Bringing the power of dreams to 12 step recovery work.
I began working with my dreams about 4 years into my recovery. In the years since, I have seen a powerful parallel between the intention of the dreams and the 12 steps of recovery as laid out by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob. It isn't surprising that the great pioneer of the dreams, Dr. Carl Jung, was also a pioneer to Alcoholics Anonymous all those years ago.
In January of 1961, Bill Wilson wrote a letter of "great appreciation...long overdue", letting Dr. Jung know of the great influence he'd had over Rowland H. in the early 1930's. Under Jung's care, the seminal moment came when Mr. H, after having been told by Jung that he was a hopeless case, asked "Are there no exceptions?" To which Jung outlined the possibility of spiritual awakening as the only hope for him. Thus the journey towards spiritual awakening became the foundation upon which the 12 steps of AA were built (see link to letters at the bottom of this article).
Dreamwork is psychospiritual work. As such, dreams support many of the steps to recovery. Dreams will bring us repeatedly to the felt experience of acceptance of our powerlessness, showing us the subtler nuances of how our lives are unmanageable. Our Higher Power will come over and over in the guise of various Archetypes to provoke us, to teach us, and to guide us towards wholeness. We look to our dreams to more fully reveal our habitual patterns, the character defects which block us from our Higher Power, so that we may learn and understand that they are not our only choice. The dreams will support our 11th step work by providing us with the felt experience of our deep connection to Higher Power. They open us to our own gnosis, the Promises, and a wisdom that is unique to each of us for carrying the message of our recovery and the hope for others.
By working with the dreams in a dyadic way, exploring the tension between our character defects and the Promises, which are particular to each of us, we further open our channel to spirit. Do you have particularly irksome character defects that you just seem unwilling or unable to let go of? Sometimes what we think is the defect is not actually the thing. The manifestation of our problem sits on top of a larger issue, one that is perhaps in a blind spot. The dreams are like a lantern shining God's light into our darkest corners.
Sometimes it is unresolved trauma from our family of origin. It is often felt as a lack of faith or an inability to turn it over. Archetypes of all kinds come in the dreams to support us in our journey to wholeness. We cannot fully turn it over if we are reacting to old trauma that we carry in our bodies and hearts and minds. The dreams will take us down and through and will not give us more than we can handle. If it comes in the dream, it is something we are meant to look at.
The 12 steps provide us with a guide to daily living...the dreams can offer us the Divine wisdom and guidance to support our desire to achieve spiritual awakening and carry the message of hope to others.
I bring my own personal experience in recovery through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to my work with dreamers in recovery. We share a common language and understanding which supports our work together. Dreamwork isn't meant to replace your recovery program. It is meant to augment it with the rich tapestry that is uniquely you... Please contact me if you'd like to find out more, or if you or your group would like to host a free presentation.
Excerpted and adapted from my blog In Search of Puella:
"He whose desire turns away from outer things, reaches the place of the soul. If he does not find the soul, the horror of emptiness will overcome him, and fear will drive him with a whip lashing time and again in a desperate endeavor and a blind desire for the hollow things of the world." Carl Jung, p 129 The Red Book, A Reader's Edition
Who on the journey has not felt this? In the moment where we finally agree that our pursuit has been for naught..that we are powerless, we encounter the place in us that does not know who we really are. And we are terrified. I experienced this myself at a certain point in my life. It came in the form of hitting rock bottom. I was bereft, lost, and truly terrified. I feared dying the hopeless death of the lost soul I had become, enslaved to a cycle of alcoholism and in an increasingly desperate nihilism. My pain and hopelessness became the great motivator that I had sought in books and churches and people. I could finally admit that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageble by me.
It doesn't matter how we come to desire our soul, only that we do. When we come to terms with our own powerlessness, our own inability to manifest through the force of our will the faith that we so desperately want, we may become willing to turn from our false desires and turn inward towards our soul. This is terrifying, because we cannot know it until we find it inside ourselves, in this body, in this life. When we objectify it, we make it something outside ourselves to be sought after. But when we truly open our self to the mystery, our full potential in our recovery is possible.
In a recent dream, I am a wanderer, walking, trudging along through an ancient valley. I am carrying a blanket and have food in the pockets of my heavy coat. In the distance I can see a shimmering city, like some crystal palace, perhaps my own personal mythos of the land of OZ, my own Narnia. There are many mountains and boulders and high cliffs leading up to that distant shimmering land of Narnia. Behind me, where I have trudged, there are the remnants of an old, contemporary civilization. It is as if the future has come and gone and I am still walking to yet another distant future. A young girl comes up beside me. I say to her, “Nobody told me that I would have to walk like this.” She responds matter-of-factly, “nobody knew, nobody knew”.
This girl is my soul, my own personal Salome – the girl who came to Jung on his journey through the dreams. This girl is not trudging, she is on a journey. Her parents, the Archetypal Mother & Father are behind us. She is curious, open. Nobody knew, except she knows that nobody knew and I do not. I live in fear of the unknown. I am in the impoverishment of believing that I am going somewhere, that I am surviving something. Don't we all believe that it is about our survival? My mind wants to get the lay of the land to understand the journey as if it could be something outside of myself, something that I could conquer or something that I must survive. But my soul knows the truth, which is that we must walk in the not-knowing. Perhaps the true Gnosis is in the not-knowing.
Carl cried out to his soul, “I am weary, my soul, my wandering has lasted too long, my search for myself outside myself. Now I have gone through events and find you behind all of them.” (p 131)
What is so exciting about the dreams, is that they come from my own psyche and they carry the energy of the divine as represented in my own personal mythos which is like a story, unfolding. It is a story that is at once a tragedy and also a comedy, but it is never boring. And the truth is, it is not about my survival, but about the death of everything I think I know. When we work the 12 steps in recovery we find that what we thought we knew about ourselves may not actually be true. Through working the steps we begin to see Spirit's hand in all that has transpired and we begin to feel the workings of Higher Power in our lives.
Jung queried his soul, “Who are you, child? My dreams have represented you as a child and as a maiden. I am ignorant of your mysteries.” (p 131). and says of her, “You took away where I thought to take hold, and you gave me where I did not expect anything and time and again you brought about fate from new and unexpected quarters. Where I sowed, you robbed me of the harvest, and where I did not sow, you give me fruit a hundredfold. And time and again I lost the path and found it again where I would never have foreseen it. You upheld my belief, when I was alone and near despair. At every decisive moment you let me believe in myself.” (p 132)
This incredible passage speaks truly to the Promises and to the journey towards faith. Nobody knows your journey. Only you can experience the truth of what Carl is saying for yourself when you embark on your own journey. The girl tells me, “Nobody knew, nobody knew”. This is the truth she brings in this moment. It is my prayer, a place to enter into the solitude of my personal contemplation of my own powerlessness and my own acceptance. And, as I journey forward, a place to feel into the possibility of walking in the not-knowing, trudging the Road of Happy Destiny.
Phoenix Rising, Form of Girl
by Laura Smith
Links to my blog series, Archetypal Dreamwork and the 12 Step: The Recovery Chronicles
Go to next page to read Bill W.'s letter to Dr. Jung and Jung's response.