Have you ever been addicted to something: smoking, alcohol, other drugs, gambling or some other destructive behaviour, given it up (good on you!) and then sometime later been if not haunted, at least disturbed, by the sudden reappearance of this substance or activity in your dreams? What can this mean? What are these dreams trying to tell you? Is it really a dream about cigarettes (or whatever) or are cigarettes a symbol for something else?
Like most addictions, the answers are unfortunately rarely straight-forward. If we have ever had an addiction, the reality of the situation is that the thing we are addicted to is itself often a replacement or substitution for something else in our lives (and therefore a symbol) – such as confidence, affection or excitement, these being but a few of the reasons. If we smoke when we are stressed, the cigarette becomes a replacement for dealing with the cause of our stress and our ability to exercise enough control in our lives to feel calm and at peace. It can then be a symbol of trying to achieve “calm control.” If we drink when we are lonely, the alcohol becomes a replacement for the love and affection we crave, and is itself a substitute for company. It can then be to us as a symbol of “warm connection.” This is of course a very simple explanation for problems that can often be very complex and heart breaking, and it is not my intention to trivialise them in any way. In fact, the point I wish to make is that when we see how these issue can roll over into our dreams we begin to see the deep connection to our subconscious all addictions have.
After giving up an addiction, “going clean,” “getting on the wagon” or whatever terminology we use, it is important to realise that what we have done is made a fantastic behavioural change. We have stopped doing that thing we have now know is not good for us and we no longer wish to do. We have exerted our will! We have used the mighty strength of our consciousness and imposed it upon the subtle and slippery influence of our feelings, our desires. This is an important victory. But it is only one part of a long and often invisible process.
We become addicted for many reasons. But many of these reasons are not logical, well thought through considerations. They are emotive, responsive, complex. They come from our subconscious. And this is where our dreams lie. When we exert our will to win over an addiction, we dominate our subconscious. Our subconscious may be down, but it is not entirely out. It will try to make our conscious mind realise that though we may have given up the behaviour or substance, have we really addressed the reason we started this addictive behaviour in the first place? If we smoked because we were stressed, have we learned positive ways to deal with stress, or even eliminated the cause of that stress in the first place (if possible)? If we drank because we were lonely, have we not only made new strong and meaningful relationships, but have we learned to be happy and content with our own company? If not, then our dreams may sneak up to remind us, that yes, we may not have smoked for ten years, but here we are again, stressed out and not managing it. The thought to smoke may not have have even crossed our conscious minds, but somewhere deep down, the shadow of addiction lurks, and we remember why we started before. We can take this as a kindly and timely reminder to reinforce our coping strategies, to look again at our resources, our friends, family and behaviours, and to make small changes early, before big interventions are required.
But dreams of smoking, drinking, gambling or whatever need not necessarily mean we are in a situation that requires caution. These kind of dreams can refer to a variety of other things:
1) A reminder of an addiction may be a symbol of feeling out of control that we remember from before. Is there some area of your life that is causing your concern that you feel you cannot influence?
2) Each particular addictive behaviour and the reason we started it will have it’s own symbolism attached. Look for the “positives” you associated with the behaviour (doing it made you feel confident, popular, sexy etc.) Are you trying to feel that way now? How are you seeking these feelings in your current life?
3) Winning over an addiction is a great success. Are you trying to achieve another great success now, or having a battle against something? Dreams of previous addictions can remind us that we have the inner resources and amazing strength required to change our lives. If you have done it once before, you can do it again. Your subconscious is on your side!
4) One of the greatest achievements of all, is when we have truly overcome an addiction and our subconscious also sides with us that the behaviour and/or substance is damaging to us. This resolution of conflict is actually at the heart of most dream work and also part of addiction therapy. The conflict between “I want it, it makes me feel good” and “I know i shouldn’t, it’s really bad for me, my life/career/family etc” is finally resolved. There is no need to subvert a desire into the subconscious and to ask it to deal with it for us, the issue is dealt with. In these situations, when we dream of a previous addiction, not only is it a reminder of success and the strength we have within us, it is also then a symbol of all the negative attributes of that addiction, stripped free of the confusing attractions we once felt it had. Addictions in dreams when we have reached this point can be symbols of poison, of harm, or control, insidious power and so on. This should lead us to question, where in my life am I seeing this dangerous influence?
Like all dreams, dreams of addiction need not have a negative meaning. If we harness their lessons for self awareness, growth and healing, a dream that we are smoking or drinking or gambling again can actually be a powerful tool for transformation and improve our lives even after giving up the addition in the first place.
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