Dream Withdrawal by Chris Falite

I’m a fairly undramatic sleeper. I don’t snore unless I’m drunk. I barely move unless I’m horny. I don’t talk in my sleep and I hardly sweat. Women have joked that I look dead inside my own slumber. Testimonies which have all come in the years after I quit drugs, I should add.

I don’t suffer from insomnia, sleep paralysis, night terrors, or an REM behavioral disorder; I don’t have weird sex dreams about my mother, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never wet the bed in the Live Ball Era.

But at thirty-five, I don’t really dream anymore—or they tell me, I don’t remember my dreams.

There are the rare occasions, and much later in the day, when I might be presented with a sliver of a dream from the night before about an ex or a long-lost friend, something nostalgic or confounding and connected through the theory of randomness or an Oh yeah stoner moment. But that’s where they cease to mean anything substantial beyond their Paid Programming, usually between the hours of one and six in the morning.

Dreams do not play a significant role in my adult life, and for a writer, I’m aware this is kind of strange. I don’t have a dream journal; I don’t have a journal, period. I have never sat on my balcony with my coffee cup and cigarette and reflected on my dreams, contemplated their imagery and symbolism, the way a Renaissance man might come to a conclusion by not doing anything at all.

The truth is that my relationship with sleep and, therefore, dreaming is complicated because I’m a recovering drug addict. While I realize there are plenty of literary theorists, scholars, psychos, and psychiatrists, as well as most general dream enthusiasts, that might imagine the inside of my head to be an all-you-can-eat oyster buffet—I assure you, it is not. Rather, it is a dark, moist space and not up to code; a perfect host for an invasive mold species without any eviction notice in sight.


When I was a kid, I used to have this recurring dream about two unidentifiable people (one male, one female) hanging out in the corner of a tiny bedroom and laughing beneath a golden halo. I would watch from a skewed angle as their conversation played out through a tunnel of light, unsure if they knew I was there or not.

I saw this same scene again, identical in its geometric sentiment, during my first acid trip in the attic of a Jamaica Queens boarding house when I was twenty-one.

At the peak of my hallucinatory state, and feeling more and more like a centrifuge, I tried to contain the surge of energy by laying on my friend’s mattress and wrapping myself into a cocoon of bed sheets. As space and time coiled around me, a rapid succession of images followed.

I don’t know how long I was peaking, but when I came out of it, little beads of light outlined two bodies and my dreamworld clashed with my reality. One by one, each friend was filled-in with laughter and color, a joint being passed between them. I cocked my head and followed the trail of smoke spinning upward until it settled into the shape of a golden halo.

While its timing remains fuzzy, and I’m unsure how reliable I should be considered all these years later and the many years of drug abuse in between, I cannot, for the life of me, understand this moment that merged my past, present, and future as anything other than a premonition; what I did with this new information was totally up to me. Not to mention, the end of the world foreseen in a plume of nuclear war was enough to question my own long-term sanity.

It is strange to think, however—I never had that dream again. And the world is still standing (for now).

Yet, did I ponder the importance of this apocalyptic prophecy? No. What I remember is the bus back to Boston the following day when I began to write my first-ever short story.

Nothing to do with the end of humanity billowing behind an elementary school bus (though it would make for a great movie poster), but a story about friendship, or maybe it was a satire on the media—I can’t remember. This was post-2008, and many parts of America already looked as though a bomb had been dropped on Main Street, large swaths of our great nation abandoned in the wake of an unwinnable war. I suppose simpler things and simpler explanations were on my mind during the four-hour bus ride.

By the time we pulled into Boston’s South Station, my right hand was throbbing from this mysterious new power radiating from inside my own body. Its undeniable presence felt warm and generative as if I were on Team USA and we just received a blood transfusion somewhere around Stamford, Connecticut. Every thought was clear and lush and equally intrinsic; my subconscious finally fused with the waking mind as it connected an endless wave of incoming and outgoing themes, patterns, ideas, politics… a vision ahead.

Right then and there, I knew the atom had been split, and I was born again. Baptized in sweat and ink on the pages before me, my pages. Little did I know how destructive such a creation could lend itself to be.


Later in my twenties, when I went through opioid withdrawals during one of my many unsuccessful attempts to get clean, I would have the same dream over and over where I was stuck inside a pharmacy. Only the pharmacy was an entire CVS or Walgreens, every aisle replaced with columns of stackable plastic bins arranged A-Z and a tsunami of prescription envelopes practically cresting over each lid.

At the beginning of the dream, I’m dropped off in a random aisle, initially shocked by the blinding fluorescent lights and the sheer number of pills, endless and overwhelming but marvelous, nonetheless. Once I know I’m alone, once I know they’re all mine, I feel my body settle into a fever state.

