I Dream Different Than You and It’s Not Fun

I’ve made a few references to my sleep/dreams in the last few months and I’ve got more feedback on that than anything other than porn addiction. So, since we’re all holed up in our homes, probably take more naps and sleeping in, I figure I’d talk about it more in-depth.

I am a very lucid dreamer. For most people, lucid dreaming means that you can pause in the middle of a dream and recognize that you’re dreaming. Usually, that derails the dream, which can be frustrating if it’s enjoyable.

My lucid dreaming is different. I can largely control my actions and the action of what’s happening in the dream. I do not create the premise of the dream, nor do I pick the characters. I know this is not technically true, because it all comes from my subconscious, so really, it is coming from inside of me. However, once the subconscious sets the characters and plot, my conscious usually takes over about 75% of the dream.

There are some upsides, lots of downsides and a handful of just weird-sides to being able to be an active participant in dreams:

Upsides:

I don’t have nightmares – If anything starts going awry, I simply remind myself none of it is real and that I should enjoy the ride. For instance, the other night, I had a dream where I was driving my car through my parents’ neighborhood at night. There were fires burning everywhere and tigers were running around. (Thanks, Joe Exotic.) As I was driving, the thought occurred to me, “This could never happen, but visually, it’s amazing, like a velvet painting from the 1970s…I wonder what else I’ll see.” It was like a safari through hell, but you can’t tell that’s not a fascinating premise once you realize it’s not actually happening and you’re safe.

I can continue dreams – Have you had that moment when you’re enjoying the dream, but you wake up and wish you could go back to it? I can. I can be awake for probably 2-3 minutes, including getting out of bed to go to the bathroom, as long as I don’t fully wake up, and return to the dream and it ends up being 85% the same.

I’ve purged grudges – I don’t have a lot of strong emotions in dreams, but when I do, they aren’t often positive, but they are cathartic. Do you know how you often wish you would have had a snappy comeback, or told somebody off, or quit a job, or whatever in the moment, but you just didn’t have the words? There are a lot of people in my life I’ve had anger for who I have reconnected with during a dream and I’ve let them have it. This might seem negative, but when I wake up, it’s like the part of my mind that was holding on to that has let it go.

Downsides:

I rarely sleep deeply – I know when I sleep deep because I’m not able to control the dreams or I have no dreams at all. The norm, however, is that every little sound, jostling in bed by my wife, or unrelated thought that dances into my head can cause me to be woken. When I’m in a manic cycle of my bipolar, it’s even worse.

I often can’t tell when I’m awake – You know how you sometimes have trouble falling asleep, but eventually you do and then when you look at the clock and it’s hours later, you just assume you slept? Like the rest of you, I can’t tell when I fall asleep, but it often takes me a long time to recognize I’m awake, unless someone else is waking me up. Since I’m able to always have a running dialogue with myself in my head, there’s a fine line between dreaming/sleeping and talking to myself/being awake. My wife has said that I can speak in full sentences, usually making sense, yet it’s clear I’m still mostly asleep.

I sometimes can’t tell what memories are real – Since my dreams are so realistic and I have so much control, I have memories of them, and I often can’t remember if something actually happened to me or if it was a dream. I think this is partly due to the fact that for so much of my life, I’ve had a detachment issue in that I’m not fully mentally present when a lot of things are happening during my waking hours. This leaves me with very hazy memories. So, if I have a flash in my head of something like ducks sitting on a picnic table, I don’t know if I’ve actually witnessed it in real life or it’s something that is in my head from a dream. I’ve travelled a lot in my life, and many of my dreams are about travel. There are things like restaurants, people I’ve met and other experiences that I remember…but am not sure ever happened.

