I have often revealed that during my time in rehab, God called me to me what i refer to as, “painful transparency,” so here we go once again. I heard speakers come to the chapel services and talk over and over about how God delivered them from their addictions, and how they never had the desire to use again. It was one of the reasons that i was so angry with God before coming to rehab. I couldn’t understand why God would deliver them like that, but not me. I don’t recall ever hearing a speaker talk about having the desire to use while in recovery and what they did to combat it. I never heard anybody talk about the pressure their subconscious levied against them to numb whatever overwhelming emotion they are experiencing at that time, and how they went about submitting their desires to God and denying that impulse. Most addicts i know (probably the vast majority if they are honest) have dreams about using, from time to time. I’d like to take a little time to discuss what it means, and what to do about them.
It probably means you are in recovery
In my entire life of using, i never had a dream about using. When i was taking pills almost every day, never once was my subconscious trying to convince me to use. It knew i was already in full agreement with that goal. My subconscious knew that when i woke up, I would willingly participate with any scheme it concocted to acquire, and use drugs. It did not need to convince me to use.
I’m no psychology professional or counselor. I just understand addiction, at least my journey through addiction. While my walk doesn’t look identical to every other addict’s walk, the driving forces are the same. The underlying issues that drive us come from the same place of brokenness. I guess i should say that i understand my addiction. Hopefully others will be able to gain insight from my journey.
I believe if an addict is dreaming about using, they are doing so because they are not using. They are experiencing some emotional pressure. Maybe they can put their finger on what it is exactly, maybe they can’t. The subconscious, however, notices the stress. The subconscious feels the strain between processing and dealing with whatever situation is causing the increased stress, and the desire not to feel, by using drugs or alcohol.
The key is to recognize this tension, then take the time to try and understand what is producing it.
The key to remaining sober is communication
I have often said that the process to overcoming addiction is not difficult. The difficult part is first, finding and willing participant, and then having them understand how to use the tools you give them to do the work needed to stay clean.
There are many jobs in the world that are very simple, if you have the appropriate tools and you know how to use them. I have several friends who are good at doing mechanic work. Some of them are ASE certified mechanics and some of them are “shade tree mechanics.” But regardless of their skill level, they all have some idea of what do to when various things cease to work as designed on an automobile. I do not possess that skill set. I cannot count the number of times i have had a relatively simple issue with a vehicle and asked for advice from one of these friends. They tend to start their reply with the following words, “all you have to do is….” I recognize that the solution might be simple for those with the appropriate knowledge and tools. I have neither. The same is true for many addicts.
The very first thing you have to do when you have a using dream is to tell somebody. Nobody can help you with a problem you do not first admit, then communicate, that you have.
Accountability is paramount
I had a guy that asked me if i would be his accountability partner. Every time he would get high he would call me and tell me he just got high. He would then go one to tell me how bad he felt and how much he regretted that he used. When i asked him why he didn’t call me BEFORE he used, he would always say, “I just couldn’t pick up that dang thousand pound phone.” He was implying that he didn’t have the ability to pick up the phone. That is a lie. It may be a lie he believes is true, but the fact that he believes it’s true, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a lie. The phone weighed exactly the same before he used and after he used. Whatever substance he was using didn’t magically give him superhuman strength, enabling him to pick up that thousand pound phone. He had the correct tools, and the correct knowledge, he just refused to use them correctly. That unwillingness cost him his sobriety, almost cost him his life, and has cost him years in a physical rehabilitation unit where he is now learning how to talk, walk, and feed himself again, as a direct result of a drug overdose.
I can tell you from my experience in the water well drilling business that the above graphic is true. It is similar to the “tools” needed in recovery. If you don’t have the appropriate tools in recovery, know how to use them, and use them the way they are designed to be used, the odds of remaining sober decrease significantly.
When you have that dream about using, pick up that phone and tell somebody. According to Google, the very first (and biggest) telephone weighed 7 pounds. Modern telephones weigh 3 pounds or less, and cellphones typically weigh less than 10 ounces. Despite what your brain might tell you about the weight of that phone, you actually CAN pick it up safely, with no strain. So pick up that phone and call somebody and tell them about your dream.
Calling somebody isn’t necessarily because you are afraid you are actually going to use. It’s just a communication that says “hey, i need somebody that cares about me to know that there is something stressful going on right now. Some part of my brain is wanting me to use but i sincerely desire to remain clean. I would like you to be a little more attentive for a little while. We might even need to see if we can figure out what is driving this desire (if you don’t already know).” It is, simply put, about honesty and transparency.
Dreams carry emotions that must be dealt with consciously
I had a habit, when i was using. If i was in somebody’s house, saw (or found them from looking) prescription bottles, and I had the opportunity to check them out, I would see if there were any narcotics present. If there were, my mind would become completely obsessed with looking for, or creating, and opportunity to take some pills, if not the entire bottle.
In my dream, i was in a friends house. I saw a group of prescription bottles. While i was dreaming i felt all of the same desires, stresses, struggles, emotions, internal conflict, and eventually shame and regret, that used to came from being in that situation in the past. In my dream i stole the pills. I did not take them. I put them in my pocket (surely with the intent to take them later) but i did not take them.
