California (Wine) Dreamin’

My glory days
Ah the glory days.

I sat in the dark bar. My right leg twitched to the beat of the steel drums in my head. I clutched a beer in my shaky hands. I wasn’t shaky from withdrawls, but from the gulping-type sobs which came from the depth of my soul.

How did I do this again? What am I doing here?” I wiped my eyes and lifted the bottle to examine it, like a chalice.

I was alone. I was always alone when I drank. I watched a group of young men and woman laughing and talking between their sips of lowball drinks and loud high fives. I craved to have that kind of camaraderie, but those days were long gone. Long gone. The booze in front of me was my only companion. I took another sip and sank into my deep brown chair.

I later found myself wandering the streets, my fists pounding the concrete walls I passed. How would I explain this to my family? My friends? How could I have started drinking again? I bargained with myself – maybe this doesn’t count? Could I hide this one or take a mulligan? Did I really break my sobriety? Why the hell would I do this?

Fuck you, Paul.

Soon I came to my apartment. What happened to my house? I used to have a house with my family. The apartment was almost empty. It was unfurnished, but it was mine. A rain storm had started and the water was pelting through an open window. I tried to close it, but it was broken. Everything around me was empty and broken, like empties tossed into a pile. I gave up and went into the washroom. I needed some peace.

As soon as I closed the door, there was a knock. Someone or something was pushing against the door. I yelled and pushed back. It came back at me with great force. It went back and forth this way for several long seconds. Who was there? What was there? “Christ help me” I yelled. The noise in my head swelled like a crescendo of screeching violins and I felt like I was going to black out. And then everything went quiet. Blankness.


Drinking dreams always freak me out.

The first time I had a drinking dream happened when I was a few weeks into my recovery. I was mortified. My first thought upon waking (other than checking around me for bottles), was “This is it – this means I am going to drink again!” I immediately texted some sober men I knew. They all replied saying the same thing – “Don’t worry about it. Everybody gets them. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be fine.” I wasn’t quite willing to believe it, but I took solace in knowing I wasn’t alone.

The dreams returned on occasion. I worried less and less about them. Even today, over five-and-a-half years of sobriety, I get them. They come in waves. I may have weeks without them, then I will get hammered by 3 or 4 of them in a week. Full suplex from the top ropes. Mat creaking and buckling underneath. Referee doing the 3 count on me. Most often I wake up annoyed by the dreams. Other times they are so real that I still feel the anguish and shame coating me like early morning mist on the grass. The severity varies.

There are a few ideas about drinking dreams that float about. But before anyone can discuss drinking dreams, one must understand the reason for dreams. And that’s an area of study which offers no conclusions. I won’t get into that (Google it, and have fun down that rabbit hole) but people in recovery generally don’t put a lot of stock in drinking dreams. Some will suggest that they are just vestiges of our drinking life still manifested in the subconscious. Hell, I drank for 25 years, so I imagine that it won’t be wiped clean like a hard drive through a magnet.

Some folks believe that drinking dreams occur more during stressful times in our lives. I can’t vouch for that, personally, but I imagine it is true for many. Others feel that it’s the mind’s way of dealing with possible scenarios. Very few will conclude that it’s an omen to a drinking spree, or that we’re on the way to relapse. I don’t see it that way. I dream of flying on purple elephants or traveling in space, and I hardly see that happening soon (unless I win a billion dollars, then I’ll be laughing on Violet Dumbo while you suckers are on the ground shoveling snow or whatever you mortals do.)

Right in the mommy-daddy button.
Right in the mommy-daddy button.

The idea that we are perhaps on the path to relapse is one that I never bought into (see purple elephant comment above.) It reminds me of the expression often used in 12-step recovery meetings: “My disease is doing push-ups in the parking lot.” The idea behind this muscular message is that we shouldn’t take our recovery for granted, and that our illness is waiting for us to be weak for a moment before pouncing on us. I have to admit that this anthropomorphization of alcoholism has never sat well with me. It has always felt to me to be a fear-based comment. I don’t underestimate the power of alcoholism, but I wonder if it also underestimates the power of recovery and even Creator Himself. It’s a stretch, and at the risk of being a contrarian, I think it can be counter-productive to one’s recovery. Or at least to my recovery.

My recovery is not fear-based. It’s faith- and action-based. My old life was lived fear-based. Of course I still have fears now. I am not fearless (unlike people who fry bacon in the buff), but I have been able to move through some of my fears because of recovery. Fears are the cock-blockers of life (excuse the crude term, but you get the idea.) Do I fear I will drink again? Of course, but it’s not as simple as that. My deeper fear is that I will lose my connection to myself and God and then eventually pick up. The fear beneath that is that I will lose sight of who I truly am. The fear beneath that one is that I will be rejected or abandoned. One fear lays down the foundation for others. Picking up a drink is the final act. It’s the culmination of the crashing down. So sure, I fear that I may drink, but I don’t feel like it will happen. I have a fear of falling from great heights too, and yet I don’t see that happening either.

