[Note: This blog topic may be of targeted interest mostly to Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors and to those in recovery from addiction. Probably of little interest to others. Earlier blogs have covered Dreamtime and Steps 1-5, Dreams and the “Forgotten Steps,” 6 and 7 of the twelve step programs, and this one breaks out dreams and amends, or steps 8 and 9 from the Anonymous Programs literature. The “Spiral Staircase” metaphor simply is shorthand for saying that some people encounter similar issues year to year, hopefully on a higher level each time.]
Dreamtime and Making Amends
It’s not just people with an addiction that alienate others. After all, not all the cast of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills are addicts, but most of them regularly upset other people, sometimes on purpose. You could substitute “Jersey Shore,” or “Devious Maids,” or as a family member calls it, the “Real-Housewives-of-Shoot-me-in-the-Face.” The point is that some of those folks who go around life living the drama that is their own Stardom don’t feel like their life depends on setting the record straight with anyone. In fact, they sometimes get mileage out of frenemies.
Not so, generally, with those in recovery. Maintaining recovery from addictive behavior often means acting in the opposite direction of impulse. The key – which shows up in dreams and many other ways, is forgiveness. There exists a misconception that addicts in this phase go around asking for forgiveness of others so that they do not have to make changes themselves. We actually call that part of the cycle of active addiction. Recovery programs emphasize the opposite: “The same man will drink again,” is often heard in Alcoholics anonymous and in the NA or Narcotics Anonymous counterpart runs the phrase, “An addict alone is in bad company.” And my favorite adage, “Resentment is the poison we drink wishing the other person would die.” So the theme is before trying to set right the wrongs of the past, someone in recovery has to do the hard work of forgiving any of the perceived wrongs that may have justified their own behavior in the past.
The innate need for connection, forgiveness, and reconciliation sometimes enters our sleep. This may mean the dream re-invents the original [perceived] hurt and humiliation of the past in an effort to work through it. Step Eight in the anonymous programs has to do with a principle of forgiveness – sometimes for people who may not seem on the surface very deserving of mercy. Letting go of the original hurt, humiliation, embarrassment, or anger seems like letting the other person off the hook. But the relief in the forgiveness is for the forgiver. CASE EXAMPLE: The back-in-high-school-need-to-take-a-test dream. This is often attributed to stress; sometimes there may be a reason someone dreams of this at a particular time when stress or a deadline does not appear to be the easy answer. Who is in the dream with you? In the school, what were your feelings about being there? If you did have feelings of being out of place, put down, or shunned, did you get even? Did you hold resentments against the “Mean Girls,” the jocks, the elite, or other groups? Are there people today who, despite advanced years, still operate in that realm, and toward whom you hold resentment and sometimes undermine? It’s worth an inward look.
Then there are the people for whom we do not have to search out the need for apology. I have heard of people with 400 or more people on their 4th step resentment/ 8th step amends list. (They are identical, because people in the anonymous programs often admit if they feel injured, they retaliate.) My list was more modest: 34 people and 3 corporations. Should have been at least 6 corporations, but that is another blog . . . . My list was smaller perhaps because my sponsor said the purpose of the 8th step was to identify the people we had harmed– with emphasis on that word – not just people we had offended or grossed out. My list can be divided into three sections: (1) Friends and family generally supportive and who just wanted me to recover and stop hurting them or others; (2) more marginal or skeptical acquaintances for whom a sincere apology was in order, sometimes accompanied by a check. And (3), the two people I figured for whom the best amends I could make was never to set foot in their presence again. Ironically, step work put one of those people back in my life in an uncanny way about four years later, so never is a strong word. There is still one person to whom I owe an amends, yet even through stalking laws were not present all those years ago, let’s just say I don’t need to throw a current order of protection into anyone’s mix. I’ll continue to pray that the Central Intelligence of the Universe pass on my well wishes and sincere regrets there.
