The Hangover Dream

As recurring dreams go, the ‘hangover dream’ is top of the pile. I have had it on a semi regular basis since my decision to give up drinking alcohol six years ago. I would say I haven’t looked back since, except that’s not strictly accurate. The hangover dream is testimony. An unwelcome reminder of what once was but can never be again. And here I am, awake at 05:00 a.m, mulling over another night where it has got the better of me.

It’s always a variation of the same theme. I wake up, hungover, gripped by the physical symptoms and a mental unease as to what happened the night before. For I’ve blacked out at some point and can’t remember. I know I’ve messed up though. I always mess up when I’ve been drinking. It’s par for the course. Lily Allen wrote a song about it called ‘The Fear.’ Lily Allen was right.

In the dream I need to be somewhere and I’m late. I’m rushing about, trying to get back on track while battling the nausea and lethargy. I’m pretending that everything is ‘fine.’ Everything, however, is not fine, it’s far from fine. I’m teetering on the brink, wracked with guilt and regret. Never again, I think to myself. This sick cycle needs to stop. And so it does. Until the next time, that is.

When I wake up, I have the physical symptoms of a hangover. My stomach is queasy and I’m exhausted. ‘The Fear’ envelops me like a cloying blanket. The smell of cigarettes assails my nostrils and my flesh crawls with anxiety ants. I want to bury my head beneath the covers and not emerge until it’s all gone away. Yet, I must get up, dust myself down and face the waiting day. That’s what great pretenders do, right?

Six years. Why do I still dream this dream, unlocking a portal to a past life I want nothing to do with? I have no interest in alcohol now. I’m never tempted. Nowadays I run, I write, I live. These are the best days of my life and I truly believe there are even better ahead. Yet still I dream. The night before the biggest of meetings with the biggest of bosses. When I need to bounce into work fresh and raring to go. Why?

Never rest on your laurels. Complacency is a stealthy assassin, waiting to creep up behind and slit your throat from ear to ear. Just when you thought you could relax a little, lower those defences. Well, breaking news, you can’t. This is for life. One slip, one poor decision, and you end up slithering back down the slippery, steep slope into the murky mire of a past you so desperately want to leave behind.

It’s there, it always will be. A necessary evil, the umbilical cord between who you were and who you want to be. My advice for what it’s worth is to use it. That cord can be a noose or a lifeline. Use it to guide you, to remind you of the high stakes game you continue to play, must continue to play. Day in, day out for the rest of your life. When viewed within that context, the ‘hangover dream’ is a small price to pay.

I have a dream. A horrible, nightmarish dream but one I need to periodically experience so as I remain vigilant and alert to the warning signs. I must be prepared at all times to repel enemy attacks, to man the ramparts at a moments notice in order to face the coming storm. I feel rough, I feel rotten, but at least I feel something. Alive to the threats, the possibilities, the tripwires and hidden pits. Alive to life.

39 thoughts on “The Hangover Dream

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  1. Ugh! I remember these sorts of dreams – though mine were about food and not quite so visceral. It’s really interesting that you carry the physical sensations into waking life too. I’ve been researching mind/body connection quite a bit recently (trying to understand placebo effects) and it’s quite incredible how our minds can create physical symptoms. Out of interest, is the dream something you value as a means of remaining vigilant or is it something you would prefer to leave behind?

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      1. My take is that you are vigilant already, you have made your decisions and you’re sticking to them. Nevertheless, shame is the key emotion (and the hardest one) of addictions, and the hangover is the hardest part of drinking, that was when we hated ourselves the most, or at least I did. Find a way to forgive yourself, and remember that your addiction served a purpose, it wasn’t about you being weak. Addictions are a pathway to loving ourselves. Hope that makes sense.

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  2. I don’t know about recurring; but after I (finally) slept after delivering our first son, I dreamed I gave birth to a really long rubber chicken. It just kept coming out of me.

    I blame the pain-killers for that one.

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  3. Well done, Mr. Black. While I would love to wish away your nightmarish dream, you make a couple keen observations. Complacency is a stealthy enemy to so much in our lives. And feelings, though rough or rotten are a sign of true life. The joys are richer when you know pain. Great post and congratulations on 6 years of sobriety!

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  4. I just moved into a new apartment a few months ago & I keep dreaming that I’m still moving … packing up or unpacking. I don’t think that I really feel at home here (as much as I like it) & am thinking that perhaps the dream is telling me that another home awaits.

    As to your hangover dream … it’s really just a garden-variety anxiety dream. What is going on in your awake life that is causing you anxiety? Deal with those issues & the hangover dreams will stop coming to you.

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  5. It would seem, Stephen, as if you were a fly in the wall of my house this morning as my discussions with my family were exactly on these matters of dreams (which I also had last night), complacency, and being aware of how delicate our lives really are. It is a strong belief I have that our spirits are actually more in tune with reality at night than during the day. Away from the noise and distractions, our minds finally speak out the subtle messages we have been missing in the chaos. Not to say that dreams are all meaningful, more likely they’re revealed feelings that have been lingering all along.

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  6. Stephen, I’ve been sober 38 years and still have “drunk dreams.” I wake up sweat soaked, scared, and jittery. It takes a few minutes to clear my head and realize it was just a dream. But, it reminds me of how it used to be. My dreams are a blessing from my Higher Power to keep me honest and ever vigilant.

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  7. I think my own recurring dreams signal fears of falling into old faults or patterns of living. Thankfully, all the fears seem to work themselves out in dreams – no problems in daylight hours, as you said.

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