I fall asleep, and dream, for a couple seconds at a time – It’s never behind the wheel of a car or anything like that, and I’m not sure it’s full sleep and maybe it’s not sleep at all, but for just a couple of seconds, I’ll nod off and the dreams start. It makes me wonder if there is a line from totally detached daydream and actual sleep. Usually, these quick-hit dreams have something to do with what’s going on around me. Most of the time it’s just me being up late sitting in a chair watching TV, but it’s happened in waiting rooms and other places I’ve been tired and able to daydream. Having a two-second dream about the environment you think you’re awake in can be very jarring because you’re not sure what’s reality and what isn’t. This is happening more and more lately, and coupled with the other downsides, I’m starting to think I need to see a sleep specialist because an increasing lack of being able to tell what’s real and what’s not sounds fucking crazy and in the moment, when it happens and I’m not in bed, it’s a little scary.

Weird-sides:

Learning the rules – I have never done any research about dreams, despite having taken part in two studies and I firmly believe that dream interpretation is about as precise as astrology. People believe in all kinds of things they can’t see, so whatever, I guess. Anyway, I recognize that everything comes from inside your mind in dreams, so here are just a few rules I’ve noticed that govern the world of my dreams that may not be the same for everyone:

  1. You can’t control light. Try turning a light on or off in a dream. It’s impossible. Screw a lightbulb in a socket. It will never go on.
  2. Those aren’t words. While I can read a sign, or a headline, if I’m able to quickly look at words off to the side in a dream, I notice they’re not really words. It’s like scrambled characters or blurred letters. I’m guessing the brain can’t provide that level of detail.
  3. You must keep moving. I can’t just sit still in a dream. I’m either always going from one place to another or if I’m sitting still, I’m involved in some other activity with my hands. Any time I’ve tried to just stand still the dream comes to a halt and dissolves into nothingness.

Sleeping in a dream – This is really messed up because it will throw me off completely. There are times when I’m in a dream and I “wake up.” I don’t often recognize that I’m still in a dream, which for someone who almost always does, really is disconcerting. It isn’t until I wake up for real that I usually recognize I’ve had the dream-within-a-dream situation.

Alcoholic dreams – While they are fewer and farther in between than when I first stopped drinking six years ago, I still have dreams about drinking. I can’t tell that I’m dreaming – ever – in these dreams. They are all the same. I see a pint of beer, I say no, then all of a sudden, I’m thrust forward in time and I see several empty pints. And I always wonder how I messed up and drank them without registering I don’t drink anymore. They’re ludicrous and I have no idea why I can’t control them at all. And the most frustrating thing is I don’t actually get to drink in them.

Closing credits – I can’t control this part of things, but I’ve only ever heard of one other person having this happen. You know how they say dreams don’t end? Mine sometimes do. And I know this because there are closing credits. Like I mentioned above, I can’t read them all, and it’s just small white words moving up on a black background, but that means the end of the dream.

…………………………………………………………………….

I don’t know if all of this connects together. I don’t know if it connects to my bipolar disorder, detachment issues or battles with addiction. I don’t know if lucid dreaming has anything to do with nodding off and immediately dreaming. Ultimately, I consider my relationship with sleep to be more of a curse than a blessing because sometimes, sleeping is more exhausting than being awake for me.

I don’t remember what show it was on, but recently I saw a story about a guy who took part in a college study in the 50s or 60s and he was able to stay awake for 11 consecutive days, which for most people is physically impossible. When they examined this guy’s brain after this amazing feat of longevity, they found he was able to shut down pieces of his brain and give them the rest they needed while others stayed awake. By rotating the different parts of his brain that were resting, he never needed to fully fall asleep. That’s stuck with me as I wonder if I do that but haven’t yet learned how to control it.

As I reread this in editing, I recognize just how insane how most of this sounds. Kind of makes me want to skip my afternoon nap.

 

Sobriety Remains Intact, But Still The Dreams Come

Aside from people telling me what they see in the clouds beyond shapeless blobs, I find listening to them prattle on about their dreams to not only be annoying, but borderline painful. So you if you don’t want to read this, I get it, but I think it speaks to how addiction is always going to own a piece of my brain.

I was told by many addicts at my first rehab who were hooked on heroin that almost every night, they had dreams of using. Some of their dreams would stop before the needle went in, while others got the drugs in their system and then felt horrible guilt.

