Dealing with Intense and Disturbing Dream

Hello everyone,

I’m reaching out to this community today because I’ve been experiencing some very intense and disturbing dreams for the past couple of weeks. To give you some context: I’ve been using various drugs for the last seven years but have been completely clean for the past six months. This journey has been a significant challenge for me, and I am proud of the progress I’ve made.

However, about two weeks ago, I started having extremely vivid and unsettling dreams. In these dreams, I cause harm to others, sometimes even fatally. In a recurring dream, a person tells me they are Satan and that I summoned them. These dreams feel so real that when I wake up, I need time to realize they didn’t actually happen.

An additional aspect of these dreams is that when my body wakes up but my eyes are still closed, I find that I can control the dream. This level of lucidity adds another layer of intensity to the experience.

I’m wondering if anyone has had similar experiences and how you’ve dealt with them. Are there specific techniques or exercises that have helped you manage or reduce the intensity of these kinds of dreams? Any advice or support would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you in advance for your help and support.

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Hey! Thanks for reaching out in the forum, and congratulations on your 6 months drug free! That certainly is a huge accomplishment worth celebrating, I’m proud of you!

While my history is a bit different, I did have a period of about 2 years in my life where I experienced frequent and intense unsettling dreams, a few lucid nightmares too.
For a long time I I felt so lost and confused because I couldn’t figure out why I was having dreams like that.
With time and reflection it’s quite clear to me that my dreams were reflecting my mental state at the time.
I was under extreme stress (academic pressure) and experiencing depression. This was in my last two years of high school when everyone was asking me what I was doing with my life. A stressful time indeed. I survived but there was more than one crisis and breakdown.

Depending on your perspective on your dreams, this assessment may or may not resonate for you.
I’m not going to pretend that I know anything about the psychological and physical aspects of coming off drugs, but I would not be surprised if it had an influence on your dreams.
At the very least, I would consider the possibility that your feelings and some of the emotional complexities of your journey may be reflected in your dreams, though.

For me the solution was improving my mental state. No small task. But in time I found the relationship with my dreams actually helped guide me to Recovery (that’s a long story and I digress).When some of the stress in my life passed, my dreams gradually became less unsettling.
Do you have mental health support?
While my experience with therapists have been mixed, it helps some folks with the means to access it.

Of course all of that is long term work. So the question is what to do in the short term to cope?

First off, I want to reassure you that your actions or the role you play in your dreams doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t necessarily reflect how you would act in waking life. The feelings you experience during and after the dream might be worth examining, but be kind to yourself. You’re doing your best and your mind may be in a turbulent place. If dreams are reflections like light in a pond, distortions can happen when anything moves the water. If that makes sense?

Here are some things to consider in the short term:

  • Incubate positive dreams. Dream incubation is like planning or even scripting a dream or topic or theme to experience in your dreams. This topic could be a whole post on itself, but consider focusing on things you would rather experience in your dreams instead. If you’ve never explored much with your dreams, it might sound absurd but I think we have quite a bit more influence on our dreams in waking life than most people believe. You can use a MILD mantra, like “I can dream about a peaceful day at the beach.” Or " I feel so nice when I wake up from a relaxing dream."
    Write it down. Visualize it, channel the emotions you would like to feel in your dreams when you visit the mantra throughout the day.
    Edit: Here’s a post where I talk about both incubation and MILD in a similar context

  • Interpret your dreams to help identify what the issue is that’s causing these dreams. Identifying the issue is the first step to treating the issue. This is probably the strategy I would choose, and I talk about this in the post I linked above as well.

  • Give lucid dreaming a try. Lucidity is sometimes prescribed as a way to combat nightmares. It could empower you in the moment to change the distressing nature of your dream (this didn’t necessarily work for me but might for you).
    Even better it could allow you the opportunity to actively interpret and explore the issues manifesting in your dreams while you’re in them. The drawback of this method is that it’s gonna require you to focus on your dreams which may have a negative effect if your dreams are causing you distress. If you go this way there are numerous resources (and people!) on this site to help you.

  • Ignore your dreams. Complete 180 here. While ignoring the situation doesn’t fix it, discrediting your dreams may decrease your dream recall. I’m not sure this is the best treatment, but it’s something to consider. (Edit:) Since it sounds like your dreams are already making themselves known, this may not even work.

  • Explore strategies to calm yourself down when you wake up from a distressing dream. I only recently learned that breathing techniques like box breathing need to be done for several minutes to be effective.
    Maybe budget extra time in the morning to calm down and create a calming clean environment in your bedroom. Try calming music in the morning? Yoga? Whatever is calming for you.

  • Find a healthy way to vent your feelings and experiences. For me I draw, helps me process my feelings and get them out. Consider journaling your feelings. Find a good friend (or therapist, or dream form) to share your experiences with. Helped me validate my experience.

[It’s late where I am and I might find more to things to add or revise, but I’ll take a break here for now] Edit: Cleaned up my formatting and wording from a laptop and added the link as my original post was done late at night from a phone

These things hopefully can alleviate symptoms, but the lasting change comes from treating the source; I can tell you’ve worked hard to get where you’re at right now. I know it’s tough to wake up night after night with your heart racing and your hands shaking. It can wear on you and make every day more difficult. But I also know what it’s like to come out on the other side.
Hold strong, this storm will pass.

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Lots of good points in Splash‘s post. I just want to add one rather rational explanation for dreams in general to give you another point of view on what they might mean. It is assumed that dreams serve as a threat simulator for you to practice dangerous and unknown situations while you sleep to better prepare you for waking life. I also believe this to be true in many regards.

Your brain draws from different experiences in a more or less random fashion to create these scenarios and this may lead to absurd or abstract constellations. For example if you dream about Satan then this may be a simulation of you dabbling in taboos or illegal/immoral methods to achieve your goals. I just picked this to create the example though, I’m not suggesting this is what the dream really meant. I don’t even have remotely enough information about your dream or your life to do interpretation.

I only want to give you this (new?) way to look at your dreams, a different and more realistic (as opposed to esoteric or abstract psychoanalytical) view on how they come together. There’s more to it, a lot of which relates to the nature of dreams in general, which are various things Splash has already explained. If all other methods lead you to dead ends then you can try this one for dream interpretation, which I understand is at least partially what you’re seeking.

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