Dreaming About Smoking

It’s been more than a quarter century since I quit smoking.  I gave up the nasty habit back in in the early ’90s, when the kids were little, and I haven’t had a cigarette since.

how-to-get-rid-of-cigarette-smokeLast night, however, I had a very vivid dream about smoking.  I was sitting somewhere, among a group of people, lighting a cigarette and taking a deep puff.  I felt the familiar leaden sensation in my chest as I did so and the harsh, acrid taste in my mouth and throat.  Wherever I was, it was clear that I had been chain-smoking cigarette after cigarette.  My dream self was sadly aware that I had previously successfully quit smoking for a long period of time but had started up again for some reason and was now hooked once more.  As I puffed away, I felt tremendous feelings of regret and guilt and shame and embarrassment that I had been so weak and stupid to retreat and would now have to try to quit all over again.  It was an incredibly realistic, powerful dream that startled me awake in the middle of the night.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a prior dream about smoking — at least, not one that I remember.  I have no idea why I would have such a dream now, as I have zero interest in taking up smoking again.  It’s pretty amazing that a habit I ditched more than 25 years could still call up such vivid images.  I suppose it shows that the smoking memories and my prior smoking self are still in my consciousness somewhere, lurking deep below the surface, ready to be tapped during an unconscious moment.

I was very grateful when I awoke and realized it was all a dream and that I remained contentedly smoke-free.  In fact, I can’t think of a recent dream where I’ve been happier and more relieved to find it was only a dream.  If my subconscious, just to be on the safe side, was trying to send me a message that there should be no backsliding, the message was received.

Thinking About Dreamland

Last night I slept very soundly, with lots of dreaming to keep my brain occupied while my body recharged.  I don’t remember what my dreams were — I almost never do — but I do remember thinking, as I was dreaming, that these dreams were very entertaining.

1100_story_babysleep_co-sleepingWhen I awoke, I thought about what a marvelous thing dreams are.   One second you are observing and participating in a curious, often inexplicable place where anything can happen at any moment and storylines can casually shift and twist and morph without it seeming at all unusual.  Then, after you awaken, your experiences in dreamland vanish in the blink of an eye and you’re back in the actual world where the laws of physics and basic linear reality once again hold sway.  Sure, you can have terrifying nightmares that give you the creeps even after you awake, but for the most part dreams are pleasant enough — nonsensical and crazy, to be sure, but non-threatening.

I found myself wondering whether my parents ever explained the process of dreaming to me.  I don’t remember whether they ever did, and I don’t remember explaining dreams to our kids, either.  Every mammal seems to dream — anybody who’s seen dogs run in their sleep knows that — and I remember watching our newborn boys’ eye movements as they slept in their cribs, knowing that they were dreaming and wondering what in the world infants could possibly be dreaming about.   By the time they were old enough to have developed the language skills needed to have a meaningful conversation about it, they had been sleeping and dreaming for years and had long since grasped the difference between dreamland and real life.  I suppose that’s why we never had a talk about the process of dreaming, as opposed to trying to interpret individual dreams.  Perhaps dreaming is so basic and reflexive for mammals, and humans, that it is understood on an intuitive level, with no explanation required.

On The Edge Of Slumber

I woke up at 3 a.m. to go to the bathroom.  (Hey, I’m a guy in his late 50s.  It happens.)  When I came back to bed I knew the next few moments would be the acid test — either I would promptly drift back into blissful sleep, or I’d start thinking about something and deal with an unwanted period of tossing and turning.

fotolia_42638075_full-moon2Unfortunately, it was the latter.  For me, the wakefulness always seems to start with a single concrete thought — whether it be about work, or a family issue, or something else — that acts to drive away the possibility of sleep.  Just as I feel as if I am on the edge of slumber, another point will arise, and suddenly I’m getting up because I remember something and need to leave myself a reminder for when I will get up for good.

