At nearly 3 1/2 years sober, I don’t really have drunk dreams anymore. Instead, my “resting” brain has moved on to torturing me with “you’re gonna get in trouble!” scenarios of increasing intensity, and I think that might actually be worse than an imaginary relapse.
The other night, like something out of a 90s teen slasher flick, I dreamt that some woman I didn’t recognize knocked on my door to deliver a hauntingly cryptic message: “I know.” 😱
WTF is that all about?!?
I mean, I’m used to waking up in a panic, thinking that I forgot to do my homework, that I missed class, or that my peers all hate me for no apparent reason. That’s literally kid stuff; those dreams are borne out of real-life childhood experiences and fueled by high-octane Type-A anxiety (and probably also the melatonin supplements I take every night). I guess the deep-seated fear that I’m “bad” or “wrong” is stuck in the never-ending spin cycle of my subconscious.
Still, I feel like these recent dreams are taking the angst to a whole new level!
Maybe the body works up a tolerance to terror — like how you eventually grow numb, scrolling through Twitter day after day — and instinctively continues to up the ante to keep you on your toes.
It’s a common experience for recovering addicts to get hit with random cringe-y memories from their drinking/using days, without warning, as they go about their business on any normal day. Those moments are like a waking nightmare. They can be really triggering — if not physically, then for sure emotionally. I mean, who wants to be constantly reminded of their lowest moments after they’ve worked so hard for so long to leave them far behind?
I tend to remember my past dumbassery a little more vividly this time of year; it was around Thanksgiving 2018 that my alcoholism really kicked into high — or is it low? — gear, and I became a hedonistic runaway train barreling at full speed off the track, off the bridge…you get the picture. Never will I detail the true depths of my depravity in this space, but suffice to say that four years ago, I was, without a doubt, the worst version of myself that I have ever been or ever want to be.
Each time I get one of those flashbacks, though, once I shake off the initial bone-chilling shame and disgust, I emerge with a renewed sense of gratitude.
I don’t have to live like that anymore!!! 🙏🏻
Recovery can turn even the snarkiest cynic into a Hallmark movie heroine who embraces every cheesy cliché about the “holiday spirit” or “the magic of the season.” I’m proof! But I swear you’d feel the same if you got handed your life back, along with a whole new purpose, like a Secret Santa gift you did nothing to deserve.
So, yeah, I’m thankful as #%*^, with no plans of going back. And in that sense, it helps to remember what I’d rather forget. It helps, even though it hurts, because real life ain’t a Hallmark movie, and the same holiday magic that puts a smile on your face can drive a dagger deep into your heart, because alcohol was your cherished friend and trusty sidekick at every celebration for 20 freaking years, and now…
You’re 100% better off, but you can’t help occasionally feeling some melancholy “Last Christmas” breakup energy. And in all those “crowded rooms” full of “friends with tired eyes,” few, if any, really get what you’re going through.
The bite of crisp, cold night air, the smell of wood burning in fireplaces, seeing family, eating turkey, shopping for gifts, decorating the tree…all the wonders of winter still feel a little bittersweet for me. Who knows if that will ever change?
I’ve learned that grief and gratitude go hand in hand, in recovery but also in life. Same with darkness and light. Ugliness and beauty. Or, as Carmine Lupertazzi so eloquently put it at the “Cleaver” premiere…
Both sides can coexist peacefully when you give them time. You can, I believe, reconcile the part of you that longs for oblivion with the part that’s learning how to lean in to beautiful, painful, raw reality.
You can’t change the past, but you can commit to “living amends,” showing the people you hurt that you’ve changed with every little choice you make.
I guess it takes bad shit sometimes to remind you what is truly “good” in your life, and maybe that’s what these creepy, crazy dreams are all about. The demons of addiction are literally beating on my door — they’ve never grasped the concept of subtlety 🙄 — and they’re like, “Forget us at your peril! You will, in fact, be in serious trouble if you don’t stay on top of your shit!”
There’s no point in denying the ugly truth, hiding from the horror show I created in active addiction or disowning the dark side I let fly for basically half my life. Why not, in the spirit of the season, approach this whole complicated package with gratitude…and compassion?
A reconciliation between past and present comes with acknowledging: I am a good person who has done some bad things that have helped me learn and grow. It comes with believing: That person is worthy of forgiveness, and maybe even self-love.
5 thoughts on “Reconciliation”
That last paragraph can work for so many of us…. Have a fantastic Thanksgiving & Holiday season – – You have earned it.
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Thank you so much, Jim! Very happy holidays to you and your family!
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Thanks Jen. I still get them. Every once in a great, great while. The recurrent theme is, “Even though I’m drinking, I’m not REALLY drinking because…….”.
Rationalizing. Justifying. Normalizing. Despite the years and years of rigorous honesty and openness about every sordid detail of it’s consequences, I still have the ability to rationalize it, justify it and normalize it. How powerful!
Fortunately, as you point out, once I shake off the feelings of guilt, remorse and a general feeling of just being unclean, I emerge feeling a little like Scrooge on Christmas morning! “I didn’t blow it! I didn’t f**k it up! It was all a dream! I’m still good!”
Today I take these visits as reminders that my old enemy still exists and that I need to remain vigilant.
These thoughts and experiences make Thanksgiving Day one of the most poignant holidays of the year for me, one who has so much for which to be grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving, Jen, and thank you! ☮️
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I’m so thankful for you and your wisdom and fellowship! Have a wonderful holiday, Fran!
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Thanks Jen. The same to you and yours!
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