[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.