Without guilt or shame, I rifle through each envelope, their thicker than parchment but lighter than construction paper material, crinkling between my fingers the way a Boomer’s skin cracks in the Florida sun. Metformin for Type 2 Diabetes. Simvastatin for the kind of heart conditions not associated with star-crossed lovers. Lisinopril for cases of high blood pressure and social security checks lost in the mail. Each prescription adorned with the image of someone in a recliner watching syndicated reruns of NCIS: New Orleans. Names like: Dee, Peter, Betsy, William, June, Ted, and Marcela.

I move one column to my right and unearth an entire generation of fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), amphetamine salts (Adderall), alprazolam and clonazepam (Xanax and Klonopin). The prescribed names reminded me of childhood friends and the teachers and administrators who wanted nothing to do with them.

 At last, the jingling contents I’ve been looking for: oxycodone hydrochloride tablets, each envelope’s prescription label ascending in dosage: 5mg, 10mg, 15mg and then—30mg. The Holy Grail. I rip open the bag, pour the bottle out into my hand, and shove the blue pills into my mouth. Suddenly, a shopping basket appears, and I start filling it with oxycodone in every color-coded milligram; Vicodin and Percocet without any fear of long-term liver damage; hydromorphone and Oxycontin for my eventual exit plan.

The more pills I load into the basket, the higher the temperature rises inside the pharmacy before the fluorescent lights transform into a giant snake. Its luminous body bears down and slithers toward me, hissing at each decision I make. But I can’t stop. I need more. More than there is to satisfy my appetite as my reality is reflected inside the snake’s washed-out eyes.

Time is of the essence, and anxiety begins to consume my entire body. Streams of sweat flow from the faucet of my forehead. The basket slips from my grasp and spews a beautiful rainbow of pills across the white-tiled floor; it reminds me of sea glass and the beach, of New England. It reminds me of home. The moment passes, and I drop to my knees out of desperation before the snake is sucked back up into the ceiling. A loss of gravity flips my senses. The pills and my former self are distant, out of reach.

Once the pharmacy disappears, I find myself swimming in a dark, angry ocean—no moon or stars to guide me as the waves grow bigger, more violent…

When I finally opened my eyes, I’d be drenched in cold sweats, my jaw as fraught as ice and accompanied by a shiver that spread from my core and into every crevice of my existence. Whatever strength I could muster was used to slowly lift myself awake, strip my sheets, and move to the couch or sometimes the floor if I forgot to wash my soddened sheets from the previous sweat-stained episode. Then I turned on the TV and prayed I wouldn’t fall back asleep.


I dreamt a lot as a kid. I explored odd worlds and weird emotions. Around eleven or twelve, I experienced my first wet dream as I watched a robotic hand jerk me off before I awoke hot and sticky, a little sweaty, and more than confused—but still very, very turned on (this was probably due to the fact I had seen Disney’s Smarthouse about ten times and the future looked as though it was going to be systematically self-serving…).

The deeper into my teenage years, the deeper I dreamt. I was sent to faraway places because I knew I wanted an adventurous life someday. I watched ridiculous soap operas written by my jealous subconscious detailing the frugal pressures of being a teenager in Suburban America. There were the dreams inside of dreams and the ones when your legs fill with cement once you start running. The drowning and the flying. The many more wet dreams and the numerous boxer shorts hidden deep inside my laundry basket, sometimes straight into the trash if I was too ashamed.

What is most stark about my childhood dreams is that they always left me with a fleeting loneliness, like whatever it was wasn’t enough. Nowadays, the only dream left over from those years is my last recurring dream to date. It’s been built up over the last two decades, but rarely does it present itself.

Six or eight months ago, I saw it again—and this was the first time in years.

I begin alone at my neighborhood bus stop as a persistent fog grows in the distance. It’s quiet but not peaceful. Everything is wet, leafy, and army green (I’m in my first neighborhood before my dad made six-figures and my mom “retired” and we moved into a brand new, three thousand square-foot house [then, seven years later, my parents got divorced and sold their dream to the latest up-and-coming family]).

I’m transported inside the school bus; thin strands of fog stretch across sitting passengers like stratus clouds passing through the mountains. The bus is moving but everything feels static.

At first, I don’t recognize anyone, and it’s silent. In fact, it’s always silent; no one ever speaks in this dream, and I don’t remember there ever being any sound at all. Only colors and aesthetics. Only faces and eyes as the bus makes each stop and begins to fill with recognizable spirits.

