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ASK AMY

Recovering addict feels hounded by dreams

Q. I’m a wife and a mother. Six years ago, I had an affair. It went on for about three months. At the time, my son was 3 years old and I was an active addict, making so many bad decisions.

My husband found out about all of it and wanted to work through it. I fully expected him to divorce me and to take our son away because I was not a good mother or wife.

I’ve been sober for six years now, and I still feel so guilty.

I used to have dreams at least once a week about infidelity, whether it was me or my husband being unfaithful. After these dreams, I would wake up crying and hyperventilating. Now the dreams occur every four to six months.

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How do I stop this? My husband has forgiven me, and I thought I had forgiven myself but clearly there are still some unresolved feelings on my part.

Do you have any ideas for me?

GUILTY DREAMER

A. My first thought is that you are making great progress. You are married to a graceful man and have the privilege of being a parent to your son. You are having these dreams less frequently. You are sober, you are taking responsibility for your own actions, and you are, very appropriately, working on the next step toward greater health and healing.

Forgiving yourself is a big job and tapping into your own mothering skills might help. When your son makes a mistake, feels guilty, and beats himself up for it, you likely tap into your gentlest self in order to comfort him.

You need to learn how to apply this skill, this very parental sort of gentleness, toward yourself.

Your challenging tendency to be unforgiving toward yourself likely goes back further than your addiction and infidelity. Your addiction might have been one way of anesthetizing or numbing these tougher feelings and reactions. A sobriety counselor or support group would help you to continue to put your past into your past.

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I hope you will continue to work this through in order to be the very best version of yourself.

Dreams are your mind’s way of narrating your story. But you actually write that story during your waking life. Keep going. Keep writing.


Q. I have three long-term friends who have planted big Black Lives Matter signs in their front yards. I have invited them to rallies and to help out at five separate NAACP events. They always have an excuse not to engage.

We all go to churches with all-white congregations and send our children to (all-white) private schools.

I am starting to make some efforts to try to bring about change. They only showboat with signs that they bought from Staples.

Any suggestions?

CHEESED IN CAMBRIDGE, MA

A. You should probably stop trying to drag your three friends into allyship. They are obviously not interested in doing this with you. Stop asking.

The institutions you belong to (your church, and the school your children attend) might be good places for you to try to continue your advocacy.

You could start an activist reading group and/or connect with Black (or at least less-white) institutions in other neighborhoods to offer support and allyship, or to simply spend time with and listen to the stories and lessons offered by people whose experience moving through this world might be radically different from your own.

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Read: “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi (2019, One World). Part memoir, part polemic, Kendi’s book provides provocative talking points and concrete action plans for people who want to know — and do — more to connect across the racial divide.


Q. You’ve published many letters from people outlining surprising or shocking discoveries brought about through DNA testing. For instance, “No Longer Bewildered” reported that her DNA test showed that she was half-sister to her niece, an impossibility, as she pointed out.

With me, it was different. It showed that my half-brother was my cousin. So I think that, maybe, all of the half-siblings that have been found could actually be cousins.

UNDERSTAND NOW

A. Direct to consumer home DNA tests contain important boilerplate language in their user agreements: “... for entertainment purposes only.” I assume that in a general sense, the data doesn’t lie, but the testing itself can be flawed.

It’s important that people understand that any results they receive should be seen as the beginning — not the end — of their search for answers.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.