Relapse Dreams While in Eating Disorder Recovery

Relapse dreams are common during addiction recovery and even years later. Many conversations circle around what they mean. Today we try to answer that question.

There was an eating disorder therapist who would try to analyze our client’s dreams. One time in an all staff meeting this therapist analyzed one of the staff’s dreams. The staff member emphasized how bizarre it was to see a distant cousin in her dream, someone she hadn’t seen in years. The eating disorder therapist explained that sometimes when we see someone from our past it isn’t literally the person we are seeing, but what the person represents (i.e. youth, vulnerability, betrayal, etc..)

Some dream analyst believe that dreams come in the service of health and wholeness helping the person experiencing the dream to reconcile their life. Even the worst recurring nightmares come to help the dreamer move forward more consciously in the direction of their health and wholeness. If a dream is remembered at all, it is a very good indication that there is a crucially important role for the dreamer’s waking mind to play in the unfolding of all the issues and possibilities the dream presents, whether or not these
multiple layers of meaning and implication are clear to the dreamer or not.

This same principle applies to the dreams of people with addictions, both in and out of recovery. Dreams always have important levels of symbolic meaning and implication even when they appear to “merely” repeat actual experiences of waking life. For instance, take the common dream of relapsing and being back fully in the grips addiction, years into solid recovery. We often hear people in recovery say, “I’m so glad I’m not there anymore.”

Some believe that recovery from an addiction is a spiritual battle and the occurrence of relapse dreams come when recovery is solid and the addiction wants back in. Usually, to the dreamer it indicates that the recovery is so integrated into waking life that they are in danger of forgetting just how bad the addiction actually was. This is why we encourage 12 Step meetings for our clients, so that they are constantly reminded of why they are working so hard to stay out of their disease.

Relapse dreams are a great way to remind an eating disorder addict that the vulnerability to relapse is still with them, even years and decades later, but the primary service to health and wholeness that this type of nightmare provides is to keep the conscious emotional and intellectual awareness vividly alive. There is an unbroken subconscious memory of how bad addiction was and how good recovery is. We encourage our clients to remember that they once were addicts and need to keep aware of just how much effort it took to overcome their disease. It is a crucially important passage of life that one cannot afford to forget.