Controlling urges, Ugh. It comes at us like an overwhelming wave of need, often when things are getting challenging or there are some triggers happening. And, suddenly: BAM! You have an urge to drink or use. It is about to bring you to your knees.
What can you do?
You can try to surf it just like a wave.
Surfing takes practice. In actual surfing, one has to take lessons. You have to fall a lot when you are learning to stay on top of the wave. Then, you have to learn to shake it off and get right back up, and once on the board again, you learn how to breathe and how to let the breath lead the body, getting even more familiar with the nature of the wave that you are entering.
Surfing isn’t a skill that happens overnight.
It is the same with surfing an urge to drink or use. A key element to avoiding relapse is the management of triggers and cravings.
So first, let’s talk a little bit about triggers. Are you at a bar? Are you around people drinking or using heavily? If it is possible, leave the situation you are in that is causing the triggers to occur. They often cause the craving. Is it something that is bothering you that has gotten in your head? Talk it out. Call your sponsor. Call a safe person. Go for a walk. Try some deep breathing. If meditation is part of your recovery practice, stick on your headphones and find a short meditation online to refocus your thinking. Do whatever you can to ride out the urge or craving.
If you familiarizing yourself with your triggers, they can lose the power to send you into a craving. This is a holistic way of approaching the elimination of cravings. The less that triggers you, the less that can set off a craving. This is a practice that is overarching. Familiarize yourself with the things that set you off. Be mindful of your story and your surroundings. Become aware of the way your mind might be trained to pick up on resentments, worries or problems and notice how this leads to a wish to use. Learn to outsmart this process. The more often that you do so, the better at it you will be! It is like a surfer getting to know the beach they are surfing. Understanding the tides and times of day that bring good surf. Knowing when to avoid dangerous currents. Get to know that lay of the land when it comes to your triggers. It will help you in the long run.
One of the best ways to work on controlling cravings is to use mindfulness-based techniques armed with some good facts about them. Did you know that cravings only last an average of 10-15 minutes? It may seem like forever, but that is how long they usually last. There are lots of strategies to get through this bit of time.
Get to know the nature of your urges. Just like a wave, an urge has a beginning rise, a peak and a break. In order to ride out a wave, you have to understand its architecture. It may be a good idea to practice some mindfulness techniques, biofeedback or other types of therapies in order to properly map out the nature of your cravings and urges and to be right in your body as you experience them. Being mindful about the process you are involved in helps you to face it head on. With the help of professionals, and with practice, you will be riding the waves of your cravings like an expert. Just like an actual surfer, you will learn to continually get back up on your board and take on even bigger, more challenging waves. All it takes is a bit of practice with some smaller waves, and the ability to learn a few new techniques. Oh, and a lot of practice, so don’t be hard on yourself if at first it all feel a bit awkward. It will get better. You will get better at this.
Make sure that your recovery program offers strategies for handling environmental and psychological triggers, as well as the opportunity to get in touch with your body and the physiological experience of a craving…and provides opportunity for overcoming and riding out the cravings. Talk to a councillor about mindfulness practices.
Once your ability to handle triggers and physical cravings is mastered, there are other urges that can be addressed using a mindful approach. You can begin to address behavioural urges, such as the urge to lash out in anger, or the urge to act out in other ways: sexually, self-harming, or with food or money related issues. Everything ties into each other. Quelling unhealthy urges is the recipe to living sober, because there will be less to use or drink over in the long run if these types of behaviours are met with the same mindfulness and willingness. The more we can be the master of these waves, the better our recovery will be.