It doesn’t mean I am cavalier with my recovery. Far from it. My recovery propels me to write, podcast, converse with others, and to connect. It compels me to pray, meditate, journal, and reach out to others. It also forces me to confront myself and others when needed. It gets me outside of my comfort zone to grow and stretch. It guides me to better actions. My recovery isn’t just “recovery” – it’s about living a life in alignment with Creator’s will. My recovery is really about trying to be a good dad, husband, son and guy in general. It’s about doing the right thing for the right reasons. When I am doing that, the need to drink dissipates.

What I would like to think is that instead of alcoholism doing push-ups, it’s my growing faith doing the work out instead. It’s my integrity and dignity. It’s my concern for others. It’s my need to be of service. It’s my self-love and self-compassion. It’s my empathy for others. I would love to know that my spiritual practices are hitting the gym hard (and wiping the sweat off the machines like it should be), and to believe the idea that the -ism of my alcoholism is shrinking. Dying. Just like in the Prayer of St. Francis, where it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

My drinking dreams will always be there, and for that I am grateful that they remain as such. They are a reminder of where I was and as long as I keep in fit spiritual condition, I don’t fear them materializing into real-life nightmares. I don’t fear going back to those painful times per se, not out of arrogance or ego, but of the knowledge that I have something in my life greater than that need to pick up. I have the life that I always dreamed of while in the darkness of my alcoholism. And that’s the only kind of dream I am interested in. It has become a reality.

Fearless indeed.
Fearless indeed.

37 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow, fearless indeed!

    What a dream. Viscerally delivered on the screen. Man, I get it. When I get a drinking dream it summons those old feelings so closely, that even though I know it’s a dream, I can’t shake the fee of a relapse. And man, does that feeling sick.

    Great post man! As usua, as always, actually, I relate exactly to it, stripping away the details that would let me “compare out.”

    Wishing you a great, bicycle-controversy-free day day off!

    1. Paul S says:

      Hey Mark – yes, I also have heard it described as having a full relapse but without the drinking. I get those nasty feelings all over me and that feeling of sickness you mention. It’s been a while since I’ve had a doozy of a dream, but I am sure one will come at some point. Great reminder of what it was like.

      Thanks man – so far so good with the new tires!


  2. mishedup says:

    I loved this. Especially the idea that our connection to Hp is getting stronger, doing those pushups, vs our disease. That’s the way I think as I get further and further from a drink. So much more helpful and keeps me on the right footing…not running from a drink but running toward some sort of spiritual awakening (or maybe not running in my case…down-dogging! LOL)

    1. Paul S says:

      Keep on down-dogging it! I really need to “get into” yoga, but I don’t think I have found the kind I want / need. At the moment, with the bad back, it’s just genteel stretches. For someone who likes all-out, rock’m sock’m type workouts with competitive edges, yoga is a tough fit. But maybe I’ll let that ego /competition drop and I can enjoy it.

      Anyways! Sorry about the aside here.

      Yes, the idea of moving forward to a healthier self works much better for me than this fear-based idea of the boozy boogyman out to get me.

      Thanks for this, Mish!


  3. Travels with Hollie White says:

    Wishing you the best and such a great way to look at things! I now say life is my greatest hike with a view I don’t want to miss! My depression is just another mountain… A very steep scary mountain, but one day at a time, I’ll get there!!

    1. Paul S says:

      Thank you Hollie. I know so many people with depression, and I am always amazed at how they deal with it. I know it varies with person to person with their severity and such, but I admire those who can walk with it and understand it and be okay with themselves when it does creep over them. I wish you the best with this – it sounds like you have a wonderful attitude towards it, along with acceptance.


  4. People who fry bacon in the buff sure are a certain type of fearless, eh? The drinking dreams freak me out. I hate the feeling I have when I wake up from one – just sickness and dread while my brain works through whether or not I was actually drinking the night before or if it was just a dream. Dreams on the whole are really interesting to me. Mine are usually pretty boring (no purple elephants dang it!) or dreams of destruction and chaos and tornadoes. Maybe our dreams are actually a look into us living in some alternate world or reality and the drinking dreams are because our alternate self wasn’t able to quit drinking? 😉

    1. Paul S says:

      Oh the most fearless…lol. Interesting take on dreams! Now it’s going to melt my brain thinking about it! But my dreams vary – sometimes they are the wild purple elephants ones, and other times they are things that are so mundane that they really could have happened in real life. But I do find a lot of value in them, and can be a good tool into peeking into the subconscious.

