Drinking Dreams

On last night’s Bubble Hour podcast, Ellie and I talked about “Drinking Dreams” with recovery blogger Josie (http://themiracleisaroundthecorner.wordpress.com). We looked back over different stages of our recovery and reflected on how they seemed to bring on different types of dreams. Some of those dreams are recovery-enhancing and some can foreshadowing danger.

Drinking dreams in early recovery happen frequently as the brain is just so used to alcohol being part of every activity. We may be having a perfectly lovely dream about a normal event – say, a family picnic – and suddenly realize we are drinking in the dream. After waking with a start, there is usually relief that “it was only a dream” and we are grateful to still be sober.

In time, the dreams happen less and less frequently, and may take on more of a “processing” quality – like trying to figure out how to handle a situation involving alcohol, or dealing with the aftermath of a relapse. How you feel in the dream (and upon waking in reflection) can indicate if the dream is warning of possible relapse.

Near the end of the episode, I rattled off a checklist to help assess dreams. After listening to the podcast this morning I’ve decided to post that checklist here as a resource.

Here is a link to the episode: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bubblehour/2015/03/09/drinking-dreams

When you wake up from a dream about drinking, reflect on it and consider the following:

  • Was your alcohol use incidental, such as you didn’t know you were drinking and suddenly realized you were holding a glass? (This is an example of the “familiar backdrop” of alcohol – often occurring in early sobriety because the brain is so used to alcohol being ever-present. Your shocked reaction to the alcohol is a positive indication of your desire to stay sober. Write down the dream and keep it as a reminder to strengthen your resolve to stay sober.)
  • Was your drinking dream about using intentionally and were you pleased to find yourself drinking without consequence? (This is an example of “wishful longing for alcohol” and your response may be to spend some time considering all the benefits of your new life in recovery. If you find you have an unstated desire to drink, acknowledge it and look at ways to alleviate it safely. Exercising daily gratitude might be a good idea, to help you focus on the things you love about your life without alcohol, instead of romanticizing it on some level. Going back to journals from your early days of sobriety can be helpful as well. Talk to someone.)
  • Were there consequences to drinking in the dream? (If yes, this is a good sign as it shows the subconscious is aware of consequences and plays them out. If not, heed this dream as a warning sign that the subconscious is responding to the lure and appeal of alcohol as relief. This is a time to assess other means of finding pleasure and assuring that the “recovery toolkit” is stocked and ready. Create and stock your recovery bubble – a safe place and means to look after yourself)
  • Was the drinking in your dream a solution to a problem you are dreading, like an awkward social event or big work project or public speaking requirement? (If so, take note that your mind is stressing about this and defaulting to the old fall-back of booze. Plan ahead for the upcoming event and acknowledge the real concerns you have. Decide if you should attend or participate, and if you choose to be sure you have a solid plan to enjoy yourself and stay sober.)

I found this article to be a great resource in researching this topic: http://www.asdreams.org/magazine/articles/peters_recovery.htm

What about you? Have you experienced drinking dreams? Have they helped firm your resolve or do you find them to be triggering?

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28 comments

  1. The key to these is that they are not dreams — they are nightmares. Since you wake up feeling bad about them, they are actually an affirmation of the positive.

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  2. I will have 5 years of good sobriety (God-willing) on 7-26, and I still have drunk dreams at least 2 times per month. In them, I’m always trying to sneak alcohol without anyone noticing, or I’ve been lying to everyone and have been drinking throughout my sobriety. Sometimes I wake up and I’m terrified, heart beating rapidly, and I think it’s really happened. I take those dreams as a signal that I might need to beef up my program, or that I have some other issue I’m anxious about and it’s manifesting in the form of a drunk dream. I also have smoking dreams (I quit 4 years ago), and in those dreams I am happily taking long, slow drags off of my cigarette, feeling great! Incidentally, I think about smoking much more often than drinking. BTW…Great blog!!

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  3. No drinking dreams for me at this point. I am on day #1 and so far just letting my feeling of shame and guilt float. However, I would take a drinking dream anytime over my drinking in reality. Right now, all I want is to get to week # 1. Great post, however. Makes you think about how our subconscious controls our mind when we are most vulnerable. In our sleep.

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  4. I’ve been sober for 61 days now, yay to me and my sober 2-month anniversary yesterday. I listened to this episode on the Bubble Hour a few days ago and was happy to hear that dreams about drinking are normal and can lead us to better understand the conscious working of our minds. I’ve only had one dream so far and it was about 2 weeks into being sober. In my dream I was at a bar and different friends kept offering me drinks and I felt lots of anxiety but I was able to say no in different ways to each friend. Obviously this was and continues to be a stresser for me: how to say no thanks firmly but without making a big deal out of it. The blog I started 60 days ago even has its titled rooted in thinking of ways to say no: (shameless plug! Read my blog I’m a lonely expat with no community to talk to) http://www.iwillstartwithwater.com

    That was the only phrase I had to get me started to say no to drinking…what do you want to drink? “I’ll start with water…” I’ve only used it a couple of times, and it works and it makes me giggle on the inside too.

    Interestingly, my husband had a me-drinking dream the other night. Which is odd because it is so rare that he remembers dreams and because it was about me drinking, not him. He is still a heavy drinker but super rockstar supportive of my sobriety. In the dream, I suddenly stood up at some bbq and exclaimed, “I need a cold beer” and then slammed a whole can down. I am known for being spontaneous and big jesters, I can see that in the dream. It made for an interesting conversation, and ultimately my husband admitting that he likes me sober. I’m doing my best to keep it that way!

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  5. I’ve been sober just under 15 months and haven’t actually had many drinking dreams. A few around the holidays in which I drank inadvertently (or unthinkingly) and was so distraught (in the dream, funnily enough) and couldn’t have been happier to wake up.

