Recently, I heard it again— “I dreamt that I was drinking last night!”
It’s no surprise that newly-recovering alcoholics are rattled when they have drinking dreams, but these strange phenomena aren’t unusual. For many they’re random, natural occurrences, even for ex-drinkers who have long-term sobriety. The newcomer’s wide-eyed look of concern is often more revealing than their faltering words, but they’re soon relieved when other ex-boozers nod, recalling past visits to their own drunken dreamland.
On the other hand, it would have been quite disturbing—even surreal—to have a sober dream when we were still drinking. It might look something like this–
At the conclusion of a long night of drinking, I passed out—I mean, fell asleep abruptly—and dreamt that when I awoke I was a SOBER person. In this far-fetched dream I apparently have a valid driver’s license, so I decide to go for a little sober drive. I figured I might as well see what it’s like legal.
At once I notice a policeman I know well, eating a donut while he’s driving. I decide to pull him over because I want to do the next right thing. Besides, paybacks are okay because I’m new to recovery.
When the Bartender Tells You…
Even though I saved him from distracted driving, he’s ungrateful and wants to finish his donut, so he spits crumbs and mumbles orders for me to go to a 12 Step meeting and work on my sobriety problem. Of course I don’t think I have one so I practice pronouncing ‘anonymity’ instead, thinking I can impress the Old-Timers on their pedestals before they swoop down and pelt me with desire chips. The dreariness of honing my pronunciation skills gets old fast so I decide to go for a spin and manufacture some misery elsewhere.
When my car finally finds me, I discover I can’t drive because some Do-Gooder filled it with recovery pamphlets. Obviously, I’m not going to start reading and driving after I just gave up drinking and driving—that could be hazardous.
Instead, I wander into a bar, but only to see how business is going now that I’ve quit drinking. The bartender, who I know well, says “What are you doing in here? You’re an alcoholic!” Now when the bartender tells you you’re an alcoholic, you’re an alcoholic! It’s all over when they don’t want your money anymore.
However, he says he’ll be my temporary sponsor and wants me to take a coffee-making commitment for the next 85 years. I decline because I’m doing this A Day at a Time. Besides, I don’t want to admit I don’t know how to make coffee—I just drink the stuff. While I prepare for my escape, he suggests rather strongly, “Don’t take the next first drink!” emphasizing ‘next’ so I’ll know which one it is. As if I have a problem with directions…
Then he gently adds, “Just Keep It Simple, Stupid.” I say I’ll give it a whirl, but secretly think the dumb spot in my head isn’t big enough for this simple program.
In nothing flat, I find myself out in the street; I’ve morphed into the Jaywalker. I’m halfway across the iconic Road to Happy Destiny when I spot Mr. Brown and my wife—his luxury sports car is speeding down the street toward me. He effortlessly runs me over and then turns around and does it again. She grins over the bumps. For a fleeting moment, I think maybe jaywalking is not a good idea, but the thought quickly passes. As they rumble across the Bridge of Reason, they chuckle, “Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowing?” Copycats!
I get a brand new resentment to add to my collection, but don’t have a clue how to do the Inside Job. That would involve some reading or a lecture. I think I deserve one measly, little drink after that Main Street ambush, rather than the monotony of a how-to seminar from another Mister Knowitall.
I’m off to get one when my bartender/sponsor, who is popping up everywhere, points at me and hollers, “You don’t want a drink—you want a drunk!”
“Great,” I think, “now my sponsor’s channeling Socrates.” I wonder how he’d like to philosophize in a spiritual unemployment line.
Take My Inventory, Ad Infinitum
I embark on a search for a new, more open-minded sponsor—and a drink. That next first drink appears, but someone has put whiskey in my milk and I can’t get the milk out. Except in dire emergencies, I’m not one of those who would normally mix. I’m certain this is a justified resentment, but a rare one that I can afford.
In the wink of an eye, I find myself whisked to safety through the fabled revolving door and into a smoke-filled room. Some guy with no last name is telling a story to a group of folks who are getting ready to take certain steps, but are balking at some of them. ‘Balk, balk, balk, balk.’ They sound a lot like chickens, chickening-out. John Barleycorn is at the back of the room, motioning for me to come over to the easier, softer way, but I refrain; I’m holding out for the easiest, softest way. Why settle for second best?
Just before I leave the meeting, I’m elected to take the door-to-door Big Book salesman commitment. People are buying them, but then they want to thump me with them. “No thanks,” I smile, “I’m already brain damaged.” They look at me sideways, then agree and wish me well.
Before the dream shifts again, someone asks if I’ve been through the wringer. I’d like to know if it’s a requirement. He says, “No, but it helps.” I heard him say ‘help’ and don’t want any of that, so I skip the wringer and go oblivion-seeking instead. Nothing better to do.
I hear there’s a Women’s Meeting down the street, so I take my glasses off and go for a walk to see who I’d bump into.
After a failed thirteenth step call, I drift over to where some Lower Companions are dancing too close to the edge of the Jumping-Off Place. They’re looking down their noses at me. They don’t know I’m not just another actor—I’m The Director—a fact that’s about to make my life unmanageable again. They don’t care; they just take my inventory, ad infinitum.
I leave before I digest any large chunks of truth about anything. I’d rather go to an Eatin’ Meetin’ and get my indigestion there.
Hard on the Old Ego
Before long, I approach a sign that warns– “Beyond Human Aid.” I go beyond it to another one that says “Point of No Return.” I think ‘If I ever get that bad, I’ll quit forever’. But I know that won’t happen because I’m different—I’m a really smart person who’s destroying his life with alcohol.
Instantly, a moment of temporary sanity surprises me, and I decide to go the other way to look for a gratitude meeting. What a mistake! I gratefully wake up in the middle of it . . .
And suddenly things are back to normal. No sober people. I have a familiar hangover—my head feels like it’s going to blow off my neck. My complexion is neutral grey, highlighted by dark circles under my glassy eyes. There’s dried blood on my chin and elbows from the creative walking I did the night before. The bathroom just plain stinks, and the Man in the Mirror looks baffled and mad and afraid—again. He doesn’t even like me.
Dishes, ash trays and piles of bills are scattered everywhere, surrounded by empties. And the car—where’s my car? It never remembers where I put it.
Bewildered, I go looking for my drinking buddies to ask them if they’ve ever had a sober dream—one where you wake up in a cold sweat, thinking, ‘My God, did that really happen? Did I sober up?’
One buddy said he ‘hadn’t had nightmares in years’. “But if I had my druthers” he reasoned, “drinking dreams are better because everybody’s drinking and nobody’s buying.” Another friend looked to the bartender and said, “I won’t be having what he’s having—even if you run out of everything else.” A third, the rocket scientist, replied, “No big deal, it didn’t really happen. You just woke up and couldn’t tell the true from the false—happens all the time. We just don’t share about it. People might think we’re stupid instead of delusional. Pretty hard on the old ego.”
After that, I decide to keep the dream to myself before it becomes an alcoholic urban legend, with my name stamped all over it.
Before long, Mr. Brown and my wife stop in at the bar and say, “Some of your dream may be true. Maybe you should talk about relationships when you finally get to a meeting. It might do you some good your next go-round.” When they leave, I give his car a break and don’t go near the road. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.
Today I’m thrilled to be on the Road to Happy Destiny. If you’re new in the Fellowship, don’t quit before the miracle happens—I didn’t. Drinking dreams may come and go, but you can make sobriety your Great Reality. Now if I have one of those odd dreams, I wake up happy to be sane and in recovery, and grateful to have found this new way of life. Dream on, but stay sober.