Have you ever watched an episode of Intervention? It can certainly give you a glimpse into the chaos and pain of someone who is struggling with addiction, as well as their loved ones. You will see story after story of a family torn apart by addiction, as well as loved ones doing all they know how to do to reach their family member to get them to attend rehab.
Some people agree to go to rehab and succeed in overcoming their addiction. Others do great for a while and then slip back into addiction. Some agree to attend rehab for their family’s sake, but their heart isn’t in it. They go through the motions, but end up leaving rehab early to engage in old addictive behaviors.
Still, others seriously try, but cave in to the cravings and temptations of continued substance abuse.
When you’ve decided to get sober or clean, chances are cravings are going to arise. This is especially true in early recovery. Cravings are actually a normal part of recovery. You may feel triggered a lot and feel like all you do is fight cravings. However, learning how to handle them can help keep you from relapsing.
Rest assured that the intensity of cravings decreases over time. At the same time, there are things you can do to limit cravings and actively tackle them if and when they do arise.
Get In Touch With Your Sponsor – If you’ve been attending a 12 step support group and you have a sponsor, when intense cravings arise, get in touch with your sponsor immediately. This is one of the biggest reasons they are in your life. They understand what it’s like to deal with cravings and triggers, and they’ll help you get through it if you contact them. This could be a quick text, a call, or a meeting via video or in person. You certainly don’t have to face triggers alone, especially when you’ve got a seasoned recovery mentor at your side.
Reach Out For Support – If you’re not in a support group, you can still reach out for support from other people in your life that you can trust and are willing to be there for you. This could be your counselor, mentor, clergy, trusted friend, or even a hotline. There are some online recovery forums that you could reach out to for help as well.
Ride the Wave – Some people say that cravings for their preferred drug of choice are much like an ocean wave. It starts off smooth, increases in intensity, peaks, and then falls away. If you can look at your craving like this, as limited in scope, you’re more apt to ride that wave without picking up a drink or the drug.
When you’re feeling an intense craving, close your eyes and picture yourself surfing a wave. You know that wave will not stay up forever. Ride that wave for a few seconds and then picture it crashing and you landing safely onshore. Cravings only last a few minutes. Remind yourself of that by using this visualization.
Play The Tape Through – Another visualization you may find helpful is called, “Play the tape through”. For example, let’s say that you’ve quit drinking because it was causing you problems in your life, or you simply don’t want to drink anymore. Let’s say that one day you get into a horrible mood and the first thing you think of is taking a drink to calm yourself down. You’re triggered and craving alcohol because that’s what you’ve been used to doing to handle life.
Playing the tape through means taking a few moments and contemplating what will happen if you do take that drink. Will it solve your problems? How will you feel if you start drinking again? What consequences will occur if you continue to handle life by drinking? How will you feel about yourself if you pick up?
Chances are continuing to drink will cause you to feel negative emotions about yourself and eventually lead to other problems in your life and relationships. The next time you’re triggered and want to take a drink or use that drug, mentally play the tape through. Remind yourself that a life of abusing alcohol or drugs does not bring you more happiness and peace. Remind yourself that you are committed to living a sober or clean life and creating the kind of life you truly desire.
Distract Yourself – When you feel a craving, distract yourself for a bit. Go for a walk, exercise, put music on and dance, clean the house, play with the kids or the dog, watch a motivational YouTube video, etc. Make a list of ways you can distract yourself so it’s handy when you feel intense cravings or are triggered.
Count – Slowly count to 100, 200, 300, and so on. Keep your mind on the counting. If it starts to wander, bring it back to counting and/or start over.
Learn Your Triggers – What triggers you the most? What people, places, situations, or things tend to cause you to crave that drink or drug?
Take some time to learn what your triggers are and do your best to avoid those people places or things. Granted, you can’t always avoid your triggers. However, you can come up with ways to limit your interaction with these things. If that means driving home a different way so you don’t see the bar you used to frequent, do it. Or maybe it means deleting from your phone those old friends who only wanted to party with you.
Those things you can’t avoid, like a hot-headed boss or rush hour traffic, create strategies to deal with cravings that may arise.
Recite A Mantra – Do some research on mantras and determine what mantras you will use when you’re dealing with a craving. A mantra is a word or a phrase that you simply say over and over in your head or audibly. When you’re feeling triggered, take some time and repeat your favored mantra repeatedly. Take time to do some slow, deep breathing as well.
As you do, you’re likely to feel more relaxed and able to combat whatever it is that’s causing the cravings. Here are a few mantras to try out:
In early recovery, you may deal with cravings, but over time, they lose steam. As you grow stronger in your recovery and life in general, you learn how to squash cravings when they arise. Remember yourself before you ever picked up a drink or drug? You weren’t thinking about drinking or taking drugs back then, as it wasn’t habitual at that time.
The longer you go without drinking or taking drugs, the more your brain forgets those pathways and gets you back to life without obsessing or turning to substances. Cravings don’t last forever, so hold your head high and keep doing what you know to do to ride them out when they come.
You’re doing it. You’re recovering and creating a whole new life for yourself.