Requiem For a Dream

I try to maintain a compassionate awareness of my own vulnerabilities, and only expose myself to the pain of my past if there’s a purpose. Dreams don’t give me that option – they arrive unsolicited and unregulated, then hang around haunting me until I put them to use or find a way to release them.

Last week I dreamed that the WHPS program (accountability company that monitors healthcare professionals for impairment) had a new way of checking us for drug use. They would scrape the skin off the pads of our fingers, digging a few layers deep and send the sample to the lab.

Three of my fingers on either side were scraped, then the palm for good measure. They didn’t bleed (because dreams are weird) but it was painful and violating and frightening. My dream self knew if they went deep enough they’d find drugs. My lab work came back like this:

Swedeen, Tiffany

opiates: large (?) amounts detected

I’m not sure what the question mark meant, but I was hoping there was some mistake in the process and that I’d get a free pass. Then I desperately tried to come up with some kind of excuse for why my test was positive, but woke up before any conclusion.


Skin scraping is extreme, but not that far off from reality. WHPS reserves the right to check our blood, hair follicles, saliva and fingernails if urine is inconsistent. Twice in almost 2 years of membership I’ve had a urine discrepancy – one “abnormal” reading and one “dilute”. The abnormal? No idea. My pee was off that day I guess, not feeling up to it’s normal self.

The dilute? Now that just pissed me off. (Pun intended). I had gone to the lab in the morning before work, but my first sample was about 5ml short on volume. Here’s what happens when you can’t pee enough: You’re allowed to drink 40oz of water max, and you get as many tries as possible in a 3 hr window. You cannot leave the building. So I sat in the waiting room sipping water from dixie cups (they count each one you drink) and in 45 min felt the urge to pee. Also felt the urge to get the F out of there and get to work! Back to the bathroom I went. My belongings were locked up, pockets searched, and I again squatted in place over a cup.img_8822

Guess what? 5ml short. I couldn’t believe it. Time was ticking.

I waited until the last minute, and after drinking every last ounce of water possible, my bladder finally cooperated. I could have filled at least two specimen cups, but the pee was crystal clear. I knew what that meant. A dilute sample buys me another UA. Wait a minute… a dilute sample means get to buy another UA. Doesn’t matter that they watched me pee 3 times, rules are rules. The next morning: another test, another 65$.

At least they didn’t decide to scrape my skin.

Using and drinking dreams are common in recovery. They’re reported more frequently in the beginning, but can happen regardless of sobriety time or relapse occurrences. I notice them more often during stressful times, difficult anniversaries, and sobriety milestones. My guess is that they’ve been more frequent the last couple of weeks due to a few factors: my ‘Nurse Jackie’ conversation with a patient (see Feb 22 blog post), an acquaintance of mine relapsing, and a needle found in a visitor bathroom at work last month. (That’s not as crazy as it might seem – the demographic that my hospital serves is well known for IV heroin/meth, prostitution and homelessness. People come in off the street often for a warm place to hang out. Or it could have been a diabetic’s paraphernalia. Nonetheless it left me with a creepy feeling.) None of these scenarios relate directly to my own sobriety, but my psyche is fragile and I easily absorb environmental stress. My dreams nudge me to pay attention.


Dreams can be productive, but are also especially unsettling because they seem to have a life of their own. If I want a reminder of my past, I usually proceed carefully and with support (writing an inventory or journaling, with guidance of a mentor). I try to maintain a compassionate awareness of my own vulnerabilities, and only expose myself to the pain of my past if there’s a purpose. Dreams don’t give me that option – they arrive unsolicited and unregulated, then hang around haunting me until I put them to use or find a way to release them.

I’m not a dream reader, and I’ve never spoken to one – although I’d love to because I’m one of those lucky people that remember every one and experience lucid dreams and occasional night terrors. There a lot of dream theories, and I say subscribe to the one that works for you. I believe they have meaning if you choose to attach meaning to them.

I can choose to see my dream as a metaphor: “dig deep enough under the surface, and I’ll still find the effects of opiates inside my body”. I can work with that; sit with it mindfully and see what comes up. But I can also choose not to believe it means I’m destined for relapse, and not to carry the feelings of fear and shame around just because my brain – a complicated web of chemicals and electricity- created a story during deep REM cycle.


When I spend a night sleeping safely in my bed, but my mind goes on a journey of Vicodin hoarding, running up a $1000 bar tab, or doing lines of coke with Johnny Depp on top of Caesar’s Palace (hey it’s a DREAM remember?!??!)… I take notice, then gently let it go.

That is, after I get over the guilty panic, cold sweats and check my purse for receipts that might indicate I’d suddenly started sleepwalking.

It helps to talk to someone about it. I feel better after releasing the negative energy with someone who understands. The skin scraping dream has been hanging around in my periphery like a bad smell. I’ll just have forgotten it, then notice again and it’s instantly uncomfortable and repelling. I’ve found myself looking at my fingertips one too many times, or double-checking the WHPS website to see if it’s my turn to test. So…this is my way of releasing it – it was time to share the smell. And now I can rest in the truth that I’m sober, I’m supported, and most importantly my skin is totally intact.

Do you have drinking or using dreams? Are they a constructive way to help prevent relapse, or do they haunt you like a bad smell? Share here in the comments…we can laugh over it, and then let them go together.

Listen. Learn. Laugh. Let it go. –tiffany swedeen

(Brilliant phrase! Patent pending. Coming soon to a bumpersticker near you!)

Not true in the case of using dreams. Do NOT chase them. I repeat DO NOT CHASE drug dreams.

Until next time, trying to keep my fingertips intact….

Cheers and Gratitude,


5 thoughts on “Requiem For a Dream

  1. I’ve had a few of those in the last 4.5 years in recovery. I’m lucky tho in that I usually don’t remember my dreams unless I actively directed them. I learned how at a very young age (around 12) but no one asked WHY I was having the dreams I was having. Had they I might have been able to avoid the next 38 years of SUD. Or not.

    I love your blog topics and willingness to be so vulnerable. I admire your writing ability and dedication to actually writing. I wish I could, but I seem incapable of the dedication and commitment. I’m so grateful to our mutual friend V.S. for sharing you with me!

    Have a great day.



    1. I’m so grateful for your reading and commenting! I just realized who VS is 😉 I hope that if sharing/writing is something that is on your heart that you’ll someday take the time. I bet you’re not incapable, but maybe not ready, or your energy is needed elsewhere right now. Sending you light and love!!! Tiffany


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