"If you have built castles in the air, you work need not be lost, that is where they should be. Now put the foundation under them." – Henry David Thoreau, American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, best-known as the author of Walden (1817-1862)
Some of us in recovery have lost the desire to dream. It is a sad thing, but true for some individuals. It isn’t that we’re not capable of dreaming but that we’ve engaged in a kind of self-punishment where we don’t allow ourselves permission to dream.
This doesn’t mean that we go to sleep and it’s all dark and bereft of any dreaming. That’s simply not true. But it could be that we tell ourselves when we awaken that we had no dreams. We may not know how to recall our dreams, the ones we have during our nighttime rest. But this is something that we can teach ourselves how to do. There are books on the subject and the topic is discussed at length on the Internet.
The dreams we’re speaking of here, however, are the ones we have to guide our efforts during our waking hours. The dreams we have for our future, of what we want to accomplish and where we want to be at a given point in time are the ones that most of us associate with a healthy and successful recovery.
If the word "dreams" has a negative connotation for us, just substitute the word "goals." They are very closely aligned. So, for the purposes of discussion, consider the two more or less interchangeable.
Sometimes, however, when we look toward the future and what we want to have happen then, it isn’t so much a goal as a dream. That may be because we haven’t yet fully fleshed out the dream, given it shape and put together an action plan that we hope to follow in order to realize the dream. Once we have all that together, it takes shape as a goal. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There may be few or many interims steps along the way, stages that we have to master or complete before we can go on.
How this differs from a dream is that a dream is more amorphous. It doesn’t have clearly defined edges. We may not even be able to discern where the dream ands and reality begins.
And isn’t that what makes dreams so ideal? In our dreams – remember, we’re talking about the daytime dreams here – we can do anything, be anything, and accomplish it all. There are no limits to our accomplishments. Frankly, it’s nice to dwell on the pleasant thoughts we entertain about our future in this or that scenario.
When we’re at our wit’s end, when we haven’t got much on the plus side of the ledger in the way of accomplishments, sometimes it is our dreams that help get us through the tough times. Dreams also nourish our creativity and fuel our resolve to keep on pushing when we encounter obstacles and difficult challenges along the way toward the realization of our dreams.
But, let’s get back to dreams and what to do with them. If we truly want to realize a dream, we have to do more than sit back and be entertained by it. If that is all we do, then they’re just castles in the air, good for entertainment value and to pass the time on an otherwise stressful or dull day, but not much else. No, in order for dreams to become reality, we have to put something solid underneath them, to give them a foundation upon which to build.
We know a lot about structure in recovery. We know we need the structure of basic and sound principles of recovery if we are to enjoy a long and effective recovery. We also know that we didn’t just come by these principles or suddenly have this foundation ready-made for us. It took effort, hard work, determination and perseverance to get the foundation laid and then to shore it up and begin to build.
It’s the same way with transforming our dreams from castles in the air to goals that have a solid basis to them.
First, analyze our dreams to see whether they are at all realistic and reasonable for us to achieve. Think about what the dream looks like in reality and see if we can envision ourselves actually having achieved that reality. How do we feel about being at that place in time? Are we apprehensive or excited, nervous or confident, satisfied or not? Maybe we don’t know enough about the various facets of the dream yet to be able to tell. That should be a clear indication that we need more information before we can proceed with this dream and try to make it into a reality.
If we can see ourselves achieving the dream, and it is one that we really do want to pursue and make a reality, the next step is to put together a plan in order to achieve it. This may involve short- and long-term action plans. The more difficult and out-of-reach the dream is, the more planning it will likely require.
Try discussing our heartfelt dreams with our spouse or loved ones to gauge their thoughts on the matter. Of course, if the dream is something that we’re so convinced is right for us, take any constructive criticism of our dream for what it is – not meant to hurt or dissuade us, but merely to give us pause for thought. We may be so enamored of our dream that we cannot see all the aspects of it, whereas someone else may have something valuable to add to the discussion.
Armed with reassurance and support and encouraged by the compilation of reasonable and solid plans of action, we can then proceed to work on making our dreams a reality. Keep in mind that patience is going to be required. Again, the more difficult and out-of-reach the dream, the more patient we’ll need to be in the process of trying to achieve it. As we work toward our dreams, making them real, celebrate any successes along the way. When we reach a certain step, take the time to acknowledge our hard work and be grateful for our steadfast commitment. We will need this to sustain us during the challenges ahead. But recognize, too, that dreams change over time. What we hold as a constant dream today may very well change in the future. Be flexible and willing to adapt to our new and changing reality.