On Top of the Spiral Staircase: Steps 10-12 and Dreamtime
Earlier posts addressed the first five steps of the anonymous programs and steps 6-9. This post is concerned with the “Maintenance” steps in recovery, steps 10, 11 and 12. By “maintenance,” this has nothing to do with harm reduction approaches like Methadone or Suboxone: that may be content for a different blog. These are called the maintenance steps because most of the personality change has been accomplished in steps 4-9; the remaining steps have to do with solidifying gains. And the recovery slogan that applies to monitoring dreams in this area is: “Eternal Vigilance.”
Maybe one of the most surprising features of tending dreams is the report of so many people in long term recovery that addiction or using dreams are such a present form even two and three decades into recovery. Many people report the relapse dream, usually recounted with remorse, as a literal eye-opener, a dream from which they awaken startled and sometimes shaken, still not sure in that uncertain haze between sleep and waking if the dream was or was not an actual event.
One clap of day and the dream
where it came from. For a moment
the ground is still moist with it.
Then day settles. You step onto dry land.
Morning picks out the four
corners, coffeepot, shawl of dust
on a cupboard. Stunned
by brightness, that dream —
where did it go?
All day you grope in a web
of invisible stars. The day sky soaks them up
like dreams. If you could see
in the light, you’d see what fires
keep spinning, spinning their mesh of threads
around you. They’re closer
than you think, pulsing
into the blue. You press your forehead
to the cool glass.
They must be out there in all that dazzle.
In Professor Bloch’s poem, the dream vanishes with the thunderclap of day. In a using dream, recovery vanishes and the dreamer is left with a lifestyle as old and comfortable as winter gloves at the season’s first snow. The veteran of recovery considers the dram, evaluates the last few days looking for emotional disturbance ofr conflicts with people or values. Finding nothing she moves on. Finding something, maybe a call to a trusted other is a timely action.
For many people in longer term recovery, the dreams are problem solving dreams as would be found in any person any time. Hadfield (1954) listed four pertinent reasons for dreaming which seem as applicable today as then;
# 1: Wish fulfillment: Imagining the problem as though it were solved
# 2: Re-creation of Problem: Not to resolve an issue, but to bring it to forefront
# 3: Possible Consequences: Not just problem statement, but saying how this might work out. . . and . . .
# 4: Self Portrait: “There are other dreams which appear to present a self portrait, a picture of the psyche as it is; they are photographic, mirrors showing us to ourselves and in doing so helping us to face up to our problems in the psyche.”
#1: Of all Freud’s observations on dreams, perhaps “Wish Fulfillment” is the notion that has taken so many rightful hits. It seems that to dream something one wishes for or its opposite is too wide a hoop to miss. Also, research has shown those deprived of food, for instance, may dream no more of eating and food that the normal population, . That and many such experiments have debunked or weakened that notion. Still, dreamwork
sometimes shows us as being in a future accomplished state that we might want: the ability to turn away from a bad ethical or moral choice; the ability to exercise our faith or belief in a positive way; even encounters with angels or Deity.
#2: Re-creation or repackaging of a problem – perhaps this is the dreaming psyche’s way of saying there is something so subtle that it needs to be brought forward in stark relief. Maybe this is some seeming harmless form of denial or lack of self honesty – which could lead to a dangerous and slippery slope. Step 10 in the anonymous programs is concerned with recognizing error and correcting it in real time by admitting mistakes or problems. Recovering persons are encouraged to take stock regularly of their actions and to remedy matters when they are small deals in order to stave off big deals. Sometimes a dream may bring a conflict to the forefront in advance of the dreamer’s conscious ability to see it coming.
#3: How about possible consequences? Many of the people I work with report that a using dream has given them the option of considering the chain of events that would happen if a relapse actually took place. They derive all the benefit of bad experience without having to engage in the bad experience. It should be remembered there is a difference between a dream shared with revulsion at the thought of relapse versus a dream with enjoyment or thrill about relapse, as is discussed well in David Schoen’s 2009 work on “The War of the Gods in Addiction.” Willful and enjoyable relapse in a dream is not a great sign, though usually in early recovery. However, talking with another person about a using dream allows the dreamer to consider and “think through” consequences of actions.
#4: So the fourth suggestion Professor Hadfield makes is the notion that the dream holds up a mirror. This is exactly the purpose of step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” It was true in the mid 20th century in psychoanalysis also – dreams have a way of making the marginal worries or problems known and actionable to the conscious mind. This is the type of insight many dreamers seek when taking their dreams to another for consultation. Recovering persons are encouraged to notice their motives, even at incipient stages, watching for fear, resentment, selfishness, and dishonesty as the early seeds of a potential relapse. Reporting this to another person is a cornerstone of maintenance recovery as well as a common and natural component of DreamTending.
Dreams, with their reflective capacity, problem solving functions, canary-in-the-coal-mine alert systems, and capacity for us to evalaute wishes against action, seem to have many of the functions embodied in the maintenance steps of recovery. And the same people who look to dreams for spiritual or human development, amay also find the same in the “self-forgetting” or mindfulness aspects of steps 11 and 12 of the Anonymous programs.