      Hope you have had a wonderful weekend! Thanks for stopping by!


  5. ainsobriety says:

    Awesome post.
    I don’t like that saying either, or anything that seems like a threat.
    Love is always the answer. Love and compassion and making the next right choice for ones self.
    I hold my recovery very precious. I share it with others. I still marvel at a hangover free morning or a rock concert without booze. Both are fun and so much less complicated.
    My goal in life is to make it as uncomplicated as possible. It’s so much more peaceful.


    1. Paul S says:

      Hi Anne – and yes! I agree about the feeling that there if the feeling of a threat with that and some other beloved slogans. But you are bang-on – love is the answer. And keeping it simple. I find they are joined hand-in-hand. We used to complicate things so much that our minds and emotions were twisted up and bunched up. The more I let go, the more I release, the more I come from love, then the more serenity I carry.

      Thank you for being here, my friend 🙂


  6. Roderick says:

    This is my first clinical depression without the booze. It’s tougher because there is nothing to fall back on. It’s more head on because there is no blurr and buzz, and you don’t fall as fast or as far into the pit. There is nothing to quit, except maybe thinking. There is no drinking dream because life is a nightmare which makes the drinking dream inconsequential. A concurrent disorder is a tall order, and it is all real, and has nothing to do with dreams.

    1. Paul S says:

      I am so sorry to hear this, Roderick. I know many people who have gone through this. I can’t say I can relate to the clinical depression, but I hear how difficult this is for you. I hope that you can reach out to others who have been there. I hope someone reads this and can maybe offer their experience with this. I know that life in general was the weight I carried after I got sober. Everything was hard. Everything. I had no net on that tightwire act of mine. It scared the hell out of me. I wish you nothing but peace and serenity. I hope that if you’re taking medication that they are helping in some way…but please reach out! You aren’t alone!


  7. Lisa Neumann says:

    Drinking dreams = an opportunity to see how far I’ve come. And it’s far … with plenty of room toward the home stretch.

    I’m slow on the reading these past months, but thrilled to be back in the inner machinations of “Message In a Bottle” ♥ Lisa

    1. Paul S says:

      LISA!!! I can’t tell you how excited I was to see your name pop up here. I know you’re a busy bee, but thank you so much for being here! I hope it’s not too messy here…I should have tidied up a bit…oops, sorry about that spill there in the corner…

      And of course, the dreams show me what it was like and the greatest feeling comes in that deep exhale after I realize it was all a dream.

      Blessings to you, my friend!

  8. Mrs. S says:

    Lovely post. I like the concept of your drinking journey. Its filled with hope and love and supporting yourself and others. Creating a community and being a part of something. Once again, thanks for all you do. The podcasts are a great companion on my long runs.

    1. Paul S says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Mrs. S! I really appreciate them and I appreciate you for what you do, and being a part of this community that I am re-connecting with. Thank you for welcoming me warmly. I think community is a huge part of this, and we share with one another and show that we aren’t alone. Isolation was such a part of our lives and drinking, and it’s a relief to be able to commiserate with so many wonderful folks.


  9. HealthyJenn says:

    Powerful post….I’ve only had a few drinking dreams ever…and I woke up feeling shaken each time…and I like the perspective that the sick part of us is shrinking while the healthy part grows. That’s how I feel but I didn’t realize it till I read your post. Thanks.

    1. Paul S says:

      Thanks Jenn for the read and comments. I appreciate it! Yes I do like the idea of something more positive gaining traction than some sort of slenderman thing happening in the shadows. I would rather the full light come down then worry about things lurking about in the darkness.

      Wishing you a wonderful day!


  10. Sober Again says:

    Nice to you see you at your home grounds blogging. Will have to check out your podcast. I was following you a couple years ago but relapsed after 33 months of sobriety. So back at it, and it is harder than ever.

    1. Paul S says:

      Thanks SA. I feel like I’m home again. It’s been quite a journey, but this is one of those times that it feels like it’s both comfortable and yet different. I am glad we reconnected, my friend. I am with you 100%. Let me know if you want to talk. You can email me at : if you’d like. I’m always around.


  11. furtheron says:

    I love that bit about recovery not being fear based. Excellent viewpoint

    1. Paul S says:

      Thanks Graham! I appreciate it and yeah, it wasn’t until recently that that viewpoint came to me. I always felt something about that expression that irked me, but now that I “talked” it out, I feel that we can so much more positive things!

