Using Dreams as a Tool for Recovery


“Your vision will become clear only when you look inside your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens…” Carl Jung

Did you ever wake up from a dream and try to sort out what you were dreaming about? Sometimes we wake up from a vivid dream and it takes a few moments to realize these moving pictures in our head were just a reverie and not a real event. For people in recovery, dreams often feel frightening and too real – right down to the part where someone says, “I woke up and could actually taste the wine I was about to drink in my dream.” *

Where do these dreams come from and what do they mean?

Nobody knows the true purpose of dreaming. Many researchers feel that our dreams are like noise in the background of our minds we are trying to organize. Our dreams are simply our brains trying to make sense of unexpected transmissions that happen while we sleep.

There is a continuing debate about whether dream interpretation and its expansive symbolism, is valid. With no real understanding of the purpose of dreams, it is hard to argue their true function. Psychotherapist Carl Jung was renowned for changing the way the way people looked at and interpreted dreams. Jung believed that we can all interpret our dreams and each dream has a meaning behind it. Jung also believed that dreams served as a guide to the waking self, to achieve wholeness, offering a solution to a problem you are facing in your waking life.

Almost every woman I have worked with in treatment has spoken of her dreams – sometimes of dreaming she is using again. It is so common that I almost always ask women in early recovery to talk about their dreams. I know they can struggle with dreams that seem to foreshadow relapse. While I don’t interpret dreams in my clinical work, I do ask women to share them, to address any thoughts or feelings they may be having about their dreams. When they dream of using, I remind them that we don’t have control over our dreams and our dreams don’t have control over us. For some people who have vivid and frightening dreams, I may add that our dreams are just shadows coming from our subconscious and they cannot harm us. Dreams can be particularly disturbing when we cannot recall all parts of the dream – making it similar to trying to remember the all the events that happened when we were in a blackout.

Some studies have shown that dreaming about drinking or using drugs during treatment is reflective of a client’s readiness to change. It is suggested that this dream life of using or preparing to use is providing a type of opportunity to rehearse new behaviors of change. Dreams can be seen as a positive engagement in the treatment and recovery process.

May you all have sweet dreams!

*Read a journal entry from sobriety blog “Waking Up the Ghost” about what it feels like to have a drinking dream.

David Green enjoys building things – businesses and places. Over the years he has been involved in a variety of enterprises, including real estate, automotive, sports and marketing. In addition to practicing law, he directed the development of the Cape Eleuthera Resort in The Bahamas and serves as Chairman and Founding Director of The Island School and Cape Eleuthera Marine Research Institute. He is currently the founder and CEO of Archipelago Equities, a real estate and small business venture firm based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. David’s business expertise was instrumental in the renovation and establishment of Sanford House. He continues to be involved in all aspects of its operations, while looking for new things to build.