When I was younger, the people who eventually stepped onto the bus were friends, family members; people who were present in my world, because back then everything and everyone was connected and the inevitable transitions between the different stages of life, while on the horizon, were ironically more of a dream than a reality in the same way that time and space have the ability to be equally as absurd as a robotic hand job.

Younger me was confused by this school bus dream. Confused by its silent melancholy and creepy portraiture. I would awake not feeling jaded, but tired, and kind of pissed off. As I grew older, as both my good and bad decisions began to conflate with one another, and my life took many twists and turns, the faces and eyes became complicated and more distinct, more absorbing and relatable.

But why now?


At twenty-eight, I kicked oxy and heroin for the final time. Slayed the dragon that had taken over the castle.

Truthfully, I had had enough, and the last time was the easiest. But it wasn’t fun.

Sleep became nonexistent. The pain in my joints persistent. My skin clammy and ghoulish, my armpits dripping wet. Each day slower than the last until seven days passed, and then ten days turned into fourteen, thirty, forty-five, sixty, a new job, a new girlfriend, a new life. Sober holidays with loved ones. Before I knew it… a full year (this past month was my seventh).

In the years after I got clean, I experienced the pharmacy dream again. Slightly different in tone this time around but roughly the same plot and set design—minus the luminous anaconda, which was replaced with a giant Salvador Dalí melting clock (cliché, I know, but this is my dream narrative [the dream also occurred twice but both instances were within the first few years and never again after that]).

The return to the pharmacy begins mid-scene, and I’m the most dream-aware than any other point in my dreaming life. I am lucid dreaming, but I have zero control. I am not manipulating this dream, or even scarier—if I could have manipulated it, why did I choose not to?

Instead, I’m filling the shopping basket, and the giant Salvador Dalí clock swells and swells. The faster I rip open each bag, the faster I pour the pills from their bottle into the shopping basket, the more the clock melts, the more its heat bubbles in my veins. At any moment, I know I’m going to catch fire and explode. I can feel it. I make one last effort to grab as many pills as possible, but the shelf is empty, the shopping basket gone. There’s a warm flash of light…

I awake in a pool of sweat, my heart racing. Certain I have relapsed. Certain I have let my loved ones’ down once again. I quickly realize this is impossible, it was just a dream, but I don’t feel vindicated. I feel guilty.


Dream experts say those who dream vividly and frequently also have superior memories. I say this is bullshit since my lucid, waking memory is a curse, and as a result, my barren dreamscape could be considered the remedial result of this exhausting quality (in my humble understanding of my own amygdala, that is).

The same experts also say they don’t know why humans dream yet the same experts recognize the presence of fog to represent a loss of direction in life. I suppose art is its own critic. And dreaming exists literally and figuratively in-between-the-lines, scribbled in the margins, typed, and texted from the subconscious into the main circuitry.

There are other experts who have theorized that neuroplasticity during REM sleep allows the visual cortex to protect the brain from our other senses taking control, although the visual part remains as mysterious as dreaming itself.

Regardless, there is no denying the adaptive qualities of the human brain to defend itself as one of the primary reasons we’re able to survive tragic events, paralyzing anxiety, neuroses… ourselves.

It took me years to understand the school bus dream. Not surprisingly, it was this most recent reprisal that tied everything together—the bus, the fog, the familiar faces, even the recurring pharmacy dream.

While I’m a survivor of the Opioid Epidemic—I was also a bastard, a thief, and a scumbag. Someone who lived in Miami during the Pill Mill Crisis and made thousands of dollars selling opioids and contributed to the poisoning of his fellow generation.

Someone who conned his way through college and took advantage of anyone who saw potential in him.

Someone who eventually became his own customer, or another desperate junkie in America, and raided the medicine cabinets of those who loved him most.

The school bus dream is a reminder that I have a debt to pay for still being here. I see the changing faces as different versions of myself, different perspectives, other perspectives, a multiplicity that has shaped my own redemption. I now understand each face—friend or family—still here or passed on, those I’ve wronged and those who love me unconditionally, not to be silenced foes or bystanders, but guardian angels forever present in my life and work—a dual consciousness rooted within the subterranean patterns of guilt and shame and the decisions I cannot change. It’s exhausting and sometimes I can’t wait to go to bed. Other times I can’t wait to get up and do it all over again.

If the absence of dreaming is the cost of investigating oneself; if an undisturbed slumber is the result of less guilt and more belonging; perhaps I’ve found the feeling I longed for as a child. Perhaps there’s finally a part of me that is at peace because recovery through remorse is a process not unlike dreaming itself.



Chris Falite is a Creative Writing MFA candidate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is currently writing a memoir on addiction and recovery.