      Hope you are well


  12. byebyebeer says:

    Wiping the sweat off the machines, ha! Oh Paul, this is exactly how I feel about that push-ups in the parking lot saying. What a great shift to flip it around to our recovery getting stronger by the day. None of us have it figured out but I choose hope over fear. And I like how you wrote about your connection to yourself and spirit and then the other layers. I’ve often wondered if/why i would lose that, but it feels strong and safe today. It leads to and connects me with so many other great things. Also, I just woke from a dream about a pet spider crab (not kidding) so I’m also hoping dreams aren’t prophetic. Have your latest podcast downloaded and ready to listen soon. Always great to hear your wisdom.

    1. Paul S says:

      Aw thanks K! I too choose hope over fear. I grapple enough with fears to also make it part of my default level in recovery, and in just living life period. The more I explore this so-called life, the more I see it’s about connections – and not always the obvious kinds. Lots of moving parts, but still simple in idea.

      When it comes to things like spider crabs…I just can’t even…we are heading to Australia in March and all I can think about are the spiders there. That is all that is on my mind. I hate (that is, fear like hell) spiders. Little ones I can deal with. But when they are big enough to put a leash on…then that’s another planet of fears.

      Thanks again! Love your writing. Can’t wait to read more.


      1. byebyebeer says:

        Ok that’s weird because in the dream I was flying a small plane back from Australia…with the spider-crab in a bag, as one does. However, I spent time in NSW Australia many years ago and can’t remember a single spider experience! You’ll have a blast.

        1. Paul S says:

          Phew! Ok good. We will be in Brisbane in March. Atumn there…so hopefully no creepy crawlies.

          1. byebyebeer says:

            That part of Australia is so much fun…naturally beautiful and lots to see and do. Great time to get away from winter weather too.

  13. Cool post, Paul!
    I haven’t had many drinking dreams, but when I have them, they don’t make me want to drink.
    My recovery is joy based, happy based, love based!
    It’s the only way I can stay sober!
    I do keep in mind all the yucky things that happened when I was drinking, but I go through life with joy.

  14. Could not agree more with this beautifully written post, Paul! There are several 12-step tenants with which I disagree, and this is towards the top of the list. It’s almost hypocritical… you want us to expel our fears, but then fill us with a few more. It did not sit well on day one, and continues to irritate.

    But I love how you turned it into your positive frame, that is something I did not take the time to do (preferring instead to grouse about it in my own head). If it’s okay with you, I’ll take your concept and try it on for size!

    Hope you are well!

    1. Paul S says:

      Josie! So happy to see you here, my friend! Thanks for this. I agree about fear replacing fear. I don’t think the intention is full of malice, obviously, but sometimes the collective wisdom of the rooms isn’t always wise. But that’s me talking right now. In 5 years I could be singing a different tune. But we get to change our minds :).

      I am currently trying to keep things more positive, considering the current climate of things in the world. I have groused a lot lately, and I want to try and turn that around. I can’t change the world, but I change my outlook on it, and hopefully have that spread. You are definitely one who helps me in that department.

      Big hugs to ya!


  15. “My recovery is not fear-based. It’s faith- and action-based.”
    A person doesn’t officially have to be in recovery to appreciate and adhere to this message. In fact, I’d say the biggest shift in my life happened when I started thanking the Creator instead of worrying that he’d send me to hell. It’s a completely different mindset, and I love how you have embraced and shared it with us here.
    Have I told you how happy I am to see you again?!?!?

    1. Paul S says:

      Thanks for expanding this, Michelle! Of course, it’s all about our connections. And I think regardless of who and where you are in your life, having that sense of grounding and faith brings us further to who we were created to be. At least, that is my simple and humble opinion!

      Thanks for the kind words too – I am thrilled to see shining lights like you here again. It feels like I never really left…and that’s a testament to the connections I have made here!

      1. You are so right! It’s like you have been here the entire time 🙂

  16. k2running says:

    sorry, im a little behind in reading and following up blog posts…. I love this post!! Drinking dreams are my reminders of how far I have come! How great my life is today and how much I have to be grateful for….how I would never of started a blog of my own and met awesome bloggers like you! This all occurred because of faith, faith that once I gave up the drink, life would be better….and for sure it has. Fear is just a choice.. FEAR..forget everything and run or face everything and rise……:)

  17. Georgina19 says:

    Hi Paul
    I think that the drinking dreams are a form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Alcohol is a terrorist. We have all endured and lived through a severe terrorist experience. The irony is that with alcoholism there are so many black outs and lost memories but that fear remains an abnormal memory which is in effect a memory that is so stressful, life threatening and terrifying it is not absorbed in normal memory (like what you ate for dinner every night last year. This is part of PTSD. Psychotherapy can be effective, at least at reducing and assimilating it. Thank you for sharing. Georgina

  18. saleejafatima says:

    nice blog post

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