First Segment - Chapter 4 - Coping With Urges
Now that you're committed and motivated to change your behaviour, let's look at how you can deal with any urges you may have to use. Learning to cope with urges is the difference between abstaining and using. It can be difficult. The feelings can be intense, and you're used to giving into them. It takes strong mental and emotional commitment on your part to change these patterns.
Some people report having no urges after they make the choice to stop. Others report that they have urges later on. Dealing with them may be mentally difficult; it may be physically and emotionally uncomfortable, but it's not impossible. You can do it.
- What has your experience been with urges during your recovery? Have you experienced any? How did they feel? How did you get through them?
Urges are psychological in nature and are different to the physiological withdrawal symptoms you may experience when you first stop using drugs or alcohol. Urges can be unpleasant and resisting them may involve some emotional discomfort.
The more you know about urges and understand why they happen, the better equipped you are to cope with them. Rather than an excuse to escape into your addictive behaviour, you'll be able to use urges as a catalyst in your emotional growth.
You can learn to recognise urges without acting on them. The more you do that, the easier it gets. Most people who recover from addictive behaviour say that, after a while, the urges go away completely as they replace the unhealthy behaviour with healthy alternatives. In the first few days and weeks of your abstinence, your urges may be very strong and may grow stronger for a while.
Scratching an itch
If you've ever had a rash, chicken pox, or allergies, you know how intense the itch can be. It feels like the only relief from the discomfort is to scratch - long and hard. Scratching the rash may make it feel better short-term, but the long-term consequences are slower healing, permanent scarring, and vulnerability to infection.
There are other ways to cope with the itching. At first, soothing remedies such as anti-itch cream and oatmeal baths don't seem as satisfying as using your fingernails, but they produce the long-term benefits you want to be rash free with no lasting scars.
In that same way, you may feel like the only way to stop an urge is to use. But like the itch, there are healthier ways to cope, even though they may not seem as immediately gratifying.
Learning to cope with your urges enables you to achieve your long-term goals. There's no way around this.
Beliefs about urges
It's likely that you've been feeding your urges for so long that you don't even think They feel like they're part of who you are. You may hold beliefs about your urges that are unrealistic or untrue, and actually make them worse. them.
Here are some opposing beliefs about urges that may help you understand them:
- We are going to talk about each grouping of unrealistic/realistic and give your views on each one. Have you experienced it in your recovery? Have you any opinions on it? Etc
Unrealistic: My urges are unbearable.
Realistic: Urges are uncomfortable, but you can bear them. If you keep telling yourself that you can't bear them, you're setting yourself up to use. Urges won't kill you or make you go crazy; they'll just make you uncomfortable.
Unrealistic: My urges only stop when I give in.
Realistic: Urges may last only a few seconds or minutes, but rarely longer than ten or twenty minutes. Sometimes urges come in clusters of several shorter ones rather than one long urge.
Urges always go away. Here's why: Your nervous system eventually stops noticing stimuli. If it didn't, you couldn't wear clothing because it would be too uncomfortable. If you fast, you know hunger eventually fades away. The dentist-office smell that was so strong when you walked through the door isn't even noticeable by the time you leave.
You can teach yourself to ride out urges. It does get easier over time.
Unrealistic: My urges make me use.
Realistic: Using is always a choice. When an urge hits, you have two choices: to use to ride it until it subsides.
Unrealistic: Urges are a sign that my addictive behaviour is getting worse.
Realistic: They're a normal part of recovery. They may be stronger at first or maybe later in your recovery - but they weaken, and eventually disappear. You can have a life without urges.
Unrealistic: Giving in to an urge isn't harmful.
Realistic: Giving in to urges prolongs their presence in your life because it reinforces the behaviour pattern. It will make stopping harder as the next urge will likely come more quickly and be more intense.
- Like the rash, if you scratch it occasionally but use healthy remedies the rest of the time, the occasional scratching still increases the healing time.
- If you occasionally give in to your urges, you simply prolong your dependence on the substance or behaviour as a way out when you believe the pain is unbearable.
- What happens when a child nags for hours for a new toy and you say no until you tire of their whining and say yes just to get them to stop? You stop the immediate whining, but you teach the child that if they whine long enough, you'll give in. In the same way, you strengthen your urges every time you make the choice to give in to them, even if it's just occasionally.
Unrealistic: I must get rid of urges.
Realistic: Addictive behaviours trains your brain to 'want' you to keep repeating the behaviour, so urges are completely normal. The good news is that if you do not use, you will 're-train' your brain and the urges will fade away.
It takes time and practice to replace old thoughts and behaviours with new ones. Don't expect urges to end immediately, don't expect to be perfect, and don't give up.
Unrealistic: I'm self-destructive or I wouldn't do these self-destructive things.
Realistic: Our brains are hard-wired to seek out things that provide pleasure. Substances and behaviours that light up the pleasure centres in our brains can be destructive if the desire for them turns into a need. Oh, and as human beings, we all do stupid things.
Unrealistic: I use because I like to.
Realistic: While that was probably true in the beginning, it's probably more complicated than that now.
While using continues to light the pleasure centres in your brain, your rational brain can't ignore that the short term "pleasures" are incompatible with your long-term goals. With more exploration, you will probably find that you have fallen into the "addictive behaviour trap," in which you ignore the benefits of stopping because you may be preoccupied with how difficult it will be.
- SMART's tools and strategies give you an edge in dealing with your urges. The tools and strategies - along with your motivation can make it possible for you to successfully cope with urges.
Second Segment - Topic of the Week
Topic - Wants and needs and how they differ.
When we gambled we wanted everything. We dreamed of success, happiness, untold wealth and a carefree life but what did we actually achieve?
- Did gambling ever give us what we needed or has that only happened in recovery?
- What did you want from life when you gambled and where did that desire take you?
- What do you actually need in life and have you found it now you're in recovery?
- Do you still find yourself wanting what others have even if you really don't need it?
Third Segment - Zen: The Art of Simple Living
- Wake Up Fifteen Minutes Earlier
The prescription for when there is no room in your heart
How being busy makes you lose heart
When we are short on time, this scarcity extends to our heart as well. We automatically say, “I’m busy - I don’t have time.” When we feel this way, our mind becomes even more hectic.
But are we really so busy? Aren’t we the ones who are pushing ourselves to hurry?
In Japanese, the character for “busy” is written with the symbols for “lose” and “heart”.
It’s not that we are busy because there isn’t enough time.
We are busy because there is no room in our heart.
Especially when things are hectic, try waking up fifteen minutes earlier than usual. Lengthen your spine, and take slow breaths from the point below your navel - the spot we refer to as the tanden. Once your breathing is in order, your mind will naturally settle into stillness as well.
Then, while you enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, look out the window at the sky. Try to listen for the warbling of little birds.
How peculiar - just like that, you create space in your mind.
Waking up fifteen minutes earlier magically liberates you from busyness.
- What are your thoughts on this? Have you tried to do this before? Have you had success? Will you try it this week? Last week we discussed filling the void, but have you experienced the feeling of your life being too busy for the simple things, or even too busy for recovery? What happened?