Navigating Our Cravings in Recovery

One of the greatest challenges to our recovery is the persistence with which we feel cravings to use our drugs of choice. Our addictive substances and behaviors formed such a huge part of our lives and our identities that they often overtook us entirely. It’s not realistic to think that once we’re sober we’ll suddenly, magically be cured of any desire to use again. What is much more realistic is being prepared for any cravings that do arise, and learning how to navigate through them successfully.

Cravings and addictive urges and compulsions are energy forms, just like any other emotional or behavioral pattern. When living with addiction, we got into the habit of giving into that energy and letting it overpower us. We allowed it to dominate and control not only our thinking but our decision-making and our choices. The energy of our addictive cravings informed our emotions and how we felt about ourselves. When we gave into them, we might have felt an initial wave of relief and satisfaction, only to have those replaced by feelings of shame, insecurity and disappointment. Giving into our urges made us feel like we were powerless and weak. We felt as though we were being controlled by a force bigger than us, and in a way we were. The illness of addiction can be totally overpowering and all-consuming, and until we learn how to heal ourselves, we’ll always be vulnerable to its control. Navigating our cravings is a huge part of that healing process.

We can choose to work with the energy of our cravings in mindful, conscious ways. When a craving hits, rather than giving into it, we can allow it to be there and just sit with it, letting its energy move through us and subside naturally. We can find that when we don’t react with panic when a craving hits, it often will pass on its own. It is our reaction to a craving that determines how it will affect us. We can choose to react more calmly, with more ease and grace, knowing that we will get through it. We can remind ourselves that we actually have more power over it than we think we do. We can affirm our strength, our resilience, and our courage. We can praise and celebrate ourselves for every craving we successfully withstand. Any cravings we give into we should try to forgive ourselves for as quickly as possible, because beating ourselves up and judging ourselves only increase our stress and anxiety, causing us to feel worse about ourselves and tempting us to use our drugs of choice to relieve our feelings of shame and unworthiness.

The next time an urge hits you, try to just sit with it and let it be there, without trying to do anything about it. Don’t panic, don’t resist it by trying to fight, avoid or escape it. Just sit with it and observe it. What feelings are coming up for you? What physical sensations are accompanying it? You might feel increased anxiety and nervousness. Your thoughts might begin to race. Your heart rate and breathing might accelerate. You might feel your heart beating loudly and heavily in your chest. Your breathing might become more shallow, exacerbating your anxiety. You might be desperately afraid you’ll relapse. You might start thinking about all the times you’ve disappointed your loved ones, and yourself, in the past. You might find yourself spinning out of control, and the temptation might feel like it’s more than you can bear. You might feel as though you can’t endure another craving, the urge is too strong. Let those feelings come up, and allow them to be there, as they are, without trying to limit or change them, without trying to stop them. Just keep breathing. Breathe through any tension and tightness you feel in your body. Breathe through any emotional, mental or physical discomfort you’re feeling. Breathe through any shame that arises. Breathe through all of the emotions that once drove you to give into your addictions.

You might be pleasantly surprised at how resilient you are, as you allow the urge to simply pass you by without acting on it. Meditation increases our resilience, since we learn to return to our breathing or to a specific focal point, mantra or affirmation through whatever comes up. The more we meditate, and the more we incorporate meditation into our regular routine, the more resilient we become. Similarly, when we make time for self-care, we’re telling ourselves consciously and subconsciously that we are worthy and deserving, and the more we build up our self-worth, the stronger and more resilient we feel. When we love and accept ourselves, we’re more likely to want to stay the course of our recovery. While struggling with our addictions, we were so depressed and down on ourselves that we felt like we had nothing to lose. Now we know exactly how much we have to lose. We value ourselves. We know our worth. We believe in ourselves. We’re much more likely to resist temptation, make healthy choices, and do what’s best for ourselves.

Riverside Recovery is a drug and alcohol treatment center offering a full continuum of care for people suffering from addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. We understand the emotional challenges of addiction recovery and are here to support you. Call us today for more information: (800) 871-5440.