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You've been clean and sober for 5 years, you have worked hard at recovery and life has dramatically improved. Your body has mended and your mind is clear. You feel as though you have a degree of control back in your life and you are respected within your peer group. Life is hard, but it has never been so damned good....
You find yourself with a bottle of scotch in your hand and your body weighs as lead. When you try to speak you begin to slur so much that you can't even understand what you are saying. The people around you have expressions of disgust, fear and scorn on their faces. You fall to the ground and cannot stand up again. You vomit then crawl, like a baby, away as fast as you can. The bottle of scotch is held in a vice-like grip in one hand, your knuckles are white. There is no way you will let go of that bottle again...it's been so long....your best friend is back. But part of you screams in disbelief in what you are doing. All those years of hard work....gone...in an unguarded moment.
Your head spins and even crawling becomes difficult and clumsy. You just want to find a quiet place where you and your friend can become re-acquainted, and be together again until death do you part.
And then you wake up....shivering, shaking, sweating....but stone cold sober. Reality and fantasy collide and for a few moments you aren't really sure of what has just happened.
Welcome to one of the aspects of recovery - the "Rebound Effect" - the Drunk/Stoned Dream.
As I have made mention in other articles, the recovery process is difficult and some aspects can take many years. When you bombard your brain with heavy chemicals for an extended period, it takes a while for it to re-establish it's equilibrium. Most of us experience severe sleep disturbances. Our doctors and friends will recommend "herbal" sleep remedies.... Well, I think I have tried them all - they don't work because my brain was used to much more potent means of drifting off into the Land of Nod. But the last thing that you want to do when going through this phase is to start using sleeping "medication". It is an absolute last resort, as these drugs can be highly addictive or spark off cravings.
It's best just to ride this phase out. It will end, and normal sleep patterns will return. But even in your sleep you will be reminded from time to time of your past. These dreams can be unsettling as they are very vivid.
Why do they occur? Some of it has to do with what I have just mentioned. When you are asleep, the brain releases chemicals into your body that have the same type of effect as alcohol and certain drugs. Sometimes the brain gets confused by its own production and this is manifested in your dreams. The other reasons are a bit more sinister. When we are in recovery, we are making a conscious effort to direct our thinking away from drink and drugs. Our subconscious rebels when we are sleeping to allow the "other" thoughts to seep through. In every recovering addict, no matter how much we abhor the substances we once abused, there is a small, primitive part of our minds that wishes to return to our previous behavior. Dreams allow us freedom from inhibition, just the same as our drugs did for a while.
So, what to do about these dreams... don't read too much into them. If they are infrequent, see them as a semi-positive experience, a reminder of just how bad it was. The passage of time has a tendency to distance us and can make us forgetful of who we are and what we carry - which is very dangerous. In most of the recovering addicts I speak to, the dreams are never associated with pleasant feelings.
What if the dreams start occurring on a regular basis, or increase in frequency. Perhaps an examination of what is going on in your life may be in order. Are you under undue stress? Not sleeping enough? Your mind may be "remembering" a pattern from years before. The pattern of chaos.
I have grown accustomed to the nightmares over the years. Once I accepted them for what they were, they featured less in my thinking throughout the day and I stopped worrying about them.
But late in December of last year, they returned with a vengeance. Every night for a month straight; amplified and horrible. Always within the first hour of sleep. Always extremely unpleasant. So what did I do? I began writing a series of articles under the heading of "The man in the glass".
The nightmares abated immediately.
Perhaps it was a tap on the shoulder??
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