Archetypal Dreamwork and the 12 Steps: The Recovery Chronicles #02

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.

Coming to terms with Higher Power is perhaps the single most effective and critical aspect of a successful recovery program. It is through grace and the keen insight of our founding fellows that the foundation of our recovery must be built on faith in a power greater than ourselves. For what other than the True Light could pierce the darkness of the soul-sickness that we experience as alcoholism or addiction?

And yet, is it not true that in some deep recess of our heart we know? We know that there is something more. Is there not some basic yearning in us to find our true self again? Is our thirst really our longing to be found, to be whole, to reclaim our lost soul? We had to first accept that we were lost before we could be found.

The great Carl Jung, in a 1961 letter to Bill Wilson, wrote, "You see, Alcohol in Latin is 'Spiritus' and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraved poison. The helpful formula therefore is: 'Spiritus Contra Spiritum' (which is translated in this context as 'Spirit against Alcohol').

Jung had observed that the alcoholic's thirst for alcohol is, "the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God."

And he went on to quote Psalm 42,1:

"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God."

For many of us, finding a God of our understanding is a mighty challenge. Who cares to admit total defeat? And yet, without our admission of our own powerlessness, we have no starting point, no way for God to get to us. But when we surrender to our own powerlessness it is like we are cracked open. It is through this crack that the light can re-enter. And when we achieve fullness, it is through this crack, the crack of our wound, that the light shines back out for others to see and find hope.

It is this way with the dreams. The dreams want to crack us open, break our willfulness, bring about our total surrender. The dream will give us many opportunities to see how we are blinded by self will, independence, pride. They do this not because we are bad people, or that we should feel sinful or shameful, but because they seek to bring awareness to all the ways we have closed our self off from the sunlight of the spirit. It is the sunlight of the Spirit, or the grace of God, that can burn away our character defects to reveal the untarnished girl/boy soul that longs to be freed from the bondage of self.

We will be given dreams which show us our character defects, how we are blocked, and we will be given dreams which will offer Archetypal support, and we will be given dreams which will reveal the Promises and what those Promises uniquely mean for each of us.

Higher Power comes to us in many forms in the dreams. It comes in the form of a character in the dream who represents an Archetype, such as the Animus (male aspect of the Divine) or Anima (feminine aspect of the divine). It can come as an animal, a tree, or a mountain. An "act of God" in the dream carries the energy of Higher Power, such as a tornado, earthquake, or lightening. In each case, the Archetypal aspect will engage with us in some way to teach us something about ourselves.

Dream: I have traveled to a large European city. I realize I really do not know this city and it is huge and the streets are very busy. I start walking up the street, but suddenly feel that I will get really lost if I don't orient myself. I see a train station entrance and several entrances to underground subways. I realize that if I can figure out the lay of the land, I could probably get where I need to go more quickly taking the train or subway. I know there are probably many lines and stops and I don't think it is a good idea to get on the train until I can look at a map to figure out the stops. I start looking for a place that would have a subway map, but can't seem to find one. I go into a store and see a man helping a woman who appears to be missing a shoe. He is kneeling in front of her and she is seated amongst some boxes of fruit in the market. Another man comes and tells them that she can't have her bare foot on the fruit and that they have to move. I leave because I feel I am losing the daylight.

The dream shows how I go through life trying to orient myself, get the lay of the land. I can't make a decision til I do so. I am afraid to go down into the subway (unconsciousness) without a map. But the there is no map. To undergo the spiritual journey, we have to rely on the help of the Archetypes, our Higher Power. We are traveling into the unknown, we must become comfortable with uncertainty. We must become comfortable with uncomfortability. When we put down the alcohol, didn't we enter into the terror of the unknown? We put down the certainty of death for the uncertainty of life!

We must be open to receiving help. The moment where I see the man helping the woman is a place to feel into what it might be like for me to be helped. I could feel into being the woman with the man helping me with my missing shoe. It is a simple moment. Can I accept the help for myself? Or will I wander the city, looking for a subway map, missing a shoe, believing I must figure it all out on my own, and not even feeling how the concrete cuts my feet? All the while, becoming more anxious as the time is running out and I am lost in big foreign city. The dream is a metaphor for how I was living my life turned away from a Higher Power.

