I sat in the dark bar. My right leg twitched to the beat of the steel drums in my head. I clutched a beer in my shaky hands. I wasn’t shaky from withdrawls, but from the gulping-type sobs which came from the depth of my soul.
“How did I do this again? What am I doing here?” I wiped my eyes and lifted the bottle to examine it, like a chalice.
I was alone. I was always alone when I drank. I watched a group of young men and woman laughing and talking between their sips of lowball drinks and loud high fives. I craved to have that kind of camaraderie, but those days were long gone. Long gone. The booze in front of me was my only companion. I took another sip and sank into my deep brown chair.
I later found myself wandering the streets, my fists pounding the concrete walls I passed. How would I explain this to my family? My friends? How could I have started drinking again? I bargained with myself – maybe this doesn’t count? Could I hide this one or take a mulligan? Did I really break my sobriety? Why the hell would I do this?
Fuck you, Paul.
Soon I came to my apartment. What happened to my house? I used to have a house with my family. The apartment was almost empty. It was unfurnished, but it was mine. A rain storm had started and the water was pelting through an open window. I tried to close it, but it was broken. Everything around me was empty and broken, like empties tossed into a pile. I gave up and went into the washroom. I needed some peace.
As soon as I closed the door, there was a knock. Someone or something was pushing against the door. I yelled and pushed back. It came back at me with great force. It went back and forth this way for several long seconds. Who was there? What was there? “Christ help me” I yelled. The noise in my head swelled like a crescendo of screeching violins and I felt like I was going to black out. And then everything went quiet. Blankness.
Drinking dreams always freak me out.
The first time I had a drinking dream happened when I was a few weeks into my recovery. I was mortified. My first thought upon waking (other than checking around me for bottles), was “This is it – this means I am going to drink again!” I immediately texted some sober men I knew. They all replied saying the same thing – “Don’t worry about it. Everybody gets them. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be fine.” I wasn’t quite willing to believe it, but I took solace in knowing I wasn’t alone.
The dreams returned on occasion. I worried less and less about them. Even today, over five-and-a-half years of sobriety, I get them. They come in waves. I may have weeks without them, then I will get hammered by 3 or 4 of them in a week. Full suplex from the top ropes. Mat creaking and buckling underneath. Referee doing the 3 count on me. Most often I wake up annoyed by the dreams. Other times they are so real that I still feel the anguish and shame coating me like early morning mist on the grass. The severity varies.
There are a few ideas about drinking dreams that float about. But before anyone can discuss drinking dreams, one must understand the reason for dreams. And that’s an area of study which offers no conclusions. I won’t get into that (Google it, and have fun down that rabbit hole) but people in recovery generally don’t put a lot of stock in drinking dreams. Some will suggest that they are just vestiges of our drinking life still manifested in the subconscious. Hell, I drank for 25 years, so I imagine that it won’t be wiped clean like a hard drive through a magnet.
Some folks believe that drinking dreams occur more during stressful times in our lives. I can’t vouch for that, personally, but I imagine it is true for many. Others feel that it’s the mind’s way of dealing with possible scenarios. Very few will conclude that it’s an omen to a drinking spree, or that we’re on the way to relapse. I don’t see it that way. I dream of flying on purple elephants or traveling in space, and I hardly see that happening soon (unless I win a billion dollars, then I’ll be laughing on Violet Dumbo while you suckers are on the ground shoveling snow or whatever you mortals do.)
The idea that we are perhaps on the path to relapse is one that I never bought into (see purple elephant comment above.) It reminds me of the expression often used in 12-step recovery meetings: “My disease is doing push-ups in the parking lot.” The idea behind this muscular message is that we shouldn’t take our recovery for granted, and that our illness is waiting for us to be weak for a moment before pouncing on us. I have to admit that this anthropomorphization of alcoholism has never sat well with me. It has always felt to me to be a fear-based comment. I don’t underestimate the power of alcoholism, but I wonder if it also underestimates the power of recovery and even Creator Himself. It’s a stretch, and at the risk of being a contrarian, I think it can be counter-productive to one’s recovery. Or at least to my recovery.
My recovery is not fear-based. It’s faith- and action-based. My old life was lived fear-based. Of course I still have fears now. I am not fearless (unlike people who fry bacon in the buff), but I have been able to move through some of my fears because of recovery. Fears are the cock-blockers of life (excuse the crude term, but you get the idea.) Do I fear I will drink again? Of course, but it’s not as simple as that. My deeper fear is that I will lose my connection to myself and God and then eventually pick up. The fear beneath that is that I will lose sight of who I truly am. The fear beneath that one is that I will be rejected or abandoned. One fear lays down the foundation for others. Picking up a drink is the final act. It’s the culmination of the crashing down. So sure, I fear that I may drink, but I don’t feel like it will happen. I have a fear of falling from great heights too, and yet I don’t see that happening either.
It doesn’t mean I am cavalier with my recovery. Far from it. My recovery propels me to write, podcast, converse with others, and to connect. It compels me to pray, meditate, journal, and reach out to others. It also forces me to confront myself and others when needed. It gets me outside of my comfort zone to grow and stretch. It guides me to better actions. My recovery isn’t just “recovery” – it’s about living a life in alignment with Creator’s will. My recovery is really about trying to be a good dad, husband, son and guy in general. It’s about doing the right thing for the right reasons. When I am doing that, the need to drink dissipates.
What I would like to think is that instead of alcoholism doing push-ups, it’s my growing faith doing the work out instead. It’s my integrity and dignity. It’s my concern for others. It’s my need to be of service. It’s my self-love and self-compassion. It’s my empathy for others. I would love to know that my spiritual practices are hitting the gym hard (and wiping the sweat off the machines like it should be), and to believe the idea that the -ism of my alcoholism is shrinking. Dying. Just like in the Prayer of St. Francis, where it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
My drinking dreams will always be there, and for that I am grateful that they remain as such. They are a reminder of where I was and as long as I keep in fit spiritual condition, I don’t fear them materializing into real-life nightmares. I don’t fear going back to those painful times per se, not out of arrogance or ego, but of the knowledge that I have something in my life greater than that need to pick up. I have the life that I always dreamed of while in the darkness of my alcoholism. And that’s the only kind of dream I am interested in. It has become a reality.