I’ve never had a pornography dream since I’ve entered recovery, and it took nearly a year for me to have a drinking dream, but recently, they’ve taken a weird turn.

For 3-4 years my drinking dreams have all followed along the same path. I’m usually at a bar or restaurant and there’s a pint of beer in front of me. Then, through the magic of the subconscious, the dream jumps forward in time and there’s an empty glass in front of me and I know I’ve drank it. I usually get somewhat upset at myself, but then I have the ability to tell myself it’s just a dream. I’ve had that ability since I’ve been a kid. I think it’s why I can’t recall ever having a nightmare. So, I wake up and I’m relieved I didn’t actually drink. The dreams probably only happen once a month at most.

In the last couple of weeks though, I’ve had two dreams and they’ve taken an interesting turn. Instead of that jump in time, I’m actually drinking the alcohol in the dream, except it’s always hard stuff, like a shot, not a beer. I think this may be because it only takes a second to down a shot where a beer takes longer.

The reason for drinking is always the same – there is none. I just have a momentary lapse, like I forgot I’m not supposed to drink. It’s totally an ignorance, not a craving, thing.

In the new dreams, I have a much stronger reaction after recognizing I’ve just tasted alcohol, too. I don’t have the ability to wake myself up because I’m convinced it’s real. I get very, very upset with myself and tell people around me about the old drinking dreams, but now it’s become a reality and how I’m a stupid idiot for letting it happen. The dream dissolves into whatever at that point, but I can’t wake myself up from it.

I’ve tried to figure out why the dreams have just changed. The only thing I can think of is that while I was on probation, drinking was illegal. Now I’m off, there is no actual punishment if I drink. But, I’ve been off probation like three months at this point. No idea why they just started and why I can’t get them to stop mid-dream. It’s got to mean something to my subconscious.

Anybody else with addiction issues ever have dreams like this?

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – January Edition

I haven’t written a trivial thoughts entry yet for January and since we’re both at the end and I have no thoughts worthy of a long-form entry, it’s the perfect intersection of deadline and laziness.

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I had a fascinating conversation with a friend the other day. I have been engaging in a little more anti-porn talk on the podcasts I appear on and presentations I make lately. I’ve tried not to come off as anti-porn because I believe the people who need the most help are pro-porn. Being anti-porn is passing judgment and addicts generally don’t respond well to being judged. That said, I also fully subscribe to the idea that all porn is objectification. There is no other reason to look at pornography than to objectify the person in the images being looked at or watched. Pornhub doesn’t exist to play “Guess this person’s IQ!”

I mentioned that porn is never a good thing because of the objectification, my friend asked the question if all objectification is wrong. I said that I thought it was, even when it’s a simple as seeing a pretty girl on the street. I’m not saying it can be helped necessarily, but I did say it was wrong. He brought up the idea of people making themselves look good, especially for a blind date. Aren’t those people specifically trying to appeal to the other person on nothing more than a visual level? He also brought up the fact that most people don’t want to be in a relationship with somebody unless they find their partner physically attractive. He said that’s just part of how evolution works.

I thought it was a fascinating point to make and one that I’m still wrestling with. I’d be curious to hear your opinions if there is such a thing as acceptable, or perhaps even necessary, self-objectification.

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I was going through the list of bloggers that I follow and saw the number had exceeded 100. It doesn’t feel that way when I look through the Reader section of WordPress, so I checked into the blogs I follow and it was amazing how many people haven’t kept up with their blogs. I went through and deleted every blog that hadn’t updated in at least four months. By the time I was done, I only had 56 blogs left. Some of them were amazing and I wonder what happened to those people. Others, often about addiction, just abruptly stopped and I worry what happened to those people.

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When I first went to rehab for alcoholism in 2014, I was told by a recovered heroin user that people who are heavy addicts will often dream for years about their addiction, and using. I have to admit, that’s never happened with me and pornography. I have never had a dream about it. I did however, go through a long stretch of having dreams about alcohol and over the last few weeks, they have returned.

