Drinking dreams are a phenomena that many people experience during their alcohol-free journey – but don't worry! They are not to be feared.
Many people describe a variation on a dream theme: that they are drunk, drinking alcohol or in the throes of drunken behaviour. For anyone on a OYNB journey, or whose last drink is long behind them, these dreams can be nerve wracking – what do they mean?
There is no need to worry. Having such dreams don’t mean that you cannot get alcohol out of your head, or that you are weaker in your resolve against drinking. As any dream, they are just that. A dream!
How drunk dreams mess with our minds
Some people describe waking from a drunk dream with a sense of panic: that the dream is portentous and they’re on a slippery slope back towards alcohol. That feeling of dread can reach far into the waking hours and follow someone around for days. But consider other dreams you have had in the past, have they magically materialised into real life?
The brain uses thoughts and scenes from daily life to create the visuals you experience in dreams. If you have spent much of your day considering the impact of your relationship with alcohol on your life, then it is unsurprising that it may filter into your less rational subconscious.
Others talk about feeling guilty and frightened, and panic-stricken that their grasp on sobriety is somehow tenuous. Again, those brittle feelings of fear don’t always vanish on waking. But another way you can view these dreams is as a practise run. What can you learn from the triggers you experienced? How can you use this to avoid this scenario in real life?
“When I have a drunk dream, I’m unsettled and upset for days. However, I don’t worry that it means I’m going to go back to drinking. When it happens, I remind myself about the dream I have a couple of times a year: that I’ve inexplicably got back together with my toxic ex-boyfriend from 20 years ago. I’m never going to do that. I’m not going to drink booze again. Dreams do NOT predict the future. I still feel agitated by a drunk dream, but I don’t feel worried that it means anything. I’m still in control.”
When waking up is a relief
Drunk dreams can make you feel untethered, as though you’ve lost your grip on being alcohol-free and you’re back where you started. No wonder drunk dreamers experience feelings of panic.
But there’s a glimmer of something else. What almost always happens when you wake from a drunk dream, is a sense of unadulterated relief so palpable, you could almost reach out and hug it. That joyous realisation that this is you, now. You are here, alcohol-free and safe. Like we say to children when they wake from a nightmare: ‘it’s okay, it’s over. You were just dreaming.’
You don’t inhabit that place anymore. No more guilt, no more booze-related chaos and remorse. It was a dream. You can get up, get showered and get on with your day. That’s a good feeling, but it can still be hard to shake off a particularly bad drunk dream.
“The drunk dreams were worse earlier on in my OYNB journey. I’m getting better at shrugging them off now, but they still have the power to upend me. I probably have residual guilt about how my drinking affected the people I love. Maybe my subconscious wants to haul me over the coals for a bit longer. I’ve turned it into a positive thing now: a drunk dream makes me even more determined to stick with not drinking. It’s almost like the proof I need that I’ve done the right thing.”
OYNB – a safe place to share
Whenever you have a drunk dream and you wake feeling anxious and distraught, go easy on yourself. Remember that we dream about all kinds of other things from our past – people, events, relationships and so on. It’s not just alcohol – that’s only one of the things that crop up from time to time, but it carries more significance.
Harness that profound sense of relief that you get from knowing that the past is done and dusted, and that you’ve moved on. And remember that many – if not all – OYNB-ers have been through something similar. Don’t hold back from sharing and listening to other people’s experiences.
In fact, perhaps there’s a kernel of something in there, that those dreams are all part of a healing process. By dragging things out into the dazzling light of day, by talking about them and comparing notes, we can diminish their intensity.
Note to self: I have slayed dragons
Part of the horror with drunk dreams is that they send you briefly hurtling back to a life you no longer want. But the past – so the literary line goes – is a foreign country. No matter what dreams take hold, you’ve steered your course away from it.
Sometimes, we slay dragons in our sleep. Other times, we dream about the dragons we’ve slain. You’ve achieved so much: wake up and embrace another beautiful, booze-free day, you fabulous dragon-slayer, you.