The experts will tell you that sleep occurs when the conscious mind goes dormant and the unconscious mind takes over.  But how do you encourage that hard-working conscious mind that you needed to help you stumble to the bathroom in the dark to let go, already?

This morning, I really felt the battle between the two parts of the brain, with the conscious mind and its structured ideas trying to remain in control and the subconscious mind always lurking beneath, ready to pounce as soon as the conscious mind lets its guard down.  It’s an interesting, if frustrating, phenomenon, and when it happens I try to slow my breathing, gradually clear my mind of everything, and let those dreamlike notions that are cavorting out on the periphery to come on down to center stage.  Sometimes, if the conscious mind is really persistent, I’ll try to think of some obviously surreal situation that is like a dream.  If it works, as it did this time, the effect is instantaneous, and the next thing I know it’s 5:30 and time to begin the morning.

I’d prefer to sleep like a log every night, but I’m convinced that it’s just not possible for people with busy lives.  When those wakeful nights hit, you have to have a technique for dealing with it and letting you get back to the shuteye that we all need.

Powerball Dreams, Tax Realities

Many of us went out to buy a Powerball ticket over the last few days.  Why not?  Even a tiny, ridiculously remote chance to win a $1.5 billion jackpot is still . . . a chance to win a $1.5 billion jackpot!  How often does the average Jane or Joe have a chance at such enormous sums of money?  It’s an irresistible temptation.

according-to-math-heres-when-you-should-buy-a-powerball-ticketPart of what you are buying when you purchase a Powerball ticket under these circumstances is a chance to dream.  What would you do with hundreds of millions of dollars?  Would you quit your job, move to your dream location, buy a professional sports team, make each of your relatives a millionaire, stay in the President’s suite at the Ritz and take a champagne bubble bath, buy a Ferrari . . . or something else?  If you literally had more money than you knew what to do with, even the wildest dreams are possible.  I’m guessing that 99.9% of the people who are in the Powerball drawing — even people, like Kish and me, who never play it — have thought something like this at an idle moment:  “I know it’s unlikely that we might win, but what if we did?”  And then the enjoyable dreams begin.

The passing dreams of millions will come crashing to the ground tonight, when the drawing occurs and, presumably, somebody else will win.  It won’t hurt too much, because no one really expected to win, of course, and in any case the opportunity to dream a little about a life-changing cash payout isn’t a bad thing even if the fickle finger of fate passes us by.

Oh, and then there’s the issue of taxes — which are going to take a pretty big bite out of any jackpot.  The cash payout amount will be $930 million ($930 million!) and unless you live in a state where there are no state or local income taxes, or lottery winnings are exempt from such taxes, you’re going to pay federal, state, and local income taxes on that staggering sum.  In New York City, a single winner of the payout would walk away with $579.4 million, and then would pay another $100 million or so in initial federal taxes.

So that $1.5 billion in the headlines would be reduced to $475 million or so.  I guess we could live on that if we had to.

Cereal Dreams

Last night I had one of those vivid dreams where every element and action seems to be etched in exceptional clarity.  It was so realistic that I woke up feeling guilty and shaken about my dreamland activities.

In1422355043742-1776787770 the dream, I was eating a gigantic, heaping bowl of Froot Loops.  I was relishing each sweet, crunchy mouthful of the multicolored morsels, but was wracked with regret at the same time.  I recognized with horror that, on a low-carb diet, a colossal serving of Froot Loops and milk was absolutely verboten.  And yet, confronted with a bowlful of diet-destroying deliciousness, my dream self could not resist temptation and dug in anyway.

So, I’ve  reached the point where my anxiety dreams no longer are about the young me being chased by monsters, or the teenage me being exposed to terrible humiliation, or the young adult me forgetting about a crucial law school test until the very day of the exam.  Now my subconscious has exposed a new vein of concerns that, having lost some weight, I’ll promptly backslide and end up right back where I started.