Almost all of the dreams are the same. I am usually at a bar or a party and somebody offers me a pint of beer. I say no. Then, the dream jumps forward and I’m sitting with a couple of empty pint glasses in front of me and I immediately recoil in disgust. I can’t understand how I could have drank those beers since I haven’t had alcohol going back to April 1, 2014. I am thoroughly disturbed in the dream at the idea that I “just forgot” I had years of sobriety.

There was a wrinkle in the latest dream. I was faced with drinking and I said to myself, “Well, since I already slipped up, I guess I could” and for the first time in years, I recall drinking beer in one of my dreams. I think it’s fascinating that in my dream world, I relapsed in one dream and used it as an excuse to continue drinking in another dream. This is just another reminder that for all the energy I put toward pornography addiction awareness, I personally have to keep just as strong a watch over the alcohol.

Waking Up From Dreams Makes Me Sad

When I go on podcasts or radio shows to discuss my pornography addiction and people ask what’s the worst thing that has come out of my last five years, first from my heinous mistakes, then my legal ordeal, and the fallout since, I usually talk about how I’ve created victims and can’t change that fact.

I still think that is the worst part, and I hate to be at all self-centered or self-pitying, but I personally underwent massive seismic changes in my life and none has been more unexpected than losing 99% of the people I used to call acquaintances and friends. I have to say this is second place in what has become the worst part of things.

Most of the time I handle this OK. I’m actually a very solitary person. I’d rather work from home doing my own thing than a cubicle farm in some office. The only thing I liked about working at those places in the past was the interaction with co-workers a couple times a day. I’m a loner who doesn’t like to be alone.

I feel that longing for human interaction most of all when I’m dreaming as I sleep. Or, I should say I feel it most when I first wake up. The subconscious is a weird thing. One moment you’re in high school, the next you’re on a road trip and the next you’re in the hospital. The mix of people is just as random, but for whatever reason, our brain makes sense of the crazy narrative thread, even if your fifth grade teacher is interacting with your first boss.

When I wake up, I’m so, so sad. Nobody asks me about my crime in the dreams. In real life, people ask how I’m doing out of duty because they ran into me at Home Depot or just flat-out give me the cold shoulder. That doesn’t happen in dreams. When I wake up, I recognize I haven’t talked to any of those people since the day I was arrested. I haven’t talked to some of the people in a much longer time, but most are people who were part of my life at that point everything changed.

The only ones who are more recent are the people I met at one of two rehabs I attended. It’s hard to explain just how close you get so quickly to that group of people. I’ve been told it’s like being in a foxhole by people who have done both. The problem is, once you’re out of that incredibly intense bonding experience, you see all the differences. While I’ve tried both times, I haven’t been able to maintain casual friendships with people outside of rehab.

I’m not going to get into specific storylines in dreams, because let’s face it, nobody likes to hear other people explain their dreams. As these dreams are unfolding, they are in a world where I haven’t committed a crime by encouraging a teenager to perform sex acts in a computer chat room. Nobody ever asks about that in the dreams. Nobody seems to know it ever happened.

It’s almost magical being able to escape that, because it’s very different in real life. When something like my entire ordeal happens, you understand certain things will change. But then there are little things, like when I was in jail and would see restaurant commercials on TV. You enter jail worrying about getting beat up and what the shower situation is, but you never think about seeing things you can’t have on TV.

I think this dream world is like that. In my blissful slumber, I’m devoid of the self-inflicted shunning. In the next, I’m awake, and mourn a world that I will never be able to go back to in my waking hours.

I’m not asking for pity or ideas to recirculate back into society as I know that ship has sailed. Instead, I just urge anyone who is doing anything illegal, pornographic or not, to try and think about all the little things you’ll miss if you’re caught.