    One of the motivations I had for starting to moderate my drinking way back when was learning that alcohol interferes with REM sleep, the period of sleep in which we dream. Around the same time I was reading a lot of Michael Eigen (Toxic Nourishment, Damaged Bonds, etc.) and learning about the importance of dreamwork in the processing of emotional wounds. Eigen builds on Wildred Bion’s notion of dreaming as “psychic digestion.” He suggests that dreams help us to break down experiences into bits and pieces, rework them, digest them, as it were. Just like we must digest nutrients in order to assimilate them, we have to “digest,” psychically, our experiences in order to make sense of them and fully integrate them. Alcohol disrupts sleep and disrupted sleep means disrupted dreamwork. When we don’t allow ourselves enough time each night to dream – because alcohol is interfering with our REM sleep – we are not breaking down our experiences in a way that we can assimilate them and we can become emotionally disregulated. I found myself pondering if that’s not the real reason for the saying that addicts stop maturing when they pick up their substance … because we are not digesting our experiences. Anyway, it kind of freaked me out, that I was messing with what seemed, on reflection, to be a process vital to my mental and spiritual health.

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  6. Wow! On Day 2 of sobriety had a nap that ended with me in a saloon where I had told the bartender to load the bar with what appeared to be glasses and shots of Blue Curacao (weird, because I’ve never abused that one!). As I reached for the first shot a voice in the back of my head said “How come nobody’s calling me out on this?” Boom. Wide awake. I’ve already written this one down. Very hopeful it’s the kind of positive sign I think it is.

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    • Chris, me too! Very, very few drinking dreams but I haven’t smoked in 24 years and still find myself dreaming of it – usually once a month or so. Always the same: I’m smoking and can’t remember when I started up again. I get upset because I’m going to have to start all over again. I’m always to happy to wake up!

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    • I had a drinking dream last night. I dreamed that my husband and I were on our way to Mexico to an all inclusive (that would have been a place were I would be drinking all day) and that he told me to just forget about staying sober just during those days. In my dreaming I was going to But I was so releved when I woke up. I am on day 19 and am starting to feel like my self again. I have this peace in my heart that I am finally off that wakeful roller coster. I hope that dream didn’t mean anything. Thank you so much Unpickeled you r such an inspiration. I have been listening to bubble hour episodes everyday and I’m convinced that I can’t never drink again and hope that I will be as successful with soberity as all of you girls. My story is very similar like yours. I am so glad I am not alone.
      Sincerely,
      Me

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  7. I”m only on 60+ days af, and have not had any dreams about actually drinking. (yet) I have had more emotionally intense dreams…they seem more vivid, tangible etc. now that I am not drinking.

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  8. I find this post so interesting! In my nearly 60 days sober I have had several drinking dreams. I didn’t pay a whole lot attention to meaning behind them, I was just thinking I had them because drinking used to be a huge part of my life and it’s not anymore. Looking forward to paying closer attention and then looking at your checklist!

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  9. This is great!!
    I only had one drinking dream so far, and that was in the first month.
    It didn’t bother me. I just wanted to figure out what my brain was trying to tell me!

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  10. I had my first full-on “drinking dream” last night since stopping a little over a week ago, and I woke up SO relieved I hadn’t really chugged a bunch of cheap party beer. In my dream I even poured the rest out into the sink. So far so good, I think…

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  11. Mine have changed over the years of recovery.

    Initially they were about me desperate to get drink and unable to. Normally in some awful concrete jungle of an urban landscape with pubs/bars without windows I couldn’t get in.

    Later on they became where I’d look down and there in my hand was a beer (normally half a pint, which should be a clue this is a dream … when did I ever drink a half?!) and I was thinking “Well already started now, I can just carry on”.

    They are luckily for me now rare but still there as a reminder to me that it never leaves you

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  12. I’ve only had 2 drinking dreams in the last 5 1/2 months that I’ve been AF. If anything they both left me more determined than ever to remain AF!l

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  13. What now feels like a long time ago, I had a drunk dream that was so convincing it took a full minute upon waking for me to realize it had only been a dream. My unconscious imagination still goes out drinking from time to time, but remembering such late night excursions only makes me chuckle.

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  14. I’ve been sober for 5 weeks and had a drinking dream a few days before your episode ! I was delighted when I saw the subject for the show.
    In my dream I was just hanging out with a beer, took a few big sips and then said OMG! I can’t drink this. (Realizing I don’t drink anymore) and handed it to my friend. He took it. Then I said ” that doesn’t count right? I’m still sober?” I woke up feeling happy it didn’t happen!!

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  15. thanks for the post! i had a drinking dream where i felt like i had no other option but to drink the beer that was placed before me, the setting, the company, there was nothing else to drink – so ii just thought – in my dream – oh well might as well go and drink the damn thing – and i immediately felt remorseful – perhaps this says something of peer pressure – the norm of drinking in our society?

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  16. I had a dream several weeks ago. It seemed very real and when I woke up I was so remorseful. It took me a few minutes to realize it was only a dream. When my husband work up I told him about it and my reaction and we talked about the meaning. I do remember that when I was drinking in my dream I felt terrible and whatever I was drinking has a terrible taste to it.

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  17. Last night I had a drinking dream and my plan was to research them this morning. How coincidental this post is! In my dream, I drank and wanted to kick myself for blowing off all those long-coounted, sober days (a little over 300). But I told myself to start again, in the dream. I didn’t get drunk, just drank.

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  18. Drinking dreams don’t rattle me too much, but I think that’s because of my previous experience quitting smoking after 5 years of failed attempts. I had smoking dreams for years after my last quit–still do once in a blue moon. But I haven’t smoked in 12 years. So I know dreams don’t mean I’ll do it.

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