It doesn’t matter where you are or how long you’ve been clean, the impulse to use can arise at any moment.
It Gets Easier
This impulse, or craving, can feel so severe that it may seem impossible to resist. The truth is, however, by using and strengthening skills of resistance, handling the urge to use gets easier with time.
Expect to Experience Cravings
Cravings are normal. When you expect to have cravings, they become less powerful when they arrive. Knowing what you’re feeling is normal means you will be better equipped to make a cognizant decision when dealing with an impulse.
As an extension of expecting the presence of cravings, you should become very aware of your triggers. Triggers are any person, place, thing, or event that causes an impulse or craving.
Befriend Your Shadow
Within every person exists light and dark. According to a Psychology Today article discussing the writings of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, the dark, deemed the shadow by Jung in the early 60s, is ‘‘that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious. The shadow is a primordial part of our human inheritance, which, try as we might, can never be eluded.”
In other words, the idea of Jung’s shadow theory is that we are all born with a dark side that resides in the unconscious, of which we are mostly unaware. It is this dark side that leads us to make potentially damaging decisions.
Taking note of your shadow can then help you respond in accordance to a SMART Recovery technique using the acronym DEADS when the urge or a craving occurs.
- Delay: Given time, thoughts and urges surrounding drug and alcohol use will dissipate. Wait at least 15 to 20 minutes. If the craving has still not subsided, it is likely that you are in the presence of a trigger. According to a Psychology Today article, an urge in general lasts about 15 minutes. Consider the nature of emotions and urges to fluctuate like the rise and fall of waves. In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to make impulsive decisions. Given time, the thought will eventually disappear.
- Escape: Simply said, get out of the situation as soon as possible. For instance, say you show up to a friend’s house and find that they are passing around a joint of marijuana. Do not stall and don’t worry about coming up with an excuse. Just leave immediately.
- Accept: Allow yourself some space to gain perspective on the situation. Remember: cravings are normal. By accepting this, you won’t get down on yourself or give in to the weakness. Rather you will recognize the fact that these kinds of urges are normal. You will accept this, let the moment fade away, and move on.
- Dispute: Come up with a go-to statement to tell yourself that focuses on an effective belief. This could come up in the form of a question like: “Do you really want to throw away all the progress you made?” It’s likely that just by taking the moment to rationalize yourself and refocus your attention can be all that you need to walk away.
- Substitute: Find an immediate substitute for the experienced craving. Obviously putting on a pair of running shoes is going to induce a more beneficial outcome than eating a chocolate bar, but it’s all relative. If you are not in a place to go on a short walk, eating a chocolate bar is a better choice than giving into the urge to use. The more you turn your thoughts away from giving into urges, the quicker this will become an automatic response.
Don’t Forget to Practice the Power of Gratitude
Taking time out of each day to concentrate on the things which you are grateful for will align your attitude toward a positive outlook. It’s easy to start thinking about things you regret and past memories that can abruptly send you spiraling down into a place of negativity.
When you are negative, you are more likely to give into hopeless behaviors. Practicing gratitude serves as a reset button that can knock you back into balance.
The best way to practice gratitude is to start a journal. Every morning, write at least three things you are grateful for. These can be as small as starting your day with a wonderful cup of coffee or as profound as the love your partner has shown in working to repair old relationship wounds.
Be Patient with Yourself
The thing to remember with all urges and cravings is that retraining the brain and thought patterns is all in the practice. How you respond to certain situations is deeply ingrained within you, so don’t expect things to change overnight.