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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
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
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
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
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....
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