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Conversations with Trev

By: Andy Sullivan

Andy Sullivan is a 39-year-old British father of two based in South Africa. After 25 years of denial in active drug and alcohol addiction, he surrendered to his illness in September 2014 and learned that there is a whole new world out there. He blogs about his recovery journey at www.conversationswithtrev.com

Dream a little dream

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Apr 10, 2015

I'm nervous as I stand outside the courtroom. My anxiety is around the fact that I have consumed four pints of my favorite beer, Stella Artois, and I'm about to meet my judgment in the Relapse Court of Law.

The charges I face are for a previous offence of unsolicited drinking that I plan to deny, but if the jury members catch a whiff of the alcohol on my breath, I am done for.  My attorney, a man I have never met before and yet I seem to know, is frantically plying me with a variety of mints and chews designed to repress the stale smell; but I can smell it, and if I can smell it, so will everyone else. As I climb the steps I notice a jester playing the theme to “Cheers”. As I pass, he breaks out into “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name,” and then returns to a riff on his guitar.

Other people are milling around, looking and staring but obviously keen not to catch my weary and ashamed eye. Even though I don't know them, I still feel like I have let them down.

The courtroom is empty apart from a long thin table, with what seems like 30 empty chairs facing me but on the other side of  this elongated desk. The door behind the chairs opens, and in walks the familiar faces of the people that have played a part in my life - past, present and, perhaps, the future. They include my mom, dad, brother, sister, grown up daughters, ex wife, ex girlfriends, ex employers, ex work colleagues, and even some randoms that I seemed to know but am not sure where from.

I turn to my attorney, and he is chopping a line of cocaine on his brief case. I shake my head frantically at him to stop in stifled panic, and turn back to my new audience. It now just consists of my uncle, who is telling me not to do it and to come home with him... I cry and fall to my knees. I feel a surge of extreme guilt, shame and remorse wash over me as I lay in the fetal position on the floor. I open my tear-sodden eyes and notice that I am in what seems to be a dark, cold abandoned warehouse. Once again I feel alone...

I awake, carrying the same feelings into the conscious world with me. It takes me a moment to appreciate that the bright light shining through my window is reality, and that I had just woken up from another relapse dream. The sense of relief is palpable as I come to my senses. But the dying embers of the emotions that my sub conscious had just provided in my sleep stay with me until I get up and put the kettle on.

I have experienced a number of relapse dreams during the six months that I have been in recovery; none of which has supplied the warm, protective high that I use to try and reach from abusing substances. They just leave me with a cold and vivid recollection of an image that just reinforces how I would feel if a real life relapse should ever occur; a bit like an internal cinema matinee showing the path I will tread should I feel the urge to return to the life of active addiction. Perhaps it's my own built in red flag warning system...lest I should forget!

After some more research it has become clear that this is a recovery phenomenon that can be found in the journal notes of millions of addicts across the world. Once again, I have found solace in the knowledge that I am not alone!

Relapse dreams are nothing to be ashamed of; in fact they can help. The research I came across suggests that relapse dreams can be beneficial particularly if the person wakes up feeling uncomfortable about their experience, much as I did. It is believed that this reaction is evidence that recovery is being taken seriously, and that sobriety is truly cherished. It can be a good reminder of what could happen if complacency sets in and recovery is taken for granted. It may even motivate you to redouble your efforts, and that can never be a bad thing.

For most recovering addicts following a solid recovery program, the dreams gradually decrease in frequency during the first 2 years; although they never completely stop. Addicts with over 20 years of sobriety still report having one or two 'using' dreams a year; but these dreams tend to be brief, vague and not 'feeling' enforcing in anyway.

Whilst some psychologists suggest keeping a record in a journal every time such a dream occurs, I have decided to treat them for what they are – a dream; another part of my recovery process that shouldn’t be feared, but embraced.

Related:

Sobriety Junkie: My hope for her

Conquering the hurdles of early recovery

Overcoming the fear of step five

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