Archetypal Dreamwork and the 12 Steps: The Recovery Chronicles #01

The Recovery Chronicles by Laura Smith are a series of essays which delve into the ways that dreams can support 12 step recovery work. Through her own personal experiences in recovery and with the dreams, Laura shows how dreams can offer insight, hope, and support in the deeper work toward emotional sobriety.

Our dreams can bring great wisdom to our journey. In our practical work through the steps of recovery, they can provide deep insight if we are ready for what they have to teach us.

Throughout my early recovery, I had several provocative dreams.  In one, I dreamed that I was sleeping and then I awoke and felt something moving under my shirt at my solar plexus. I pull my shirt up and suddenly a badger-like creature burst out of my body like in the scene from the movie Alien. Naturally, I am horrified. I grab a hold of it with both hands and pull on it. It snarls and snaps at my hands as I pull it out. It is a wild creature, fierce. It is hard to pull it out and it feels like it is attached deep inside me somewhere. But I get it out and I throw it away from me. Then I am looking down at my body and where the hole would be is a new scar. It is healed but I feel an ache deep inside of me like something is missing.

When I had this dream, I equated this creature as the demon of my disease, alcoholism, and an exorcism through the force of my own will. But I have come to learn over time, that the dream is not always what we think and often it is more.

At the time of this dream, I was also working with my anger, which I had repressed for most of my life. Alcohol had helped me with the anger, keeping it contained. But at some point, it had escaped, and like a genie from a bottle, it could not be put back. Unbeknownst to me, the alcohol has stopped working. I endured 4 more years of the horrors of my bottom before finding the rooms of AA.

In early recovery, I had much angst, shame, and fear over my seeming loss of control around the anger, which worsened when I put the alcohol down. I couldn't understand what was happening. I wanted the anger gone, but it seemed nothing I did would relieve me of the anger. It was like I had traded the alcohol for a new addiction, though I refused to admit that I got anything out of the anger. When my sponsor suggested this, I was outraged. I hated my anger!

As time went on and I did a 4th step, clearing many resentments and gaining some good insight into my anger, I had to come into agreement that there was something I got out of this anger. But I couldn't figure out what it was. The literature of AA and other 12 step recovery programs has much to say on the topic of resentments/anger. This is because it is a very real energetic block in our achieving emotional sobriety.

Archetypal Dreamwork and the 12 Steps: The Recovery Chronicles #00

I came to the dreams by way of recovery. Most of my friends in recovery know this and have supported my journey over the years. I could not have possibly known in the early part of the new century when the alcohol had stopped working and the genie of rage had escaped from his lantern, that I would one day awaken as a teacher and healer.

A preposterous idea which had neither seed nor sun in the years, days and months leading up to my bottom, when all hope had been lost. No amount of pride, shame, or denial could offer a shield from the moment of clarity that said, "I'm done."  It was not a fantastical moment, there were no bright lights, no burning bush, nothing to portend the true coming storm. It was simply a moment of clarity where I knew that I must change or die.

When we hit bottom, finally admit we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives have become unmanageable, we hope for freedom from the mental obsession and physical compulsion to use or drink. We are small minded in that moment, for there is no way to understand the possibility of actually finding our soul again. We have no concept of our true potential and what is possible for us. We do not understand grace or how grace could enter our own lives. We must learn...sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

Today I follow a spiritual path rooted in 12 step recovery work and tempered by the wisdom of my dreams. I understand and embrace gratitude for my alcoholism. Today I work with others and their dreams. With my clients who are in recovery, I share that special bond of the band of fellows that we are in our shared language and understanding of 12 step work as the foundation of all that we do.

The basic tenets of the 12 steps are steeped in a gnostic approach to spirituality, namely that we choose a God of our understanding and enter into a personal relationship with that God to maintain a daily reprieve from our alcohol-ISM.  The truth is that all "AA's ", code word Spiritual Warrior!, become Bodhisattvas if they so choose.

A Bodhisattva is essentially one who journeys into herself to find the cause and acceptance of her suffering. Through this process, she learns humility, she learns compassion for herself, she makes her amends. She comes to terms with her past, neither regretting it nor wishing to close the door on it. Her difficulties are alchemized into love through the grace of God and a whole new set of values displaces her previous beliefs. In the huge upwelling of gratitude that comes from this experience, she wishes that all could be enlightened to this compassion and love, that all could find healing. She then actively chooses to return to the world and to carry this message of hope to others. This concept is the foundation of Step 12, "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps (the journey inward), we sought to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs."

In these postings, I will share my experience of recovery and how the dreams have supported, challenged and opened me in unexpected ways. I will share guidance and tips as to how you can begin to bring the power of your dreams to support your recovery work. And I will offer insights and stories from my own dreams and recovery work.

How is it then that our dreaming life can help us?

The dreams are like a lantern shining God's light into our darkest corners. They also illuminate our Divine potential as human beings with a purpose here on this earth now, today. Dreams will bring us repeatedly to the felt experience of acceptance of our powerlessness, showing us the subtler nuances of how our lives are unmanageable. Our Higher Power will come over and over in the guise of various Archetypes to provoke us, to teach us, and to guide us towards wholeness. We look to our dreams to more fully reveal our habitual patterns, the character defects which block us from our Higher Power, so that we may learn and understand that they are not our only choice. The dreams will support our 11th step work by providing us with the felt experience of our deep connection to Higher Power. They open us to our own Gnosis, the Promises, and a wisdom that is unique to each of us for carrying the message of our recovery and the hope for others.

Please subscribe to my blog, bookmark this page, or send me your email address to receive a link to these postings. I will be posting about every other week.

Practicum: Start writing down your dreams. Along with the dream narrative, make a note of what step you are currently working on and/or what character defect seems to be most troublesome in your life. If you have trouble remembering your dreams, check out my Tips for Dream Recall.

Check out my website if you would like to explore your dreams with me: Feel free to share comments or questions here. I will answer all who take the time to write.

To find all posts from The Recovery Chronicles simply enter "recovery chronicles" into the search bar on the right hand column of this blog.

Link to The Recovery Chronicles #01...the next post.

In fellowship on the Road of Happy Destiny,
Laura Smith