It’s kind of pathetic that Froot Loops would be my forbidden fruit, but I think my subconscious got this one right.  Ever since my grandparents took UJ and me to Battle Creek, Michigan for a tour of the Kellogg’s factory that ended with a Froot Loops sundae, I’ve been a fan of Toucan Sam.  We haven’t had a box of any breakfast cereal — much less Froot Loops or, even worse, Frosted Flakes — in our house since I started a low-carb regimen in August precisely because I don’t think I can trust myself around it.

I have to say, though — that big bowl of Froot Loops sure looked good.

In Control Of Your Dreams

Every human is deeply interested in their dreams.  Whether they are abhorrent or enticing, embarrassing or terrifying, dreams have their own unique fascination.  We fall asleep and suddenly images start playing in our brains, and we can’t help but wonder whether the dreams are sending us some kind of important message.

But there are two problems with dreams:  we can’t remember most of them, and we can’t control what we are dreaming.  When we have bad dreams we remain trapped in their frightening context until we wake up with a jolt, pulses pounding.  And good dreams inevitably end far too soon.

But what if we could control our dreams?  A recent study indicates that applying a low-frequency electrical current during sleep can generate “lucid dreams” — that typically all-too-rare state where the dreamer is aware she is dreaming and has control over the dream.  Study participants who received currents in the correct frequency range reported being able to change the plot of their dreams to avoid, for example, ugly encounters with a group of angry people.  The researchers hope to be able to use the process to treat mental illness or help people with post-traumatic stress disorder recover, by placing them in control of dream story lines that have happier endings than their actual experiences did.

It’s also easy to see how such a device could be used in other ways.  People who are afraid of public speaking, for example, could experience dreams where they confidently give a presentation that is well-received.  People who are struggling with the devastating loss of a loved one could consciously revisit that person as they sleep and realize that they are at peace.  And, because crass commercialization is the order of the day, no doubt people would gladly purchase dream-current products that allow them to experience close encounters with Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, be the quarterback that wins the Super Bowl, or enter the world of Wuthering Heights.

There’s something intriguing about the concept of controlling your dreams, but also something dangerous. What if the human brain needs to have uncontrolled, often unpleasant dreams to work correctly?  After all, our current brains and their dreaming qualities are the product of millions of years of evolution.  And how many people might conclude that they prefer living in a rich, completely manipulable dream world to the harsh and uncontrollable world of actual reality, and spend their time dreaming their lives away?

Falling Nightmares

Normally I don’t remember my dreams. Since I’ve started using crutches, however, I’ve started to have vivid nightmares about falling.

If you accept the standard explanation of dreams — that they are a kind of post-day brain dump, when the conscious brain is out of it and the subconscious brain riffles through the images of the day just ended — my falling dreams shouldn’t come as a surprise. I know that I can’t put weight on my left foot, because it would painfully bend the steel pins in my toes and make them harder to extract. So, even something routine, like a short trip to the bathroom, becomes a cause for careful attention and concern about a slip and fall.

But there’s more to it. I scrabble up the stairs on hands and knees, dragging the crutches up the stairs with me, then use a chair at the top of the stairs to rise, balance, and get the crutches under my arms so I can move along. The transfer from chair to crutches is inherently unsteady, and I’m doing it balanced on one foot at the top of the stairs, wondering if a loss of balance will send me tumbling down the steps. The same process occurs when I go down the stairs, of course. And then there’s the silly worry about somehow falling out of bed and landing on my bad foot. I’ve never had that happen before, but now the possibility nags at me.

I don’t ever remember having falling dreams before, but they aren’t very pleasant. They’re not limited to the bed or stair scenarios; just about any falling context will do. I awaken with a lurch, arms flailing and grasping for a hold, heart pounding, hoping that the startling experience doesn’t itself cause me to tumble to the floor.

I hate these dreams. For years after I finished any form of schooling, I still had the occasional “failure to study for an exam that’s happening today” dream, and they never failed to get my pulse pounding. Now I wonder: long after these pins are removed and I’m walking normally again, will I continue to have these scary falling nightmares?