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.

As I continued a practice of turning it over around this difficult piece of work, I also had begun to work with my dreams. Over and over the dreams showed me my anger, my fear and the causes and deeper felt experience under it. I prayed and I became willing and I began to notice a shift. Where before there seemed no warning prior to a sudden outburst of rage, I began to notice subtler signs of impending anger. A heat in my body, a quickening of my heart rate. These split second observations gave me the space to practice that all important 10th step spot check inventory. I had to admit the truth in the spiritual axiom "whenever we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us".

But knowing all of this did not shift the anger. The truth is I had a lot to be angry about. There were traumas from my childhood, traumas from my teen years, losses great and small. God had failed me on all fronts and I had decided that no one would take care of me but me. I was filled with the pride of independence, an independence born out of self-identified fear and trauma.

But what of this badger creature? Was it possible that he wasn't the demon of my alcoholism? Could he be the demon anger? Or, was he perhaps all this and something more? The badger creature, which lived within me, deeply rooted, was definitely some aspect of me. And I was afraid of it, terrified actually.

What I have learned as I have continued in my journey in recovery and the dreams is that anger that has become stuck is a deadly hazard for the alcoholic. And even after the alcohol has been removed and we are well into our recovery, if we don't deal with the issue of anger, it continues to haunt us. No matter how many 4th steps we do, the resentments stubbornly hang on.

The dreams can take us below the anger to the repressed feelings that caused it to get dammed up in the first place. Intellectual knowledge of why we are angry is not true medicine for a soul that cries out for healing. We must engage the body and heart in the felt experience of what has been repressed. For an alcoholic or addict, this can be a terrifying prospect. Wasn't most of our drinking/using to avoid just this? However, though it may be painful and scary, this will get the anger moving in a positive way. Anger can be a catalyst. What is anger really, but our passions gone awry? And, is anger not a cry of fear? Abject terror over our inability to control the universe? The truth is, in our sobriety, we realize that we have always known we needed to do this difficult work.

For me, the lesson of the Badger dream is many-fold. It revealed the ferocity of the anger and how I wanted it gone, how I believed that through the force of my own will that I could extract this demon and toss it aside. This was the measure of how I had lived my life. On the other hand, I've had to learn that this is the road to nihilism, which is really just a form of anger turned against self. For without my passion, I am hopeless.

I could not see how my desire to throw away my anger was like throwing away my fierce passion.  My terror of the badger creature was not just the terror of my anger or my alcoholism, but also the terror of my own true passion. I could feel a deep longing in me, that was at the core of where the creature resided. But could I risk being vulnerable?  It is only through right relationship with my Higher Power that I could come into right relationship with Badger, a creature which also carries my passion and will to live.

I have come to understand that what I was getting out of the anger was that it offered a mechanism for avoiding the deeper feelings of fear (not the self centered kind, but an archetypal fear that we must all step through in our journey), pain, grief, and yes, even love, joy, and gratitude. It was simply a way to avoid.

I have had to learn that it is through grace, through alchemy, that dark anger may be transformed. It is a simple law of physics that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. But it can be changed, it can be altered. In dreamwork, we refer to this as alchemy, or the transformation of the raw self into the incorruptible higher self.  In 12 step work it is that moment where realize that God has done for us what we could not do for our self.

I had to learn that the true Alchemist is my Higher Power, not me.

In my own personal work and in my work with dreamers, I have seen anger manifest in many ways. Often it comes in the form of pride, judgement, or shame. It can appear in ourselves in the dream and often it will be mirrored to us by other characters in the dream and can perhaps be an indication of how we project our anger out onto the world around us.  If there is someone very angry in the dream, it could be showing us how we are angry. It could also be showing us something about our trauma (a topic for another posting...), from which all manner of problematic compensating and coping mechanism can arise, including anger.

As warriors who have put into practice the 12 steps which give us a daily reprieve from the ISM, we know something of the value of self reflection, meditation, prayer, and the call to faith. This gives us a huge advantage in receiving the gifts of the dreams.

Practicum: Notice where in the dream anger manifests. What is happening in the dream in the moments where you feel angry? Is there shame, or anger directed against the self...feelings of unworthiness? Is there judgement of others in the dream from the place where you think you know better? Is there fear in the form of overt action...fighting off attackers, battles? Are you yelling or being yelled at?

It is not that any of this is "bad", the dream is simply wanting to show you something. See if you notice a pattern. The dreams always want to reveal our character defects, not to shame us, but to help us breath consciousness into them. Once we are fully aware of our habitual patterns, have felt into the feelings that have fueled them, either through repression or the misuse of our God given instincts, only then do they enter into our Higher Power's crucible for the grace of alchemy.

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 previous posting: The Recovery Chronicles #00

Link to the next posting: The Recovery Chronicles #02

In fellowship on the Road of Happy Destiny,
Laura Smith


  1. Dear Laura, I have read your two Recovery Chronicles pieces several times and find them resonant and helpful, so much here. I think it's a tremendous thing you are doing, and I look forward to more. Thank you... Marian

    1. Hi Marian, thanks so much for the note. I love that you are following and glad that you are finding resonance. I've been somewhat blocked in bringing these two parts of myself together in the world...the dreamwork and my 12 step recovery work...and am excited to feel an opening in sharing about them now. There are many parallels which I am finding in my own personal work and also in the work I do with dreamwork clients who are in recovery.


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