When i woke up i still felt all of the emotions that would’ve accompanied that process previously. I felt anger that i had stolen the pills, shame, regret, unworthiness, and hopelessness. The emotions passed very quickly when i realized it was just a dream. Thank God i hadn’t actually stolen pills again. Thank God i didn’t actually swallow them in my dream.
When my wife woke up i told her about the dream. I just needed her to know that i feel some unidentified emotional strain that caused me to have that kind of dream.
Remember that you are NOT that person any longer.
It is important to count any victory when in recovery. I was grateful that i didn’t use in my dream. That shows that the intentional part of my brain is actively combating my subconscious, even when i am asleep. That’s proof that i don’t WANT to use. Some small part of my brain might want to use, but the active, intentional part of my brain, wants to be sober. That’s a win.
Even if you actually use in your dream, the fact that you wake up feeling angry because you used, is a victory. It also shows that you don’t WANT to use.
It is very important to jot down, or at least be able to remember, what you thought and felt during your dream, and shortly after you woke up, and be able to communicate those feelings with your accountability partner or sponsor. They are there to help you identify and process the emotions and motivations in your walk of recovery.
Dreaming and fantasizing are not the same thing
I want to offer a word of warning here. Dreaming about using drugs while you are sleeping and actively fantasizing about using when you are awake, are not the same thing.
This is an important distinction to make. You cannot control what your brain does while you are sleeping. You may not be able to control the thoughts that come into your mind while you are awake either. You are, however, able to choose how you interact and react to the thoughts you have when you are awake.
If you have thoughts about using while you are awake, you have two choices. You can: (1)choose to NOT entertain those thoughts. You can choose reach out to somebody. You can choose to go to a meeting. You can choose to commit yourself to prayer. You can choose to remind yourself of all the overwhelmingly negative things that come along with using.
These negative things are not negotiable. You cannot have the high without them. When we were using we couldn’t clearly see the negatives, at least they were very much obscured by the addiction that was gripping us. We can now see the loss of money, ramify relationships, jobs, self-respect, health, and even our freedom. Those negatives are guaranteed to come back if we decide to use again.
After rehab, we should have a clearer view of what’s what. We definitely do have the ability to make a rational choice, if we are doing the next right thing. That includes communication, accountability, and honesty. OR……
(2) We can choose to entertain the waking thoughts about using. We can focus on the high and how good it was. We can think back fondly about what it was like to not feel and not care. We can choose not to see the negative and look with revisionist eyes, lying to ourselves, seeing using as only positive. This is a lie. We can choose the truth or we can choose the lie. It is, in fact, a life or death decision. Choosing to not see the negative side of using is to give addiction a foothold. This is, simply put, opening the door and tempting death to come in and take us, not kicking and and screaming, but a willing participant, into a game where the odds of dying are increasing exponentially every day.
Do not participate in the lies
God help me, what is it about addicts that we convince ourselves that we can have just one? What is it that convinces the alcoholic that he or she can handle just one drink? What is it that convinces the addict that just because they are in pain, means it’s ok for them to take just one pill? They will swear that THIS time, they will take them as the doctor prescribed. That’s garbage!
If we as addicts had the ability to regulate how we used substances, we wouldn’t be addicts. We would’ve been able to stop. For the addict, my friend Jon’s saying is an absolute truth, “One is ALWAYS too much, and 100 is never enough.”
Entertaining the thoughts is to agree with their goal
If you are a pig farmer and you want to stay clean, you cannot go into the pig pen with the herd. You will get dirty. The only way to stay clean is to stay out. Likewise, if you want to stay clean, when it comes to addiction, you cannot wrestle around with the thoughts that entice you to use.To entertain the thoughts about using is to agree that some part of the desire is valid and acceptable. Once you have convinced yourself that using may have some benefit to offer, the addict brain easily conjures the appropriate uncomfortable situation that only using can remedy. That’s how relapse happens.
For an absurd example. If somebody came up to me and said, “if you were to eat poop, what kind of poop do you think would taste the best?” That is a stupid thought. I wouldn’t waste my time trying to reason out what kind would taste best and why. I wouldn’t allow my mind to wander through that process. I would say, “that’s stupid! i wouldn’t ever eat ANY kind of poop to find out.” Then i would go back to whatever i was doing before, not continue listening to that asinine discussion.
We have to have the same mindset when it comes to addiction. We have to shut it down, communicate with our accountability partners, and move on. Dwelling there, contemplating the positives and the possibilities, will only find us up to our waste in quicksand with no way out. It will find us sinking back into a place we had already been rescued from, wanting to get out, struggling to get out, and sinking further and faster, the more we struggle.
Do not fear, do not be afraid!
2nd Timothy 1:7
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
When we were in rehab we were given the tools to fight addiction. We were given the knowledge that allows us to use those tools the way they are supposed to used. God has given us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not want to use and will not lead us to use. It will always lead us to faithfulness and sobriety. It will lead us to accountability and perseverance. Do not fear the dreams or the momentary thoughts that will inevitably come into your mind. They have no power over you. They cannot make you use. The only thing that can make you use, once you have been set free from the bondage of sin and brokenness, is YOU! Choose to walk in freedom and liberty, submitting your will to Christ, and receive the abundant life He purchased for us on Calvary. God Bless you all.