The ugly wasteland of an addict’s mind

I had a nasty drinking dream last night.

There had been a party, and I woke with an awful hangover. In the kitchen and on the floor were cups of nasty, cheap alcohol; Polish vodka mixed with synthetic orange squash, warm beers, sour red wine. I went into the kitchen and looked at the glasses of orange-flavoured spirits. I thought about drinking one. Just to ease the hangover. After which I’d stop, stop properly. It wouldn’t even count as a relapse – just one mistake made at a party, and one drink to get over the hangover. It did mean I’d be drinking in the morning, which I never did (except for that one time that I did do that), but. Oh, I felt so bad. Just this once.

I felt helpless, and ashamed in advance that I knew I was going to give in, and angry. Backed into a corner by the situation, by the alcohol itself, by my awful, pathetic self. A mix of emotions more toxic and unpleasant tasting than the drink I was about to drink.

If there’s one redeeming feature about these dreams, it’s that it makes waking up seem like a relief, no matter how dark and cold the day.

What fascinates me about these dreams, and why I have begged your indulgence in relating one, is that they remind me so vividly of the awful, ugly battles that went on inside myself. The justification, the ‘it’s just this one’, the ‘never again’. And the searing, acidic loathing of self that corrodes every good and positive thought. And the anger, and the despair. The division that happens inside the mind, when you simultaneously think ‘Oh, I’m just having this drink in the morning on this one occasion. It’s never been this bad before and I’ll never do it again. Just once doesn’t count’ and ‘You are a failure, an awful person, a pathetic waste of space who can’t even keep a simple promise to yourself’. It tears you apart.

The mind of an addict is such an ugly, twisted wasteland of a place. Anyone who thinks that moderation is just a matter of self-discipline, that addiction is a moral weakness, is not a person who has been there. It is so hard. It is SO HARD to hate yourself like that. To wake up every morning with a sense of excoriating shame, to walk through a day pretending to be normal while your body tries to process physical toxins that are slowly killing you, and your mind struggles under the weight of a chemical depressant. To swear to yourself, day after day, that you will stop doing this to yourself, and to break that oath night after night.

Nobody, ever, would choose to live that way. What keeps us there is fear, and it’s hard to understand how a bit of nervousness could keep a person locked in a prison of their own making, but fear is a powerful thing. Addiction feeds itself. The longer you are in its throes, the more you are likely to hate yourself, to believe that you can’t cope ‘on your own’, and the scarier it seems to face the world as your authentic self.

I am still traumatised by this film

I am still traumatised by this film

Today I am furious at the toll that addiction takes. And I’m furious with myself, or perhaps with the limitations of language, because I can’t find the right words to tell someone who is still trapped in the cycle what it is like to break free.

It is like this. You are walking through a dystopian landscape, where twisted trees rear up in your path and mud sucks at your feet. The light is dim, yellowed, sickly. The ground is dead. There may be laughter somewhere nearby, but the foliage distorts the sound. Every step is an effort, and all you want is to find the way out but it is your own fault that you are here, and the laughter is definitely mocking.

And then it ends. The sky clears and the air is pure. You breathe freely. The only sound is the gentle rustle of leaves, and the ground is dry, and flat, and clear. It no longer takes all of your energy to lift one foot and then another, and you can walk briskly, or meander, or run. You’re not scared. You’re not confused. You’re not lost.

There is something to walk towards.


16 thoughts on “The ugly wasteland of an addict’s mind

  1. Pingback: Ladies on a Mission: The Official Site - Page 522 - My Way Out Forums

  2. Wow. That was so amazing. And so frighteningly familiar. My thoughts exactly.
    How did we get caught in that web of insanity?
    I’m so glad to be moving forwards.

  3. What a wonderful description. And the increase in self-esteem when we get to that place. And no we have brought ourselves there! Can’t be beaten.

  4. Terrific post and I agree and relate so much to your description of addiction and recovery. I just don’t have the fear that I used to… hard to explain how or why but I do as you say just walk through it with a degree of acceptance… remarkable really. When I try to think about it I struggle to remember the old me and those feelings the years have dulled them to a degree, then I meet a guy 6 weeks sober who tells me what a shit day he has had as he had drink in his head all day. It’s 10pm and he hasn’t drunk that day. He asks my advice “Go home. Go to sleep. Remember this day – you didn’t drink. Have another go tomorrow. I was like that for the first 9 months, every day, but it got better for me I trust it will for you”. He has that raw emotion there etched in his face and I can see how scared he is in his eyes. It causes a flicker like an old black and white movie in me of what it was like for me then

    And drinking dreams… I’ve not had one recently but they still come and bite me showing me repeatedly that I’m over that line I’ll never be able to cross back over.

    • This dream was, I think, at least partially brought on by a minor cold: I woke up with painful sinuses and a headache. But I welcome them, really, because yes, they’re such a stark reminder of what lies behind.

  5. Drinking dreams come and go for me. Sometimes they’re intense, other times they’re a little more tame. I like to think of them as relapses without the actual drinking 🙂 They usually come with some shame, and sometimes some horror as I wake up and wondering if it really happened…but that has passed over some time. But I am sure I will get a doozy now and then.

    There are theories of why we get them, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. They are just a side to us. An echo of our old life. I don’t take stock in them. They just are. I have dreams of blue elephants flying over Mars, and hey, I know that ain’t gonna happen…ha ha.

    Thanks for sharing

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  7. I dream vividly and often. Drinking dreams still come out of nowhere but I don’t pay any attention to them beyond the intial “Oh shit what did I do thank God it was only a dream”. Of course, like everyone else they were much more prevalent in the beginning and it took a lot longer to get over them.

    It’s that damn ex-husband dream I wish I could shake. Ugh!


  8. I find your blog and your posts really powerful. Before my relapse at 61 days, I was reading it every day. Now I am back and asking for help. I am drinking again but want to find that great place which I started to discover during my 60 days. But somehow it feels different now, and I don’t know if I can do it. Annie x

  9. I love your description of the hold addiction has on us. Powerful. I agree that it is fear that holds us. Building up to letting go of alcohol can be terrifying, and then when you do it’s fantastic. But we often take it back a few times before we finally manage to give it away.

  10. Your description of addiction is spot on, at least in terms of what I dealt with. Excellent writing! Re: drinking dreams. Over the years I have had countless waitress nightmares. I quit waiting tables oh, around 6 years ago. I’ve read that when you dream about something you used to do (or someone you use to know) you’re supposed to look at it as a part of you who is trying to teach you something. I use that logic with my drinking dreams…yep, that’s a lesson I don’t want to have to learn in the present. Thank goodness for dreams! Thanks for the post.

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