People who enter the gates of recovery are called to travel an inner journey. Through the work, they are able to project a recovering lifestyle and see the "bigger" picture in the world. The work of recovery involves the gestalt (holistic) approach. I advise my clients to place themselves in the middle of a circle of recovery. Within that circle they practice meditation, yoga, tai chi, the 12 Steps, quality therapy, substance treatment and dream-work. Group dreamwork is less utilized by therapists as an avenue of transformation. Changes happen as people mirror each other as they are better able to explore their "blind spots" in their sobriety and grow into recovery.

There appears to be a strong correlation between self-attendance and expanding dreams. The two disciplines are reflective and spiritual. Initially, in early sobriety, people report various "drug dreams". These dreams revolve around anticipated use, using itself, or fear of future use. As a person stays sober, they go through various changes. These changes effect and alter the brain. As a person learns better self-care, they heal their body, mind, and soul. This transformation seems to create vivid and more meaningful dreaming.

Archetypes, symbols and myths are all manifested in dreams and addictions. Archetypes are generally unconscious and universal parts of our personalities. The concept of archetypes was first developed by Carl Jung, who did correspond with Bill Wilson (co-founder of AA) at one time. Archetypes have both negative and (shadow) and positive (light) attributes of a person or culture. The dark shadow is a powerful seduction of any dependence. The warrior archetype tends to be a strong part of addiction. The warrior tells his/her "war stories" as part of their treatment or self-help meetings. The spiritual warrior archetype is the transformation of a person from being in prison to being free. Exploration of dreams supports this spiritual awakening. A formerly fragmented person is thus transformed into a more whole and integrated human being. The process is called dreaming into recovery.

I would like to close this segment with a poem from the Sufi poet Rumi which reflects the dreaming/ recovery connection:

The Water You Want

Someone may be clairvoyant, able to see the future, and yet have very little wisdom.
Like the man who saw water in his dream, and began leading everyone toward the mirage.
I am the one with Heart-vision.
I have torn open the veil.
So they set out with him inside the dream,
While he is actually sleeping beside a river of pure water.
Any search moves away from the spot where the object of the quest is.
Sleep deeply wherever you are on the way.
Maybe some traveler will take you.
Give up subtle thinking, the twofold, threefold multiplication of mistakes.
Listen to the sound waves within you.
You are dreaming your thirst,
When the water you want is inside the big vein on your neck.
(translated be Coleman Barks)

More will be revealed....

Back to Dream Circle


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