I saw a guy leave my pod in jail to head to state prison where he was to serve 20 years. My sentence was nothing compared to his and his crimes deserve that long. But he was also a human I got to know.  A human who won’t see his friends at the bar he talked about often, a human who won’t have a steak dinner until 2036 and a human who will wear only khaki or blue for the next two decades. Those may seem like little things, but when you’re living them, they’re not.

I’m 4.5 years away from that fateful day I was arrested and regardless of any jail, probation, offender’s registry or anything else the legal system throws my way, I’ll be paying for this crime in ways I never imagined for the rest of my life…except when I take a nap.

In Overcoming Addiction, Long-Held Dreams Can Still Come True

It’s fascinating how things work out. Andy Dufresne just wanted to work on a boat project and the younger version of Joshua Shea just wanted to walk into a library and see one of his books on a shelf. Life got in Andy’s way. He was falsely accused of killing his wife, ran a sweet embezzling scheme while behind bars and escaped prison. Of course, he was also a fictional character in The Shawshank Redemption. I, on the other hand, am as real as my mind allows me to be.

Life got in my way, too. When I was 17-year-old high school senior, I saw an ad in my local newspaper’s sports section advertising the position of “sports clerk”. The clerk’s job was to take calls from coaches whose games we didn’t cover either because they were too far away or because we didn’t have the staff and it was deemed unessential for real coverage.

One day, about six weeks after starting, the first round of fall playoff games were rained out. Since the department was down two people, the “real” adult writers were overworked and instead of giving them overtime, they gave them the day off. The editor thought we’d just fill the section with national stories.

A few hours into our shift he came to me and said, “Hey, this is the first year in like a decade the Lewiston High School field hockey team made it to the playoffs. Why don’t you call the coach and have her give you a sense why she thinks they may go far in the playoffs?”

Since I went to Lewiston, I said to my editor, “I’m friends with the two captains, I can call them both, too.” He was impressed I went the extra mile. The next morning, my first bylined story was in the paper.

I almost never had to take another sports clerk call after that day. I was given a staff writer position and was still a high school student. A couple months later, I had proven myself enough that when a job opened in the regular news department, I took it. I fell in love with journalism and never looked back.

Fast-forward 15 years and I’m a magazine publisher, I’d started a film festival and was a local politician. None of this was young Josh’s bucket list stuff. It paid the bills and helped fuel my narcissist side while I hid my addictions, but this stuff was never part of the “dream” plan, they were just good gigs.

As you probably know if you’ve read this site in the past, my world ultimately imploded with my very public arrest for an inappropriate chat room session with a teenage girl. I lost everything I’d worked for professionally. After an intense recovery, I went to serve 6 months in jail. While there, I finally wrote a half-decent book about my addiction. That process revealed to me that I want to help people who are dealing with this issue and help educate those who know nothing and live in a world of stereotypes and assumptions.

When I got out of jail, I continued with recovery and spent the next year editing and polishing the manuscript down to a workable document. I finally found a publisher who would print it.

What’s interesting now, several months after it was officially released is that it’s popping up on the radar of libraries. They automatically get most best sellers or books from the “Big 5” publishers, but little books like mine often go unnoticed.

Thankfully, mine is starting to gain a little bit of traction in the library community. There really isn’t a book written from a male perspective using real names and real events that illustrates a descent into addiction like mine out there. Like the book or hate it, it still can be a resource unlike anything out there and I think that’s why it’s gaining traction.

Not too long ago, I walked into a library that I knew had the book. I went to the New Arrivals section and saw it sitting there, on a shelf with books by authors I recognized and books on subjects I’d want to read about.

Twelve-year-old Josh wouldn’t have believed the subject matter, nor would he have believed that he would write over 2,000 newspaper or magazine articles before his first book would come out, but he would have been psyched to see a book he wrote sitting on a library shelf.

It was a bumpy road on a route to hell and back I’d never advise anybody to take, but there it was…a dream come true.

Morgan Freeman has one of his best voiceover lines of all time at the end of The Shawshank Redemption: “Andy Dufresne crawled out through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Kennebunk

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