Regarding those people in the third category, I still dream on occasion about the one I have not seen or spoken to in over three decades. Sometimes the dreams are pleasant, sometimes not, and generally they are not momentous or “Big Dreams,” but always they seem to have a backdrop of things that remain to be worked out. It makes me question my readiness to make things right in that situation, to start anew. I have also experienced as have others, “rehearsal dreams” in which I was making amends to a particular person before the event. But having made 33 out of 34 amends is a decent average, and on most days, I am grateful that I can walk down the streets where I live and not be anxious about who might be around that next corner, and what my reaction would be. The 9th step, even though it is feared and resisted by many, carries with it some of the sweetest rewards of recovery.
Some people dream of the Rich and Famous all the time; for others it is rare to dream of someone famous. I’ve had quite a few dreams of Governors and Presidents, fewer dreams if any about people from Hollywood or Music Row (I live in Nashville). My favorite such dream occurred the morning after the Presidential Election in 2008 as the last image I had before going to sleep was that proud American moment – for Democrats and Republicans alike – when the Obama family waved at all of us from Grant Park in Chicago. My dream went like this:
There is a restaurant associated with a retreat center and I am coming in – lots of glass and several sections, some large, to the restaurant. It is compartmentalized perhaps in the same way as the parking garage was yesterday in real life at the doctor’s office. At any rate. I wind up sitting with Bill Clinton about 20 minutes or so. We talk and he is glib and very much at ease. I may share with him a dream I had about Hilary. [A woman from ] contracts brings him a cup of coffee and asks if I would like one too, out of courtesy, and I reply “I would, thank you”. Thinking then of cream and equal, which I see on the table, I say, “I’ll have mine black.”
I woke up amused for a couple of reasons, one being the comfort and ease that Bill Clinton displayed like a regular guy, reading the paper as I recalled in the dream. And of course, endorsement of the change to a new president, “I’ll have mine black.” I never order black coffee!
Dr. Michael Lennox in his book Dream Sight tells us that celebrities are the gods and goddesses of today; the images of publicity now rule where the Olympians reigned in the time of the original Dream Temples. So in one sense, those personalities to whom we give our time and attention may constellate in the dreamtime. I was concerned in another dream that Sigmund Freud, with whom I had been hanging out all day, was eating pork for dinner. I then decided it must be my issue, not his. Very apt, since he had been dead sixty-five years when I dreamed thus.
Research says that dreams of famous people occur perhaps less than you would expect. But that research is evolving, and as Americans face more and more screen time in their week, It doesn’t take a lot for a Snooki or a Kim Kardashian to emerge in the dreamtime. So the question I often hear is, how do I know if that really is Dr. House in my dream? Here are five explanations of the Rich and Famous appearing in your dreamscape:
1) You want to be noticed. Maybe you’re feeling a little low profile in the workplace, unappreciated at home, or maybe just want to catch the attention of someone in particular. Sharing the spotlight with someone famous is a way of name-dropping, perhaps.
2) The famous person carries a meaning that is important to you. If it is a political figure, the dream may sharpen, challenge, or justify your views. Someone glamorous in a dream may ask you how well you are caring for your appearance and wellness. And the presence of a spiritual or religious icon may invite you to awaken the part of you that has compassion or connection for others.
3) “Day Residue:” Or, a recent exposure to the images of that person. Ever awaken with that song in your mind you heard the day before? Sometimes these hook lines and catch phrases stay with us for days. So it is when watch Television or see a movie. Some dreams seem to be mostly a continuation of the drama with ourselves in it. In a way, my dream of the presidents was more likely a leftover from watching the election outcome than it was a desire to hang out with Bill Clinton. Focus on what is different about you in the dream, what is the theme of the action, or what makes this dream your dream and not theirs?
4) Wish fulfillment and Fantasy: Sometimes, we just want to win the lottery and party with the Kardashians. Come on, admit it!
5) Compensation. (This is not about getting a raise at work) Compensation is a term coined by Alfred Adler in 1907 in a work about the concept of inferiority feelings. The short cut is we admire in others some aspects we lack or are currently developing.
Carl Jung used tell us to pay attention to the little people in dreams. It is not always the big shot – we must ask, “what about the dream of the celebrity really applies to us?” So even if dreaming of celebrities is a rare event, it sometimes makes the dream memorable enough to recall and share the next day. That makes it noteworthy – it is a portal into our dream world, and if we can get beyond the initial amusement, we might just learn something about ourselves.