Dream: I am being chased by some men. I am in a church and I am looking for a place to hide. I think I will climb up to the belfry and hide up there. I climb up right under a huge bell but then realize that the platform is just a piece of wood suspended by ropes. It does not feel stable and it feels extremely exposed. I can see the sanctuary of the church and pews below. I see lights like flash lights tracking along the stained glass windows and realize that it must be the men coming for me. I grab one of the ropes and slide down knowing that I am too exposed and need to find a different hiding place. The rope is connected to some chimes and I know that the sound of the chimes will bring the men. I go into a basement room of the church. I see a stone trough in the ground under some shelving and think that if I crawl in there I can hide. I know that I don’t have much time before the men come. I start to crawl in the hole, but then I realize how small and narrow it is. I ask myself if I really want to do this and it is like a separate part of myself is having a different conversation or just ignoring me. I can hear my mind say. “ I will just crawl in here and hide. I will stay in here for 24 hours if I have to. Even if I get really hungry, I won’t come out. The men will eventually tire of looking for me. I will stay in here all day.” It seems to become like a mantra. But then the other part of me senses that I AM really hungry and maybe I don’t want to go in the hole. I also realize that I can feel my breath filling up the space. I suddenly feel claustrophobic and fearful. I realize that I will have to push myself into this hole with my toes and that once in I may not be able to back my way out. I can hear the men coming. The “I will stay in here forever” mantra is playing in my head, but the other side of me thinks maybe this isn’t such a good idea and I am exhausted and think maybe I should just give up.

This dream speaks so clearly to how I ran and ran, how I shut down the truer voice of discernment. I ran in my life through the use of alcohol and drugs and all manner of distractions, even the idea of religion could be a place to hid. The dream wanted me to feel how I run, how exhausting it is, how I constrict myself to a hole in a rock, how I hide, and how the voice of my dis-ease wants me to to stay in this awful suffocating place forever. The dream wants to show me the un-manageability of my life and it wants to bring me to surrender.

In my early dreamwork, I was often running from the supportive characters. What is it that when God comes to be in relationship with us, we run? Why don't we just accept? Why are we so afraid, distrustful, prideful? All of our past hurts, traumas, resentments, grief that are unresolved trigger us into self-centered fear. This fear is that we will lose something we have, namely our self will, our independence, and not get what we want: the love, freedom from our suffering. Or, we believe we will be hurt if we allow ourselves to be humbled. This is because we have been hurt in the past in the place of our vulnerability. As children and as adults we often experience grave injustices and hurts. We carry these wounds with us and use them to deny God.

But this is the great lie. As human beings, we do not give up our self will, our will simply becomes aligned with that of our Higher Power. We will receive the love and our suffering will be transformed over and over if only we allow ourselves to feel, to be vulnerable.

Dream: I am standing in a doorway of an old hotel room, like a grand ball room. It is dark and I see and old woman who I know to be the "Yellow Spinner" working on a little boy. The Yellow Spinner is some kind of healer lady. She is examining him and he appears to be in pain. She looks at his back just above his butt at the sacrum and sees a contusion on the left side with something white sticking out of it. She starts to pull on it. He starts to scream in pain and anger. Suddenly she pulls out a long white thing that looks like a creature, a monster. It is scary and I think she didn’t mean to do this. She turns around and holds it up to show me. I run....

A deeper healing is possible for each of us. The Yellow Spinner is an ancient healer archetype. As an imago of the divine mother/healer, she comes to bring healing to the "boy" aspect of my soul. The creature she removes is akin to a parasite, which is what the disease of alcoholism is. All of the "isms" we suffer from are parasitic in nature and the dreams will want to help us expel them. For me, this was a dream I needed. I desperately needed to know that a deeper healing was possible for me, that I could be restored to sanity. The dream also showed that there was pain and anger involved in this work of moving towards the healing, but that this Divine figure was there to support me.

Dream: I am looking out over a large field that has been plowed up into a garden. I realize I have to get my garlic in the ground. I have two huge bundles of garlic in each hand, but I need to get it to come out into just the right number of rows to be perfect. Then I see the old woman in the field. She is planting the garlic and I can see that she is showing how I can do it so I can get it to come out right.

I think she is showing me how to get it perfect, but really she is just planting the garlic for me. She is showing me how she will help me.

Dream: I am standing at the entrance to a park. I see a man who looks like "B" squatting down by a water spigot. I go over to him and I want to tell him that I know him and that I have always loved him. I say, “every since I first knew you..” but then I stop because I don’t know how to say what I want to say. So, instead I lay my body across his back and put my arms around his waist. He stands up and I say, “you are the tallest man I have ever known”. He says, “I know” and takes me by the arms and swings me up in the air. It is like being a kid. I am holding on to his arms and they feel very strong and I feel the sheer joy of being swung around.

It is hard to speak my truth, that I have loved him ever since I first knew him...but he knows. Our God knows us. It was a very big dream for me to feel this. I needed to remember the joy. I needed to feel the strength of this imago of the spiritual Father as much as I needed to feel the support and healing of the spiritual mother. 

Just as we are supported in our outer world by our sponsor and the fellowship, so too can we be supported in our inner world. The dreams will support us in this by giving us moments to feel into, so that we can come to know what the felt experience of this support is. When we say the third step prayer, we can bring to mind a moment from the dream where we "felt" our surrender, where we felt the love, or where we felt blocked from surrender.

Practicum: Begin to notice the ways that you "run" in the dream. How do you turn away from the support? What moments come in the dream where you can feel the love or the support? Allow that feeling in your body. It is real.

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 #01

In fellowship on the Road of Happy Destiny,
Laura Smith

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